The Backfire Effect

Joey demonstrates the "pants afire effect" by pretending that unauthorized immigrants are freeloaders.

“Facts are stubborn things.”

So said John Adams in 1770 when defending British soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre.  Redcoats were widely reviled in Boston.  But facts overcame emotion.  Adams and his co-counsels won acquittal for seven of the nine soldiers.

Yet in heated policy debates, facts hardly matter.

Studies by professors Brendan Nyhan of the University of Michigan and Jason Reifler of Georgia State University – described in Why Do People Believe Stupid Stuff Even When They’re Confronted With the Truth? – suggest that facts influence the open-minded.

But people who have made up their minds twist contrary facts to reinforce mistaken views.

The professors call this the “backfire effect”.

The backfire effect is evident in immigration debates.

For now, put emotion aside.  Let’s look at cold hard facts.

Our Soviet-style centrally planned immigration system – its categories, quotas, rewards and punishments, based on rules not reality – does not meet human needs.  If it did, the U.S. would not have millions of citizens and non-citizens who live and work outside that system.

Immigrants (who, here and below, include both authorized and unauthorized immigrants) pay more in taxes than they consume in services.  Those taxes often go to Washington while services are consumed locally, but overall, immigrants subsidize the rest of us.

Immigrants participate in the U.S. labor force at a higher rate than the America-born.

Immigrants commit less crime than the America-born.  U.S. cities along the Mexican border have lower crime rates than the U.S. average.

Immigrants do work that natives will not do even at double or triple the wages.  And if citizens accepted such work at vastly increased pay, Americans who already complain about high prices would be outraged as prices go higher.

Immigrant workers create more jobs than they take and strengthen the economy.

Unauthorized presence in the U.S., without more, is not a crime.  For example, about 40% of unauthorized immigrants overstayed valid entry permits; they are civil violators, akin to parking meter feeders, and are not criminals.

I could go on.  But you’re bored!

If you support reforming immigration law to comport with human nature and help our country, you didn’t need to know these facts.

If you weren’t sure about it, I hope these facts convinced you.

If you are a know-it-all who wants our government to break up millions of American families, deprive businesses of workers and customers, poison the country’s atmosphere, and continue to waste billions on attempts to enforce unworkable laws, then according to professors Nyhan and Reifler, nothing I can tell you will change your mind.

And no phony “facts” you cite will change my mind.  We kangaroo puppets are as stubborn as John Adams.

Immigration policy is not about facts anyway.  It’s driven by myth.  As Princeton professor Douglas S. Massey and researcher Karen A. Pren have written, “Congress routinely makes consequential [immigration] policy decisions with scant consideration of the underlying dynamics of the social processes involved.”  In other words, Congress makes up stupid stuff.

Our country suffers from the mess that results.