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Below is the first of four parts of a 1999 debate in Slate between U. of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, and myself, Steve Sailer. We discussed Levitt’s most celebrated theory: Did the legalization of abortion in 1969-1973 cause the crime rate to fall? 

I’ve decided to host this debate on my website because it is of some modest degree of historical importance as the first airing of one of the longer-running social science controversies of the 21st Century, and because Slate  deleted our names from their posting of it during a website reorganization. Several years ago, Slate  promised to restore our names, but hasn’t done so yet. The absence of our names on Slate  has made it hard for interested readers to find this using search engines.
E-MAIL DEBATES OF NEWSWORTHY TOPICS.
AUG. 23 1999 5:32 PM

Does Abortion Prevent Crime?

Part 1 of 4 of a debate between Steven D. Levitt and Steve Sailer


By Steven D. Levitt
In recent weeks there has been a lot of media coverage of a paper John Donohue and I recently wrote connecting the legalization of abortion in the 1970s to reduced crime in the 1990s. (A preliminary version of the paper is posted here.) The purpose of the study is to better understand the reasons for the sharp decline in crime during this decade, which, prior to our research, had largely eluded explanation. While there are many other theories as to why crime declined (more prisoners, better policing, the strong economy, the decline of crack, etc.), most experts agree that none of these very convincingly explains the 30 percent to 40 percent fall in crime since 1991.

The theoretical justification for our argument rests on two simple assumptions: 1) Legalized abortion leads to fewer “unwanted” babies being born, and 2) unwanted babies are more likely to suffer abuse and neglect and are therefore at an increased risk for criminal involvement later in life. The first assumption, that abortion reduces the number of unwanted children, is true virtually by definition. The second assumption, that unwanted children are at increased risk for criminal involvement, is supported by three decades of academic research. If one accepts these two assumptions, then a direct mechanism by which the legalization of abortion can reduce crime has been established. At that point, the question merely becomes: Is the magnitude of the impact large or small? 

Our preliminary research suggests that the effect of abortion legalization is large. According to our estimates, as much as one-half of the remarkable decline in crime in the 1990s may be attributable to the legalization of abortion. We base our conclusions on four separate data analyses. 

First, we demonstrate that crime rates began to fall 18 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion across the nation, just the point at which babies born under legalized abortion would be reaching the peak adolescent crime years. In my opinion, this is the weakest of our four data analyses. In a simple time series, many factors are negatively correlated with crime. Furthermore, the world is a complicated place and it would be simplistic to believe that legalized abortion could overpower all other social determinants of crime. 

Second, we show that the five states that legalized abortion in 1970–three years before Roe vs. Wade–saw crime begin to decrease roughly three years earlier than the rest of the nation. This is a bit more convincing to me but still far from conclusive. 

Third, we demonstrate that states with high abortion rates in the mid-1970s have had much greater crime decreases in the 1990s than states that had low abortion rates in the 1970s. This relationship holds true even when we take into account changes in the size of prison populations, number of police, poverty rates, measures of the economy, changes in welfare generosity, and other changes in fertility. This is the evidence that really starts to be convincing, in my opinion. 

Fourth, we show that the abortion-related drop in crime is occurring only for those who today are under the age of 25. This is exactly the age group we would expect to be affected by the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s. That is where our paper stops. Our paper is a descriptive exercise attempting to explain why crime fell. While our paper highlights one benefit of allowing women to determine whether or not to bring pregnancies to term, we make no attempt to systematically analyze the many possible costs and benefits of legalized abortion. Consequently, we can make no judgment as to whether legalized abortion is good or bad. In no way does our paper endorse abortion as a form of birth control. In no way does our paper suggest that the government should restrict any woman’s right to bear children. Although these are the most interesting issues for the media to discuss, our paper actually has very little to say on such topics. 

