Aman Kapoor, Biden administration, Cato Institute, Cecelia Rouse, Chronicles, conflict of interest, David Bier, economics, economists, Following Up, FWD.us, George J. Borjas, idea laundering, Immigration, Immigration Voice, Jeremy Beck, Koch Brothers, NumbersUSA, Open Borders, Pedro Gonzalez, think tanks, wages
In late September, I posted on evidence that one of the supposedly most authoritative studies on the effects of large-scale immigration on the wages of the existing U.S. workforce came up with an answer (in a phrase, “no big deal”) based on no hard evidence whatever.
Since then, I’ve come across material indicating that the intellectual fraud committed by the Biden administration economists and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) “experts” team involve was much worse – along with documentation apparently showing that a leading U.S. private sector think tank whose research has armed much of the corporate Cheap Labor Lobby agitation for Open Borders-like policies is literally shilling for that powerful interest group.
As I wrote in that previous post, a mid-September blog item lead-authored by President Biden’s chief White House economic adviser Cecelia Rouse attempted to calm fears that the kinds of juiced up immigration inflows sought by the administration wouldn’t significantly harm already hard-pressed low-income and low-skill U.S. workers. But its case boiled down to nothing more than the kind of appeal to authority that typically seeks to cover up for a paucity of facts and figures – and indeed, an appeal to (NAS) authorities who the White House blog admitted themselves can’t cite much concrete evidence for their conclusions themselves.
But a month later, a post by Jeremy Beck of the immigration realist organization NumbersUSA spotlighted a much more serious problem with the NAS’ immigration analysis. It relied on mathematical models that didn’t actually find or conclude that Americans today holding or seeking poorly paying jobs have nothing important to worry about from big immigrant inflows. Instead, these models proceeded from this assumption.
Beck’s post was based on a conference presentation made by Harvard University labor economist George J. Borjas, who’s not only one of the world’s top specialists on immigration economics, but one of the very few noted economists critical of any aspect of what might be called pre-Trump U.S. immigration policies. So maybe his word shouldn’t be taken as gospel? Maybe not, but it’s noteworthy that the conference panelist he was paired with (another prominent labor and immigration economist) uttered not a word of objection. Nor did the moderator of the session, a Cato Institute analyst who could not be more enthusiastic about mass immigration. (Beck conveniently supplies the full video of the event.)
And speaking of the Cato Institute, that’s the think tank accused of hiring itself out to U.S. corporate interests anxious to pump up the supply of workers available them, and therefore drive down the wages they can command.
The charges appear on the website of the journal Chronicles. The publication and its contributors, like NumbersUSA, are definitely on the restrictionist side of the immigration policy debate. But the post, by Chronicles Associate Editor Pedro Gonzalez presents what it purports to be emails from an organization called Immigration Voice complaining that Cato immigration analyst David Bier has been writing less on the issues it paid him to focus on (boosting the numbers of foreign tech workers that can be employed by firms in the United States) and more on subjects of concern to another group seeking to increase immigration inflows that began paying him more.
According to a bitter message allegedly sent by Immigration Voice president Aman Kapoor, “this guy is like mercenaries, working to push the agenda of the highest bidder. We have [sic] him money when no one knew him and he was fresh out of Congress as a staffer, and no one was willing to support him. Now he has become an influencer because of the papers we suggested him to write any [sic] gave him money to do that….” And because the other Cheap Labor Lobby group, FWD.us, “is giving them money,” Bier is “only pushing” its favored topics.
In other words, there’s no honor among hired gun employers.
It’s not as if the Cato Institute wouldn’t be supporting Open Borders-like policies without Cheap Labor Lobby funding. It’s a libertarian outfit, and its platform strongly opposes pretty much any government interference in any aspect of the economy. But as Gonzalez observes (making points that, as I’ve written, apply to pretty much all of America’s major think tanks to varying extents), “Cato presents itself as providing independent policy research. Kapoor’s allegations raise concerns about the integrity, independence, and transparency of this research, which can have an outsized influence on policy debates.”
In other words, these financial ties create exactly the kind of appearance of conflict of interest that every organization with any integrity seeks either to avoid or to deal with by making crystal clear which of its products are literally made-to-order – and need above all to please the client rather than seek the truth.
And the two main reasons that think tanks like Cato that engage in these practices are so influential directly distort and therefore corrupt national policy debates and the decisions they produce. First, the big bucks provided by donors like Immigration Voice and FWD.us give it the wherewithal to spread the word about its work with some of the best public relations that money can buy. Second, the lack of donor transparency enables the funders to take advantage of what I’ve called idea-laundering: using think tanks to issue materials that push their particular agendas while garbing them in quasi-academic raiment to create the impressions of objectivity and intellectual respectability.
At this point I need to acknowledge that I myself have spoken at Cato conferences and written chapters for Cato books. They’ve concerned foreign policy, a field in which the Institute’s non-interventionist positions would be difficult to match with any corporate or other selfish private ends. In fact, I’ve heard that in at least one instance, Cato’s opposition to the first Persian Gulf War, they’ve cost the organization contributions. And in 2012, the Institute resisted for a time what some staff and board members viewed as an attempt by billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and the late David Koch to politicize the organization excessively.
I’ll also give Cato credit for hosting the aforementioned Borjas presentation. But Cato’s immigration work in general now looks a good deal less than principled – and about as reliable as that of the academic specialists who seem determined to deal with some of the biggest problems caused by supercharging immigration inflows by simply defining them out of existence.
P.S. Thanks to U.S. Tech Workers, an organization pressing to reform U.S. immigration laws to promote the hiring of Americans in specialty positions, for alerting me to the Chronicles post.