Robert Rector and Other Undocumented Economists: Why it matters

Robert Rector undocumented economist

Robert Rector, author of the now infamous Heritage Foundation immigration study, is perhaps America’s preeminent undocumented economist. He’s a demographer!

There is a deep, dark, musty secret kept by the “researchers” who assure restrictionists that immigrants take citizens’ jobs, drive down wages, drive up our national debt, trash the economy, export our currency, bankrupt hospitals , give us measles, conceal terrorists, and rape our daughters: these “researchers” are not authorities on these subjects; they have no more credentials than I do to call themselves “experts”.

By Dave Leach  –  March 30, 2015

I have a college degree in teaching music and playing trumpet. That makes me as much an authority on the economic impact of immigration as any of them. I confess, I didn’t care enough about understanding the economy to make that my major in college. Neither did they, but they don’t confess it. Their leading “researcher”, apparently, says in his bio, “Camarota has testified before Congress more than any other non-government expert on the economic and fiscal impact of immigration.” But he didn’t major in economics. His degrees are in Political Science and Public Policy Analysis.

Camarota’s claim that of non-government witnesses, Congress listens to him more than to any economist, is backed up by the fact that at this year’s first Congressional hearing on immigration, March 17 in the Senate Judiciary Committee, none of the 7 witnesses had economics diplomas even though the subject rested on economic questions. [Update May 28: None of the 7 witnesses at the April 23 immigration hearing had economics diplomas either.] Similarly, out of 39 witnesses before the same committee in 2013, regarding the immigration reform bill, S744, only two witnesses were economists: Grover Norquist and Douglas Holtz-Eakin; they were opposed by several Undocumented Economists.

The two groups give Congress, and the public, a very different, and very distinct, picture of the impact of immigration. At least on the subject of immigration, they are not like trumpet players who are able to advance so far even without lessons that it is impossible to tell if they have had lessons just from listening to them.

It is easy to tell if an economist, talking about immigration, is documented or undocumented. The dramatic pessimism of the undocumented inspires memorable headlines. But according to those who have formally studied the subject, “The scarcity of evidence for great pessimism stands as a fact”, as David Roodman concluded from his survey of economics research regarding immigration. One of the two economists invited to address the Senate in 2013 told them that the additional million legal immigrants we would have had under S744 would have grown our entire economy by 1% over 10 years and would have reduced our national deficit by one third. Which raises the question: why aren’t citizens demanding that we let three million more immigrants come legally, and save America from bankruptcy?

There is not night-and-day division among economists about immigration’s impact, the way there is between scientists over global warming and evolution, or even the way there is between economists in more controversial areas of economics. Economists mostly agree in their estimation of the economic impact of immigration; their differences fall almost within a margin of error. Even George Borjas “says the average American’s wealth is increased…because of illegal immigration”, though “by less than 1 percent.” This is remarkable because his studies rank among the most pessimistic in Roodman’s survey of immigration research by economists, his conclusion about the impact of immigration on high school dropouts is called “the most pessimistic estimation in the scholarly literature”, and Camarota quoted him in support of Camarota’s own much more pessimistic claims.

(Clarification: I do not use the label “Undocumented Economist” to refer to those who merely report what economists say. I use it to refer to those who, without economics credentials, publish their own studies in their own name, calling them “research”, and passing them off as qualified primary sources.)

Part Two: Should we care that Congress hears mostly Undocumented Economists?

Undocumented Economists and economists paint different pictures of the impact of immigration. Should we care that Congress pays much more attention to UE’s?

When credentials matter.

Does it matter? Can’t someone understand something without a college degree in it?

Understand? That’s relative. Guide national fiscal policy to the exclusion of those who do have a college degree in it? That’s crazy.

It depends on the subject, (1) whether people without training can master a subject as well as those with training; and (2) whether mastery is critical enough that we can’t allow people to do it at all unless they have credentials documenting that they have mastered it, or ought to be restricted in some situations but allowed in others.

If you don’t know calculus, or even if you know calculus but you don’t know the values which economics attaches to the letters used, you can’t even read economics research (as opposed to articles written by economists for the general public). You can read the portion in English, but without understanding the economics-focused calculus you can’t double check the findings. You have to skip to the conclusions and hope they were arrived at correctly.

Although introductory economics courses, such as those most college students must complete in the course of their studies, involve little math, an in-depth study of economics requires a rigorous understanding of mathematics, including calculus. Calculus provides the language of economics and the means by which economists solve problems. – “How is calculus used in economics?”

The consequences of getting the economic impact of immigration wrong are deadly. They are directly deadly for immigrants fleeing to us from certain death back home, to which we return them; they are also deadly for citizens to the extent our policies fail to screen terrorists, keep out immigrants who would be glad to serve in our military to protect us, and limit the economic stability we need to maintain our protection from our enemies.

