Heritage Foundation Drops Out of Immigration Conversation!


The Heritage Foundation, arguably the leading conservative/Republican think tank in Washington, D.C. has rightly taken a beating over its incredibly flawed recent report on the costs of immigration. That study, co-authored by Robert Rector and Jason Richwine, claimed that amnesty for illegal immigrants would cost the country $6.3 trillion over a 50-year span.

The study, which recapitulated a 2007 study involving Rector, came to its conclusion by essentially ignoring all the economic benefits that illegals provide to the larger economy. Most tellingly, the Heritage scholars abandoned the "dynamic scoring" model which Heritage pioneered to show how tax cuts can lead to increased revenues. A wide variety of analysts on the free-market right and among libertarian-oriented groups condemned the study for its methodological flaws. "Garbage In, Garbage Out," is how Reason's Shikha Dalmia aptly summarized the study.

The most interesting criticism of the study came from former Heritage scholar Tim Kane, who now works at Hudson Institute. Here's what Kane said about the new study:

I am disappointed in its poor quality. asserts on its main page in the biggest font I have ever seen (and I worked there for years) "The COST of Amnesty TO YOU > $6.3 Trillion."  Here we go.

It must be remembered that the same analysis was done by the same author in 2007, then warning the cost of amnesty was $2.6 Trillion (HT Andrew Stiles). But the current report indicates that the status quo cost of unlawful immigrant households is roughly half of the amnesty cost, which means YOU are already paying $3.15 Trillion. By this logic, the status quo (thanks to inaction six years ago) is more expensive than if reform had passed in 2007, to the tune of half a trillion dollars. The pileup of outlandish Heritage estimates presents a credibility hurdle.

In 2006, Kane co-authored a study on immigration for Heritage that flatly declared, "The argument that immigrants harm the American economy should be dismissed out of hand." In fact, Heritage—like most groups on the right—championed more-open borders until 2007. It's not particularly clear why and how the organization changed its stance on the issue, though Rector's 2007 study is widely credited with helping to undermine George Bush's comprehensive reform effort (another key factor: back then, organized labor was against immigration; now it tends to be neutral to favorable, sensing a shot at new members).

Heritage took another body blow when The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews reported that Jason Richwine's 2009 Harvard Ph.D. dissertation was an argument for keeping out low-I.Q. immigrants. Here's the dissertation's abstract:

The statistical construct known as IQ can reliably estimate general mental ability, or intelligence. The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations. The consequences are a lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low-IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust, and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market. Selecting high-IQ immigrants would ameliorate these problems in the U.S., while at the same time benefiting smart potential immigrants who lack educational access in their home countries.

Richwine has resigned from Heritage and the group issued this pro-forma statement:

Jason Richwine let us know he's decided to resign from his position. He's no longer employed by Heritage. It is our long-standing policy not to discuss internal personnel matters.

I haven't read Richwine's dissertation (something I perhaps share with the people who hired him at Heritage), so I can't comment on its seriousness (though as the grandchild of four low-skill, low-I.Q. immgrants, I feel vaguely angry about it).

The real issue is this: Will Heritage, under the relatively new leadership of former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) start producing serious work again? Whatever Richwine's (and Harvard's) academic interests, he co-authored a rotten study with Heritage's best-known analyst. That study is a scandal and it points to a serious lack of seriousness at a think tank long known for providing scenarios that fail the smell test to credulous Republican politicians (recall the ridiculous unemployment estimates they provided for Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan in 2011).

It's good to see folks such as Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) pushing back against bad research. "Here we go again," tweeted Flake. "New Heritage study claims huge cost for Immigration Reform. Ignores economic benefits. No dynamic scoring." It'll be even better to see Republican (and Democratic) pols refusing to use shoddy policy work in their arguments for and against various policies.

Heritage has all but conceded its study's flaws by dropping out of tomorrow's immigration-policy forum co-sponsored by Buzzfeed and the Charles Koch Institute (a Buzzfeed spokeswoman confirmed this for me this morning). Apparently defending its work in public is too high a price to pay.

Here's hoping the Heritage spends its time getting more serious about producing methodologically sound work on immigration.

Note on old anti-immigration images: Check out the great site of the Georgetown Book Shop for a great cache of historic posters and images about immigration and just about everything else you can imagine (radical political movements, journalism, travel, you name it). The same folks also host, another great time-suck for a Monday morning.

NEXT: Gunmen Lift Siege of Two Ministries in Tripoli

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  1. “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” is how Reason’s Shikha Dalmia aptly summarized the study.

    Well, if anyone would know, Shikha would.


    Something actually relevant to the discussion from the Bizzaro-world version of Reason

    1. It took less time for DeMint to run Heritage into the toilet than I expected.

  3. I oppose the ‘comprehensive’ immigration bill currently in Congress.

    However, the Heritage critique is probably accurate, and irrelevant. 6.3Tn over 50 years works out to an average of 126 Bn per year, with maybe 1/2 of that this year or 1/3 of 1% of GDP, BFD. The advocates of the bill have made a mistake in arguing over that level of cost. Even if the cost is accurate, is it large enough to make any proponent change their oppinion? No, it’s not, because the proponents see it primarily as a moral issue.

  4. Since Heritage is both political and partisan, it’s no surprise they would produce a junk study producing exactly the results it wanted. Maybe they simply didn’t get the memo from the GOP that it’s time to pivot from using Latinos as political scapegoats to realizing that they need a few of them if they ever want to win a national election again.

    1. Re: Tony,

      Since Heritage is both political and partisan, it’s no surprise they would produce a junk study producing exactly the results it wanted.

      Not unlike Demos or the Center for Economic and Policy Research. They arrive at economic conclusions that are even bigger whoppers than Heritage’s conclusions on immigration “costs”.