I think the crux of the misinterpretation of our study is that critics of our work fail to see the distinction between identifying a relationship between social phenomena and endorsing such a relationship. When a scientist presents evidence that global warming is occurring, it does not mean that he or she favors global warming, but merely that the scientist believes such a phenomenon exists. That is precisely our position with respect to the link between abortion and crime: We are not arguing that such a relationship is good or bad, merely that it appears to exist. 

As an aside, it has been both fascinating and disturbing to me how the media have insisted on reporting this as a study about race, when race really is not an integral part of the story. The link between abortion and unwantedness, and also between unwantedness and later criminality, have been shown most clearly in Scandinavian data. Abortion rates among African-Americans are higher, but overall, far more abortions are done by whites. None of our analysis is race-based because the crime data by race is generally not deemed reliable. 

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. I am interested in your views on the paper and its analysis, but also on the broader topic of the coverage of scientific research in the popular press, particularly when it relates to sensitive subjects like abortion, crime, or race. Do you think any good comes from a public discussion of academic studies such as this one? What, if anything, could be done to make such public debates more productive?

To read more on this topic, see Steve Sailer’s 2005 posting after The Economist and the Wall Street Journal revealed that an attempted replication of Levitt’s state-level analysis by Boston Fed economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz discovered that Levitt had made a fatal error in his computer code, which explains why Levitt’s state-level findings didn’t match my national-level analysis in 1999.
   
Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)
   
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Crime, Freakonomics 
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Below is the second of four parts of a 1999 debate in Slate between U. of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, and myself, Steve Sailer. We discussed Levitt’s most celebrated theory: Did the legalization of abortion in 1969-1973 cause the crime rate to fall? 

I’ve decided to host this debate on my website because it is of some modest degree of historical importance as the first airing of one of the longer-running social science controversies of the 21st Century, and because Slate  deleted our names from their posting of it during a website reorganization. Several years ago, Slate  promised to restore our names, but hasn’t done so yet. The absence of our names on Slate  has made it hard for interested readers to find this using search engines.
E-MAIL DEBATES OF NEWSWORTHY TOPICS.
AUG. 24 1999 3:30 AM

Does Abortion Prevent Crime?



Part 2 of a 4-part debate between Steven D. Levitt and Steve Sailer

Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)

By Steve Sailer

Your open-minded search for the truth, no matter how disturbing it may turn out to be, epitomizes the scientific ideal. Your study of abortion and crime is exactly what the social sciences need more of: courageous, hard-headed inquiries into the big topics that everybody else is afraid to touch. Even more impressive is your behavior since the controversy started. (Some background for readers: On Aug. 15, I circulated a critique of Steven Levitt and John Donohue’s theory that legalized abortion reduced crime to the Human Biodiversity Discussion Group. A member passed it on to Steven, and despite his being deluged with media requests, he wrote to thank me for my criticisms. We then started up an e-mail exchange; this Slate “Dialogue” is its public continuation.)

With luck, I’ll have room in my next message to respond to your important questions about how to make public and academic discourse less moralistic and more realistic. (Short answer: Junk political correctness.) Today I’ll stick to the empirical issues. The problem with your abortion/reduced-crime theory is not that it encourages abortion or eugenic reasoning or whatever, but that it’s largely untrue. Your biggest methodological mistake was to focus on the crime rates only in 1985 and 1997. Thus, you missed the 800-pound gorilla of crime trends: the rise and fall of the crack epidemic during the intervening years. 

Here’s the acid test. Your logic implies that the babies who managed to get born in the ’70s should have grown up to be especially law-abiding teens in the early ’90s. Did they?

Not exactly. In reality, they went on the worst youth murder spree in American history. According to FBI statistics, the murder rate for 1993′s crop of 14- to 17-year-olds (who were born in the high-abortion years of 1975 to 1979) was a horrifying 3.6 times that of the kids who were 14 to 17 years old in 1984 (who were born in the pre-legalization years of 1966 to 1970). (Click here to see the graph.) In dramatic contrast, over the same time span the murder rate for those 25 and over (all born before legalization) dropped 6 percent.

