The Export of Talent
Before and since their day there have been other expatriates whose loss we cannot but regret, but must recognise as inevitable: among the painters there were Dora Meeson, Raymond McIntyre, and James Cook; among the writers, Pember Reeves, John Mulgan, and James Courage. Many singers, instrumentalists, and an increasing number of actors have trained abroad and never returned. Nor is this constant exodus confined to the pure arts. Today there are in England, America, and Europe, New Zealand surgeons, physicians, scholars, men of law, men of science, men of business, engineers, nurses, designers, broadcasters, and television experts. Some of them may wish, from time to time, that they could find comparable opportunities in their native country but for few of them does the suitable opening occur.
Nobody is going to say of these New Zealanders that they ought to come back. They are themselves and they have the right to order their own lives and develop such talents as they possess in the climate that is most favourable to them. May it not be urged that the responsibility lies at home, that it is time New Zealanders examined this state of affairs and asked themselves, for example, whether the balance of opportunity in New Zealand needs a new look? How does the salary of a schoolmaster or a lecturer in a New Zealand university compare, first, with the equivalent salary in other countries, and then with the wages of semi- or unskilled labour in New Zealand? How far is the disparity, if one exists, a matter of necessity, of sound judgment, or of dictation from sources that are not qualified to judge? How big an effort is being made to give young New Zealanders an awareness of their place, even though it is a remote place, in the history and growth of European culture, that they are a living extension of a great cultural tradition, and that their growth, as a thinking people, is historically and organically linked with the outside world and must be dependent upon it? Geographically, New Zealand may be out on a limb, but as long as the sap flows it is a branch of no mean tree.
One of the difficulties in discussing the present situation and the consequent drain away of talent rests on the circumstance of there being very few countries with whom New Zealanders may profitably compare themselves. This is an extremely young country. The circumstances under which it was settled, the declared aims and objects of the pioneers, and the overall pattern of development have no exact contemporary parallel: there are no other truly comparable countries. In size alone, apart from its early history, Australia offers no useful talking point. New Zealanders are a small community in a small country: the crux of the matter is whether they have too low a saturation point when it comes to using their most gifted people.
In the growth and emergence of the New Zealand Welfare State over the past 30 years, certain points of view have come to light. They are perhaps implicit in any social structure that has as its principal ideal the concept of the greatest good for the greatest number. There is an unspoken mistrust of any kind of élite, not only socially, but intellectually as well. In the schools and universities, overcrowded, understaffed, and constantly expanding as they are, there is an unavoidable tendency to let the brilliant student get on with it while the rank and file are crammed over their educational fences and brought up to examination levels. Opportunities for specialisation and experiment are not conspicuous in the general scheme. Postgraduate development is in many cases only to be had by going to another country for it. And the brilliant graduate goes. He becomes very highly equipped in his special subject and arrives at a point where his own country can offer him nothing that measures up to the opportunities that present themselves elsewhere.