  5. “It’s not particularly clear why and how the organization changed its stance on the issue.”

    Some of these think tanks are more donation driven than others.

    If fracking would save the polar bears, there are plenty of environmentalist organizations that’d be happy to condemn it anyway–if they think capping on fracking will drive donations for the next couple of quarters.

    If capping on immigration drove donations at Heritage for a while, then why wouldn’t they cap on immigration?

  6. I don’t think I could possibly care less what any of these organizations think about…most anything.

    Exactly because they’ve become SO politicized beyond imagination that one must suspect EVERYTHING they produce.

    See also Matt Welch’s HnR post about the NYT’s reaction to IRSBenghaziGate. Same thing – fuck ’em all. Not to be trusted.

    1. fuck ’em all

      Pretty broad brush. I think the following organizations, which I contribute to, all are able to defend themselves pretty well against attacks regarding blind partisanship:

      Tax Foundation
      Institute for Justice

      I don’t contribute to anything center/left of center, but if I did, it would be The Brookings Institute.

      1. Yeah – it’s a broad brush. “Trust No One” works for me – you want to paint finer lines, be my guest.

        I don’t consider Reason, IJ in the same category as Heritage/The Nation/et al. Tax Foundation I don’t know much about, so no opinion at this point.

        The rest? Fuck ’em.

    2. See also Matt Welch’s HnR post about the NYT’s reaction to IRSBenghaziGate

      That Matt Welch guy has always seemed shifty-eyed to me too.

  7. It’s a shame that Heritage didn’t solicit reviews.

    About the low IQ immigrants, certainly the USA should be rolling out the red carpet for potential Nobel winners. But the persistance of low IQ over generations has to be made worse by illegal status.

    1. And crappy schools.

    2. Re: johnl,

      But the persistance of low IQ over generations has to be made worse by illegal status.

      That depends on what you mean by IQ and how it is measured. When the second wave of immigrants passed through Ellis Island (previous to the start of WWI,) psychologist and eugenecist Henry H. Goddard applied IQ tests on a sample of immigrants from poor Euroepan countries for a study being funded by the U.S. Army, and found that most were “feeble-minded” individuals not fit for recruitment, especially those of Jewish ancestry. He also concluded that feeble-mindedness was hereditary.

      The sons and daughters of those immigrants, who learned all the nuances of the English language, became the future scientists, businessmen, actors, artists, inventors and playwrights, proving Goddard wrong.

      1. ” Henry H. Goddard applied IQ tests … most were “feeble-minded” individuals”

        They were pre-selected as being potentially “feeble minded”; are you parroting Gould’s lies, or someone else’s?

        “Goddard established an intelligence testing program on Ellis Island in 1913. The purpose of the program was to identify “feeble-minded” persons whose nature was not obvious to the subjective judgement of immigration officers, who had previously made these judgements without the aid of tests.[4] When he published the results in 1917, Goddard stated that his results only applied to immigrants traveling steerage and did not apply to people traveling in first or second class.[5] He also noted that the population he studied had been preselected, cutting out those who were either “obviously normal” or “obviously feeble-minded”, and stated that he made “no attempt to determine the percentage of feeble-minded among immigrants in general or even of the special groups named ? the Jews, Hungarians, Italians, and Russians”; a qualifier omitted in works by opponents of the study of intelligence such as Gould and Kamin.[4]”

        “…He also concluded that feeble-mindedness was hereditary.

        And it still is. Amazing.

        ” … proving Goddard wrong.”

        Quite the opposite.

        1. Re: Flemur,

          They were pre-selected as being potentially “feeble minded”; are you parroting Gould’s lies, or someone else’s?

          I was giving Goddard the benefit of the doubt concerning how the population samples were selected as the description given in Wikipedia sounds preposterous, so it is clear you are oblivious to the fact that the Wikipedia entry is describing a totally un-scientific process of population sampling. Just by that process, whatever conclusions that Goddard could’ve reached were already dubious and suspect.

          You’re not helping his case at all.

          Quite the opposite.

          No, my friend. The fact that the children of those immigrants later became productive and talented citizens totally makes hash of his conclusions. You simply want to ignore the facts.

          1. Are you seriously this damn retarded? Goddard wasn’t doing “population samples” or “population sampling.” He was trying to identify “feeble-minded” people for eugenical treatment. Gould and the other Marxists misrepresented his data to promote blank slate theories that were popular in the 60’s and 70’s.

  8. I think this shows how important branding and image is in the think tank world, and why the Kochfight at CATO was as important as it was.

  9. Interestingly, the people who insist on referring to the study as “flawed” seem unable to produce any numbers to back up that assertion. The Heritage Foundation’s study may indeed be flawed, but at least their numbers and assumptions are on the table. Their detractors, not so much. Who’s actually producing the “serious” work here?

    1. Re: Cosmo Punch,

      Interestingly, the people who insist on referring to the study as “flawed” seem unable to produce any numbers to back up that assertion.

      “La-la-la-la! I can’t hear you! La-la-la-la!”

      Of course they have produced their numbers; and have shown the basic flaws behind the Heritage study. You just want to believe otherwise.

      Heritage had been promoting the importance of Dynamic scoring, yet their most important policy report uses a STATIC scoring model. Why would they do such a 180? Care to vendure a guess?

  10. Apparently defending its work in public is too high a price to pay.

    You can believe them. They’re well known intellectuals, you know.

  11. I haven’t read Richwine’s dissertation …”

    So you don’t disagree with its data, methods or conclusions.

    “…I feel vaguely angry about it).”

    Reason Mag – Emotion Mag.

    1. This.

      Harvard PhDs are idiots, didn’t you know?

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