Your model would also predict that the recent decline in crime should have shown up first among the youngest, but the opposite was true. The murder rate for 35- to 49-year-olds has been falling since the early ’80s, and for 25- to 34-year-olds since 1991, but the two most homicidal years for 14- to 17-year-olds were 1993 and 1994.

The dubiousness of your theory becomes even more obvious when we break down this post-Roe vs. Wade generation by race.

Now, you say that your theory isn’t “about race,” but simply about the greater likelihood that “unwanted” babies will grow up to be bad guys. That correlation sounds plausible. Still any realistic theory about abortion and crime must deal with the massive correlation between violence and race. As you note, African-Americans have three times the abortion rate of whites. You don’t mention, however, that, as Janet Reno’s Justice Department flatly states that “blacks are 8 times more likely than whites to commit homicide.” Therefore, blacks commit more murders than whites in total as well as per capita.

So, let’s look at just black males born in 1975 to 1979. Since their mothers were having abortions at three times the white rate, that should have driven down their youth murder rate. Instead, from 1984 to 1993 the black male youth homicide rate grew an apocalyptic 5.1 times. (Click here to see graph.) This black juvenile rate also grew relative to the white juvenile murder rate, from five times worse in 1984 to 11 times worse in 1993.

Why, then, is this generation born in 1975 to 1979 now committing relatively fewer crimes as it ages? It makes no sense to give the credit to abortion, which so catastrophically failed to keep them on the straight and narrow when they were juveniles. Instead, the most obvious explanation is the ups and downs of the crack business, which first drove violent crime up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, then drove it down in the mid and late ’90s. That’s why the crime rate has fallen fastest exactly where it had previously grown fastest as a result of crack–in the biggest cities (e.g., New York) and among young black males. This generation born right after legalization is better behaved today in part because so many of its bad apples are now confined to prisons, wheelchairs, and coffins. For example, over the last two decades the U.S. has doubled the number of black males in prison, to nearly 1 million.

More encouragingly, the biggest decline in murder from 1993 to 1997 was among the newest generation of black males aged 14 to 17. These kids born mostly in the early ’80s survived abortion levels similar to those faced by the crime-ridden 1975-to-1979 generation. Yet, their murder rate in 1997 was less than half that of the 14- to 17-year-olds of 1993. Seeing their big brothers gunned down in drive-by shootings and their big sisters becoming crack whores may have scared them straight.

Admittedly, it’s still theoretically possible that without abortion the black youth murder rate would have, say, sextupled instead of merely quintupling. Still, there’s a more interesting question: Why did the places with the highest abortion rates in the ’70s (e.g., NYC and Washington D.C.) tend to suffer the worst crack-driven crime waves in the early ’90s?

To read more on this topic, see Steve Sailer’s 2005 posting after The Economist and the Wall Street Journal revealed that an attempted replication of Levitt’s state-level analysis by Boston Fed economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz discovered that Levitt had made a fatal error in his computer code, which explains why Levitt’s state-level findings didn’t match my national-level analysis in 1999.

Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)

  
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Crime, Freakonomics 
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Below is the third of four parts of a 1999 debate in Slate between U. of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, and myself, Steve Sailer. We discussed Levitt’s most celebrated theory: Did the legalization of abortion in 1969-1973 cause the crime rate to fall? 

I’ve decided to host this debate on my website because it is of some modest degree of historical importance as the first airing of one of the longer-running social science controversies of the 21st Century, and because Slate  deleted our names from their posting of it during a website reorganization. Several years ago, Slate  promised to restore our names, but hasn’t done so yet. The absence of our names on Slate  has made it hard for interested readers to find this using search engines.
E-MAIL DEBATES OF NEWSWORTHY TOPICS.
AUG. 24 1999 9:30 PM

Does Abortion Prevent Crime?

