A recent study by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, sheds a great deal of light on the sausage mill of policy research, and the courage and integrity of the process of policy research altogether.
The Heritage study, performed by a recent Harvard Ph.D. and a former federal budget official, estimated that—over the next 50 years—relaxing immigration rules in the United States would cost taxpayers trillions of dollars.
Given the assumptions the authors used, the calculations are about right, but policy studies are not solely about calculations. For example, the study calculated that increased legalization of immigrants would be a huge budget windfall for more than a decade.
Had they looked a decade, or even two or three decades out, it was clear that immigrants were a huge fiscal boon. This is pretty much what every other economist who has studied the matter has also concluded.
The authors chose an improbably long horizon from which to make fiscal estimates of immigration. Fifty-year-long studies often have merit, but not on issues like Medicaid, educational cost and other things that are heavily dependent upon adaptive public policy. So, the choice of this time horizon naturally smelled a bit like a selective interpretation of the data.
Still, the criticism of the study is most pointed in its targeting of the assumptions underlying immigrant behavior over the next 50 years. The study assumed that immigrants, their children and their grandchildren would exhibit little integration into society and use public services at a much higher rate than the native population.
This might or might not be true, but it is certain that how true it will actually be dramatically alters the conclusions of the study. For this reason alone, the study is of limited policy value, but the story didn’t end there.
It turns out the researcher with the Harvard Ph.D. has been guilty of studying the link between IQ and immigration in the United States. Now I don’t think this is an especially interesting area of research, not only because it relies on data from the highly questionable research of psychologists, but also because there’s no good policy use for the answers.
What is notable is the reaction of Heritage. It fired the man for the content of his doctoral dissertation, which was approved by leading academics of the center and left. That is cowardice.
Jim DeMint shocked many in Washington when he resigned from the Senate to lead and revive Heritage. In only six weeks, he has heaped more damage on the institution than most could manage in an entire career.•
Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.