The United States buys food from many developing countries. How many major NYT pieces have there been complaining about how we steal food from Honduras, Ghana or other poor countries?
Of course that would make no sense. In principle the trade should be mutually beneficial, with poor countries using the money they get from exporting food to buy necessary imports. (Not everyone necessarily gains in this story. For example, the landowners may be positioned to get the bulk of the benefits, but the poor country as a whole generally gains from trade.)
This fact makes it very strange that the NYT would run a major Sunday Magazine piece titled, "America is stealing the world's doctors." The same models that economists use all the time to tout the benefits of trade and show the stupidity of trade barriers can also be used to show how poor countries can benefit from having their doctors come to the United States.
Doctors are not in fixed supply, we can have more of them. And in fact, it is much cheaper to train doctors in the developing world than in the United States. Rather than having fewer doctors come from the developing world, the economics would dictate that we should have more.
Doctors earn on average more than $250,000 a year in the United States. The piece describes an American trained doctor in Zambia earning just $24,000 a year. This suggests enormous opportunities for potential gains.
If many more doctors went from Zambia and other poor countries to work in the United States, it could substantially reduce the pay of doctors in the United States. If enough doctors came to the United States to reduce average pay by $100,000 a year, the savings to patients would be more than $80 billion a year.
If just 20 percent of these gains were taxed back to pay for extending medical training in the developing world ($16 billion a year), the doctors who left could be more than replaced with newly trained physicians. This would mean that developing countries would also be able to get better health care. And, the net savings to the United States would still be well over $60 billion a year, far more than the amount of money at stake with extending the Bush tax cuts to the richest 2 percent.
This is how any honest trade economist would view this situation. Unfortunately, trade economists spend most of their time arguing against measures that could benefit manufacturing workers and other less-educated workers. They don't concern themselves with the far more costly barriers than ensure that doctors in the United States stay rich and that health care remains unaffordable to many both in the United States and the developing world.
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