Mediocre academic researchers should be wary of globalisation

WHEN politicians in the rich world speak of job losses and stagnant incomes brought about by immigration and foreign competition, they usually have blue-collar work in mind—car manufacturing, steelmaking and the like. But even the cognitive 1% can be adversely affected by foreign competition.

In a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Human Resources, George Borjas of Harvard University, and Kirk Doran and Ying Shen of the University of Notre Dame, study the effects of globalisation on a select group of particularly brainy Westerners: professors of mathematics. Distinguishing between cause and effect is always hard in the social sciences. One approach researchers use is to search for a “natural experiment”, and that is exactly what Drs Borjas, Doran and Shen found when they examined what happened to the productivity of American mathematicians after China’s liberalisation in 1978.

Mao Zedong, in power from 1949 to 1976, was not keen on foreign ideas. For most of his rule, Chinese academics had little contact with the West; emigration was largely banned. Between 1949 and 1965, only around 200 Chinese students left for Western universities, with the majority studying foreign languages. Just 21 studied natural sciences.

Chinese education policy changed dramatically after Mao’s death, however. His successor Deng…Continue reading

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