Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 28, 2013

Immigration Reform and the Gilovich Conjecture

Filed under: Immigration — by Christopher Bellavita on May 28, 2013

Immigration reform may make its way through the Senate soon. Its chances in the House are less optimistic.

What role will reason play in the latest immigration reform effort?

My answer is guided by Tim Gilovich’s observation (reported in The Righteous Mind, page 84):

When we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe it?” Then … we search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of psuedo-evidence, we can stop thinking. We now have permission to believe. We have a justification, in case anyone asks.

When we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Must I believe it?” Then we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it. You only need one key to unlock the handcuffs of must.”

And — as I have noted before about the Gilovich Conjecture — much of this questioning happens below the level of consciousness.

Test the conjecture for yourself next time you are confronted with a controversial argument you want to believe, or one you don’t want to believe. For example, maybe something like the following:

Continuing to believe that evidence and logic influence public policy more than emotion and an adaptive unconscious, the Heritage Foundation issued a report a few weeks ago about immigration. The report asserts that “current immigration practices … operate like a system of transnational welfare outreach, bringing millions of fiscally dependent individuals into the U.S.”

If amnesty is a part of immigration reform:

“Over a lifetime, the former unlawful immigrants together would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services and pay $3.1 trillion in taxes. They would generate a lifetime fiscal deficit (total benefits minus total taxes) of $6.3 trillion. …. This should be considered a minimum estimate. It probably understates real future costs because it undercounts the number of unlawful immigrants and dependents who will actually receive amnesty and underestimates significantly the future growth in welfare and medical benefits.”

Does that estimate hold up? asks Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews, as if has better access to evidence and argument.

“Not really. They [the authors of the Heritage Report] make a lot of curious methodological choices that cumulatively throw the study into question. It’s likely that immigrants would pay a lot more in taxes, and need a lot less in benefits, than Heritage assumes, and that other benefits would outweigh what costs remain.”

And then he writes a lot more about the subject, but — to be fair — not as much as the Heritage document.

Two days later, Wonkblog “put that piece in context” by noting one of the authors of the Heritage report wrote a PhD dissertation at Harvard about IQs and immigration that concluded (according to the dissertation abstract)

“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…. 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.”

A number of people on the political left and middle and right and the gaps in-between objected to the argument and its conclusions, no doubt after also reading the dissertation abstract.

Heritage quickly announced the dissertation was “not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings in no way reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation.”

The Foundation then went into damage control, and apparently considered hiring professional damage controllers.

Two days later, the co-author (Jason Richwine) resigned from Heritage.

He was “guilty of crimethink,” tweeted Charles Murray, Richwine’s mentor. “The bashing from the right has been as mindless as from the left.”

Richwine was interviewed by Byron York of the Washington Examiner a few days after the resignation. York’s article offers a compassionate but realistic portrait of a young intellectual caught by surprise in a political and media shredder.

So, how did it happen? Richwine, the Harvard intellectual, thought he could discuss perhaps the most radioactive subject in America — a mixture of race, ethnicity, and group intelligence — in the context of another highly controversial topic — immigration — and act as if it were all a matter of scholarly inquiry. In addition, he made what was at best a careless mistake … and further damaged himself by making tone-deaf remarks during a public discussion in Washington. Given the intensity of the immigration fight now raging in Washington, that was more than enough to do him in.

Steve Colbert had a slightly different analysis of the Heritage report incident and its aftermath.

But all that is prelude to what I really wanted to present in today’s post.

Here is a 21st century policy argument about immigration in the United Kingdom titled “Mathematics.”

Hollie McNish is the author. Her 2 minute and sixteen second argument seeks to bypass the reason gene completely and go directly to the part of one’s brain that decides things.

Listen to her argument.

If you want to believe what she says, have your unconscious ask yourself “Can I believe it?”

But if you don’t want to believe the argument, direct your unconscious to ask “Must I believe it?”

I think there may still be a bit of time left to wait for Reason to get its policy act together.

Or maybe not.

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4 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 28, 2013 @ 7:47 am

The Immiogration bill voted out of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate was heavily lobbied by the high-tech sector and guess which nation-state? YUP you guessed correctly China.

It will no longer be the tired, hungry and poor if a new law gets enacted but who can pay for the privilege.

And while no current religious test that I know of in the immigration law or rules there are some biases to Christians. Well the Christian population of most of MENA [middle east and N. Africa] are threatened now. Except of course in Syria where the Christian population is solidly behind ASSAD regime.

The current asylum rules are totally a mishmash. The bill out of the Senate Committee would make it worse for any reason or coherence in US choices.

And did you notice the administration wants to label even more positions in the Civil Service Sensitive and then allow immediate discharge without any civil service appeal rights to any holding that designation in non-critical positions. This was documented in an Obama memo in January from the President to OPM.

Carter’s destruction of the Civil Service now apparently a goal to be furthered by President Obama.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 28, 2013 @ 11:30 am

Finally watched the video and find of some interest but not much. Hey William the Conqoeur [sic] in 1066 was a more formal invasion of both an army, a language, and a culture but assimilated almost completely with 200 years. Our view of history guided by a single lifetime [ours] is far too short for more reasoned analysis given lack of statistical calibration points.

So here is a new one from the Pew Foundation. In CY 2010 more Asian immigrants to the USA legal and illegal than Hispanic. And IMO will be for the rest of time.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 28, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

I read the post as suggesting that most of us don’t actually think most of the time. Rather we indulge our prejudices and find justifications for those prejudices.

I am predisposed to perceive the suggestion is accurate. I base this on how I most often make judgments and on a selection of empirical research that seems to confirm my experience. Which is, in this context, a tautology.

The video poem is a form of rhetoric that attempts to make an empirically based argument with an emotionally-engaging method. It is probably persuasive with those poetically inclined; which is probably a population already predisposed to accept the argument, emotionally engaging or not. (If true, I wonder why those probabilities would coincide?)

I like poetry that is ambiguous. This poetry is not especially ambiguous. I like ambiguous poetry because it unsettles my prejudices. It makes me think.

Thinking requires putting aside — at least for awhile — our predispositions, prejudices, prior conclusions and listening as carefully, even as sympathetically, as possible to what we have previously rejected.

In college I won many more debates where I proposed what I did not personally believe. Not believing caused me to actually think and organize and argue… in the original meaning of the term. It is nearly a lost art and that is dangerous to homeland security.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 29, 2013 @ 8:06 am

Note that immigration reform was an announced plank of the DEMS in 2008 and also promised by the President.

I ranked it the fourth top priority for formation of DHS by GWB but his extensive personal efforts and that of Secretary Chertoff were rejected by Senate Republicans.

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