The tiresome brain drain discussion


I can’t speak for anyone else, but as a Greek in Greece I am starting to get tired of the whole brain drain discussion – almost angry, in fact, because instead of healing the wounds of the crisis, it’s just like pouring salt on them.

When you keep going on and on about Greece having lost all its talented and hardworking professionals, what kind of message are you sending to the ones who have stayed behind? When you keep saying that the best of the country’s labor force has gone, you’re implying that the people left behind are the worst, or at best mediocre.

Has anyone really considered what it means to everyone here when the professionals that left are hailed almost as if they were the saviors of the Greek economy and are equated with economic growth? What’s more, have they even considered how it makes the people who left feel? Isn’t it unfair to place such an unnecessary and heavy burden on their shoulders from the massive expectations being generated about the return of the “brains”?

It is, you might argue. But it is also convenient. It’s easy to set goals that are so high they are almost unattainable, that you can take credit for setting even if you fail to meet them.

The real issue at hand, however, is the causes of the brain drain, and this is something that is of concern to those that left and those that stayed behind. In a recent op-ed in Kathimerini titled “The human capital being lost,” the vice president of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), Konstantinos Bitsios, wrote: “Their flight reflects the country’s structural shortcomings. They left because they cannot get the remuneration their qualifications entitle them to and because they face problems like an absence of meritocracy, high taxes and non-salary expenses, corruption and low-quality social services.”

Bringing back the brains without fixing the causes that pushed them away is like bringing a new coach to a broken team. No matter what the new coach does, if you don’t change the system and make sure the players accept it, the team will continue to lose and its fans to call for change.

Changing the social and economic framework (salaries, benefits, meritocracy, taxes) needs to start for the sake of the people who are here because the Greeks who have left are not living in a bubble, whether they’re in the City of London or in Silicon Valley. They have phones and they talk to their parents, probably every day. In other words, when the news from home is always the same, when your dad’s or brother’s salary has been stuck at the same level throughout the crisis or when your mother hasn’t managed to find a decent job and you sister has to work 10 or 12 hours a day because she’s carrying an office on her own, why would you consider coming back? Why, in fact, wouldn’t you try to get the people you love out?

When wounds are not treated properly and allowed to heal from the inside, they just keep getting infected. It’s just common sense.