If you are headed for brain surgery, you feel more secure knowing the surgeon went to medical school. How secure should we feel, when we learn that Congress pays most of its attention to Undocumented Economists and hardly any to credentialed economists? Is getting brain surgery wrong more deadly than getting America’s immigration policy wrong, which is mostly shaped by our understanding of immigration economics, as our opening paragraph points out?

Of course, credentials requirements are often overdone. Some are ridiculous. Like not letting someone cut hair who has not graduated from barber college. This is foolish because the untrained can come close enough to the same quality that you can’t tell it apart by looking at it, doing it badly is harmless, and it robs people of choice, who prefer their services. This is not like selecting witnesses for immigration hearings, where the difference is clear to all, doing it badly is not harmless, and customer choice is not a factor – Congressmen are responsible for selecting witnesses who will most benefit voters, not themselves.

Almost that absurd are laws preventing obviously qualified people from teaching children in public schools without a very specific relevant degree. For example, a Ph.D. in calculus does not qualify you to teach 3rd graders how to add and subtract; a teacher certified to teach high school gym is not qualified to teach elementary gym; the concert master of the local symphony, or America’s top popular singer, is not allowed to teach elementary music without a degree with the word “education” in it. This is unlike witness selection for immigration hearings, since the Undocumented Economists who would be limited by a credentials requirement are not obviously qualified.

Most credentials requirements make some sense. We don’t let children drive until they are about 16. Not that some 15-year-olds are incapable of driving more safely than some 30-year-olds, but by 16 most are able, there is no serious harm in making safe younger children wait, and age 16 is an easy to document, objective way for laws to define who is qualified that is not unreasonably far from reality. This is much like witness selection since a credentials requirement would be an objective boundary between qualified and unqualified that is not unreasonably far from reality.

We don’t ever let someone do brain surgery without graduating from medical school. This is because it is impossible to acquire operating skills, which include working with a team of specialists using the latest advanced equipment, outside medical school, and the consequences of doing it wrong are fatal. It might not be as impossible to master economics without formal training as it is to learn brain surgery without medical school or to fly a passenger jet without actual hours in the air, but I suspect it would be close.

On the other hand, we require no credentials for being a politician. (Beyond being a citizen, old enough to vote, and a resident of the district you are running in.) Not because the consequences of doing it badly are not as evil as evil gets, but because there are no criteria objective and simple enough to entrust to any enforcement bureaucracy, and no bureaucrats we can trust with such power, fewer than all the voters who will be affected by the politician. We require no more credentials to vote, for the same reason. Fortunately an economics degree is a fairly reliable indicator of economics understanding.

Christian leaders once ruled that laymen were not permitted to read the Bible in their own language because they were incapable of understanding it without training. It was the law everywhere. Now it is the law nowhere, because although training generally improves understanding, (1) no Bible hero is so wise that he is above being corrected by the least qualified – even God listens to the least of us and changes course at the reasoning of mere men, Exodus 32:9-14, Matthew 15:22-28; (2) those well trained can’t always be trusted, if those holding them accountable are few and no one can hold accountable those few; (3) Life-saving information should not be kept from anyone willing to study it; and (4) God promises success to the extent we allow many people to join our discussion, Proverbs 15:22.

Allowing Undocumented Economists to testify does not serve the advantage of inviting more voices into the discussion, allowing a “multitude of counselors” to contribute their collective wisdom, since immigration hearings are a very limited venue where only a few voices can be heard. So that every Undocumented Economist who is invited to speak means one real economist cannot. Every witness who doesn’t fully understand what he is talking about precludes one who does.

If Congress wanted the benefit of a “multitude of counselors”, they would dedicate more time to listen to more witnesses, instead of listening to the least informed to the exclusion of the best informed. They would also create a process for responding thoughtfully to thoughtful constituent mail. (I have some ideas how they could do that if they are interested.)

Part Three: Undocumented Economists aren’t expert witnesses

Undocumented Economists and economists paint different pictures of the impact of immigration. Should we care that Congress pays much more attention to UE’s?

Expert Witnesses. Anyone can testify that he saw someone with dark skin pay for his groceries with food stamps. But before we believe his generalization from that, that all illegals are on welfare, we would like to see some indication that he has been exposed to a variety of relevant reliable information sources. That illustrates the difference between a witness and an expert witness.

Several who testify before Congress qualify as ordinary witnesses. For example the head of a national agricultural organization can testify about the role of immigration in agriculture because he has personally observed it. But before allowing someone to testify about the role of immigration in the economy as a whole, any court would require him to have at least one college degree in economics.

America’s judiciary would never allow a witness to testify about what he has not personally observed, unless he qualifies as an “expert witness”. Then he may analyze aspects of the case that he has not personally experienced but which he understands by having credentials in a relevant subject.

For example, an ordinary hunter would not be allowed to testify that a particular bullet came from a particular gun, unless he had watched it come from that gun. But a ballistics expert has the experience and equipment to run tests to establish whether it did.

The school nurse wouldn’t be allowed to testify about a cause of death unless she had forensics credentials. If her only degree were in economics, she would be escorted out of the room by police if she even tried to talk. Her degree has to document her expertise in the subject she is called to talk about. I don’t believe any part of America’s judiciary would allow anyone without a degree in economics to testify about the general economic impact of, for example, immigration quotas, as part of a claim that they violate the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment by restricting a “fundamental right” – liberty – without serving a “compelling government interest” in the “least restrictive means” possible.

Courts don’t allow unqualified people to speak, partly because time is precious, partly because the atmosphere is so hostile that any evidence that can be challenged will be, and mostly because facts are taken very seriously so they want them to be correct.

If America’s judiciary would never allow someone to testify about economics without a degree in economics, why do America’s judiciary committees?

America’s judiciary committees are made up mostly of lawyers. Lawyers appreciate the importance of silencing unqualified counsel which would otherwise compete with their own profession; how can the lawyers on judiciary committees fail to see the same need to silence unqualified Undocumented Economists? Especially since lawyers are much more like trumpet players than brain surgeons: non-lawyers not infrequently defeat lawyers in court. And they do this despite the obstacles thrown before them by lawyers: in court, they are not allowed to speak out loud for the person they are helping – the most they can do is sit with him and whisper tips. Outside court, they can write briefs, but can’t put their name on them or submit them to the court; they must send them to the one they are helping, who must file them in court in his own name. How can lawyers require these restrictions, and yet in judiciary committees, leave Undocumented Economists absolutely unrestricted and in fact dominant over credentialed economists?

How is this not backwards? Shouldn’t Undocumented Economists sit in the back of the room at immigration hearings because their uninformed testimony is taking America to bankruptcy court, while non-lawyers should be allowed to speak orally for those they help, if that is the choice of the litigant – which is the original meaning of the “counsel of choice” clause of the Sixth Amendment? Especially since no harm will come of silencing Undocumented Economists, but the harm of silencing non-lawyers is that litigants who can’t afford lawyers are denied help that they could afford – and hence are denied justice?
Most restrictionists have no idea that their economics “experts” are undocumented. Nor do they suspect that documented economists mostly agree in a very different understanding of reality. In other words, immigration restrictionism is based on ignorance of a simple fact which is very easy to explain: the notion that immigration, legal or illegal, hurts America, is undocumented. It springs from the collective imagination of Undocumented Economists who have no formal education in the subjects in which they pretend to be experts.

There is a rather simple thing a few of us can do to end this ignorance. We can ask our Congressmen “When you hold future hearings on immigration, will you select more economists than Undocumented Economists to testify about the economic impact on citizens of what you are considering?” Not all of them will realize that letting economists testify will open the nation’s eyes to the scam that has poisoned immigration law. A few realize it, and do not want that to happen because they are linked to the scammers; but how can they object? Will they dare say “No; I want to keep listening to amateurs because professionals are only going to expose how stupid I’ve been”?

I started a MoveOn petition, for Democrat lawmakers, and an ipetition for Republicans. But why don’t you contact them yourself? If you do, I would love to hear how they answer you.

Dave Leach is very conservative, by the test of whether his positions line up with the Bible, and with the views of America’s Founders. He has been involved in abortion law, divorce law, child abuse law, and immigration law. He has been a statehouse candidate in Iowa. He has published the Prayer & Action News since 1989, and has been listed in Marquis’ “Who’s Who in America” since 1998. He owns the Family Music Center.

A series of my bilingual articles explaining to Latinos what they can do and say is linked at; a series of articles about the March 17 immigration hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee is at  I also offer a Bible study that responds to restrictionist studies, at www.Saltshaker.US/HispanicHope/StrangerProject.pdf, and a legal brief challenging the constitutionality of immigration quotas, suitable for use in any deportation hearing, at www.Saltshaker.US/HispanicHope/Deportation-Brief.pdf.

April 26, 2015 Update: The reference to Robert Rector in the headline, and the photo, were added by Bob Quasius, I suppose for searchers. I had not been certain of Rector’s credentials, but now I am emailing him   to ask him:

I wonder what your major was at William and Mary? I find several websites repeating that you graduated from there, but none that give your major. Was it economics? For example, if there were an economics question in a court case concerning which an expert witness was needed, do you have university credentials that would qualify you in court as an expert witness on economics?

I will of course remove his name from this article, if his answer warrants it. According to the Heritage webform, the way to email him is staff (at), with “To Robert Rector” in the subject line.

I had a rare opportunity to talk at length with Congressman Steve King yesterday. King said he relies on Rector even more than on Camarota. He referred me to a May 6, 2013 study by Rector, describing it in lengthy detail, so now I will need to read it.


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