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Europe doesn’t have to lose its future to emigration

As everyone knows, Europe is in crisis.

The crisis is not economic.  Eurostat estimates that the 27 European Union countries grew at a collective rate of 1.6% in 2011.  Only two EU countries — Greece and Portugal — had negative real growth rates.

Even these negative growth rates are more the result of the austerity policies put in place after the global recession than the result of the recession itself.

The crisis is not political.  At December’s Brussels summit an overwhelming majority of EU countries agreed to work together for closer European integration.  Only the UK — never an enthusiastic EU member — stood out in the cold.

No, the real European crisis is human.  New graduates can’t find jobs.  Qualified young professionals are working in bars and restaurants.  And many of Europe’s most capable, most entrepreneurial youth are simply moving overseas in search of better opportunities.

Europe is losing its future to emigration.

The first country hit was Latvia.  When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, Latvia had two choices: float the Lats or deflate the economy.  Floating the Lats would have meant massive losses for foreign investors.  Latvia chose deflation.

Latvia’s self-imposed austerity budgets in 2009-2010 destroyed the economy and pushed thousands of young, energetic Latvians into seeking careers abroad.  Since they left young, many of them will marry and start families abroad, never to return.

They may maintain linguistic and cultural links to their home country, but their productivity will benefit mainly their destination countries.  Latvian nurses and architects serve as extraordinarily over-qualified nannies and construction workers in Germany, and the UK.

The maintenance of Latvia’s Euro link was a test run for keeping Ireland, Greece, and now Portugal in the Euro through the imposition of similar extreme austerity budgets.

Young people are emigrating from all of these austerity countries.  Young Irish and Greeks are now pouring into Australia, where they join large existing diaspora communities.  Portuguese graduates look instead toward rapidly-growing Brazil.

The problem is worst on the periphery, but even Germany and France are losing top graduates to overseas destinations.  Germany especially has had stagnant wages for a dozen years or more.  As a result, the rest of the world has been flooded by highly capable young German graduates.

In the great migrations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it was mainly poor, uneducated Europeans who left for new worlds overseas.  While it may have been heart-breaking for individuals and families to see their loved ones depart, it probably did their countries little harm.

In fact, many of the most successful emigrants returned from overseas rich in skills and money to make bigger contributions than they ever could have as penniless peasants.  Andrew Carnegie, for example, left Scotland an uneducated poor youth and returned from America to build libraries across his native land.

Today, however, it is the best-qualified, best-educated, most energetic Europeans who are leaving.  That is a great boon to Australia, Brazil, and Canada, but a tragic loss for Europe.  For the first time Europe is experiencing the kind of brain drain that used to be associated only with the world’s poorest countries.

Sadly, there’s a certain ironic justice in this.

For decades Europe and the west have imposed pro-business, small-government policies on developing countries through aid conditionality and structural adjustment programs.  And for decades young professionals left these countries for better opportunities in Europe.

Now Europe is imposing pro-business, small-government policies on itself.  And young Europeans professionals are responding just like young African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern professionals before them.  They are leaving.

If Europe wants to keep its new graduates, it must give them opportunities for personal and professional growth.

In a post-industrial economy, that can only be done by expanding the civil service.  European countries should be hiring more city planners and social workers.  They should be reducing class sizes by hiring more teachers and aides.  They should be expanding, not reducing, state health insurance coverage.

Of course, all this costs money.  Europe’s wealthiest will have to pay a little more in taxes.  Europe’s bondholders will have to accept lower interest rates.  Europe’s investors will have to keep their money in registered accounts, not shadowy tax jurisdictions.  Europe’s bankers will have to live with smaller bonuses.

Europe’s shipyards will have to build fewer yachts and more fishing boats and ferries.

The reward for all this sacrifice on the part of comfortable classes will be a healthier future for their children, their neighbors’ children, their countries, and their continent.  A few supremely comfortable people will have to sacrifice to make society a better place for all.

Patriots across Europe who want to see their countries and their cultures flourish should focus on improving the lives of ordinary people, not on creating profits for their wealthiest citizens.

Professionals especially are the backbone of the economy, the culture, and ultimately the state.  What’s more, most professionals aren’t looking for outsized pay packages.  They just want the opportunity to serve with pride and dignity.

Most professionals work (directly or indirectly) for government, while most taxes are paid (directly or indirectly) by businessmen.

Profits for businessmen or pay for professionals.  Ultimately that’s the choice to be made.  Europe has the financial resources it needs.  The problem is not the amount or money, but its distribution.

When it comes to policies to prevent emigration, it may be hard for people to do the right thing, but it’s not hard to see what is the right thing to do.

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Sydney-based globalization expert Salvatore Babones is available to speak on the Chinese economy (demographics, growth, technology), the Belt & Road Initiative, global trade networks, and Australia-China relations. Contact: