The Mendacity of Modern Journalism – Exhibit “A”

Rumors seep from the guilds of journalism of a pervasive belief therein that since impartial objectivity is impossible to attain, the bar should be lowered. But in that all fall short of any standard that is set, the invariable logic of lowering bars invariably produces a vortex of mediocrity. Thereby, honest reporting devolves into advocacy journalism and thereafter blatant sycophantic propaganda. That is certainly one plausible explanation for the contemporary state of affairs.

Today’s champion of journalistic mendacity comes from left-liberal ezine, Vox, not particularly notorious for noetic integrity. I stumbled upon an article by Vox’s Matthew Yglesias through a well-meaning but inept op-ed by David Brooks of The New York Times, who cited  Yglesias’  summation of another source, without validating the veracity of that summation.

The issue involves immigration and illegal immigration in the context of Donald Trump’s recent burps of authenticity; and in particular the claims that immigration harms the “incomes of native-born Americans on average.”

Being not American, I have no particular interest in the issue. It registers a 40 on my agitation scale, while intellectual integrity punches at thrice that. But Yglesias, being of mixed Spanish-Cuban and Jewish descent, evidently evinces such interest. Wielding a familiar but legitimate rhetorical tool, Yglesias conscripts the words of an ideological adversary, George Borjas, “leading economist in the immigration-skeptical camp,” to prove his point

Of the $1.6 trillion increase in GDP, 97.8 percent goes to the immigrants themselves in the form of wages and benefits; the remainder constitutes the “immigration surplus” — the benefit accruing to the native-born population, including both workers, owners of firms, and other users of the services provided by immigrants.

Yglesias excises a freely acknowledged factoid from within a 26-page report, in order to argue that although the net economic benefit of immigration to the host country is marginal, it still remains a positive number. But this is a case of being quite beside Borjas’ argument.

For American workers, immigration is primarily a redistributive policy. Economic theory predicts that immigration will redistribute income by lowering the wages of competing American workers and increasing the wages of complementary American workers as well as profits for business owners and other “users” of immigrant labor. Although the overall net impact on the native-born is small, the loss or gain for particular groups of the population can be substantial.

The best empirical research that tries to examine what has actually happened in the U.S. labor market aligns well with economy theory:

Economists have long known that immigration redistributes income in the receiving society. Although immigration makes the aggregate economy larger, the actual net benefit accruing to natives is small, equal to an estimated two-tenths of 1 percent of GDP. There is little evidence indicating that immigration (legal and/or illegal) creates large net gains for native-born Americans.

Even though the overall net impact on natives is small, this does not mean that the wage losses suffered by some natives or the income gains accruing to other natives are not substantial. Some groups of workers face a great deal of competition from immigrants. These workers are primarily, but by no means exclusively, at the bottom end of the skill distribution, doing low-wage jobs that require modest levels of education. Such workers make up a significant share of the nation’s working poor. The biggest winners from immigration are owners of businesses that employ a lot of immigrant labor and other users of immigrant labor. The other big winners are the immigrants themselves.

In Bible circles, we call this selective proof-texting. Thrash the bushes for that gnat in your adversary’s argument, while the camel squats on your face! This dissembling use of  off-site studies and reports, often behind paywalls, exploits the rushed and lazy reader, who fail to check out these links and verify their veracity; while lending them an air of authoritative legitimacy. This is a practice which, according to a study by Prof. J.T. Hutchinson, is taught by many journalism schools in the very first semester.

It would appear that journalist David Brooks was one of those lazy “readers” of Yglesias’ dissembling.


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