Part 3 of 4 of a debate between Steven D. Levitt and Steve Sailer

Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)
By Steven D. Levitt

It is so refreshing to have someone challenge our study based on the facts instead of the knee-jerk reactions I have been hearing and reading about in the press the last few weeks.

The set of facts that you offer is indeed challenging to our theory: The late ’80s and early ’90s were periods of high inner-city youth homicide, fueled by the crack epidemic, declining juvenile punishment, and the increased availability of handguns to kids. I would never deny that legalized abortion is only one factor among many that affect crime rates. According to our estimates, abortion has had the effect of suppressing crime by about 1 percent per year over the last decade. Compared with the gyrations in the crime rate caused by other factors, this is pretty small stuff. But since the impact of abortion builds year after year as more cohorts of potential criminals are covered by legalized abortion (unlike factors such as crack, which tend to rise and fade), eventually the impact of abortion begins to overwhelm the noise in the data.

Because the time-series data are so volatile, I have always been more convinced by the cross-state changes in crime that we uncover (see my previous e-mail). In particular, we find that by 1997, crime among those under age 25 had fallen much more sharply in high-abortion states than low-abortion states. The same was not true for crime among those 25 and over. I do not have the data at my fingertips to see what was happening across states to 17-year-olds in the early ’90s. This is clearly data I should gather and analyze.

Your hypothesis that crack, not abortion, is the story, provides a testable alternative to our explanation of the facts. You argue:

  1. The arrival of crack led to large increases in crime rates between 1985 and the early ’90s, particularly for inner-city African-American youths.
  2. The fall of the crack epidemic left many of the bad apples of this cohort dead, imprisoned, or scared straight. Consequently, not only did crime fall back to its original pre-crack level, but actually dropped even further in a “overshoot” effect.
  3. States that had high abortion rates in the ’70s were hit harder by the crack epidemic, thus any link between falling crime in the ’90s and abortion rates in the ’70s is spurious.
If either assumption 1 or 2 is true, then the crack epidemic can explain some of the rise and fall in crime in the ’80s and ’90s. In order for your crack hypothesis to undermine the “abortion reduces crime” theory, however, all three assumptions must hold true.

So, let’s look at the assumptions one by one and see how they fare.

  1. Did the arrival of crack lead to rising youth crime? Yes. No argument from me here.
  2. Did the decline in crack lead to a “boomerang” effect in which crime actually fell by more than it had risen with the arrival of crack? Unfortunately for your story, the empirical evidence overwhelmingly rejects this claim. Using specifications similar to those in our paper, we find that the states with the biggest increases in murder over the rising crack years (1985-91) did see murder rates fall faster between 1991 and 1997. But for every 10 percent that murder rose between 1985 and 1991, it fell by only 2.6 percent between 1991 and 1997. For your story to explain the decline in crime that we attribute to legalized abortion, this estimate would have to be about five times bigger. Moreover, for violent crime and property crime, increases in these crimes over the period 1985-91 are actually associated with increases in the period 1991-97 as well. In other words, for crimes other than murder, the impact of crack is not even in the right direction for your story.
  3. Were high-abortion-rate states in the ’70s hit harder by the crack epidemic in the ’90s? Given the preceding paragraph, this is a moot point, because all three assumptions must be true to undermine the abortion story, but let’s look anyway. A reasonable proxy for how hard the crack epidemic hit a state is the rise in crime in that state over the period 1985-91. Your theory requires a large positive correlation between abortion rates in a state in the ’70s and the rise in crime in that state between 1985 and 1991. In fact the actual correlations, depending on the crime category, range between -.32 and +.09 Thus, the claim that high-abortion states are the same states that were hit hardest by crack is not true empirically. While some states with high abortion rates did have a lot of crack (e.g., New York and D.C.), Vermont, Kansas, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Washington were among the 10 states with the highest abortion rates in the ’70s. These were not exactly the epicenters of the crack epidemic.
So, what is the final tally? Two of the key assumptions underlying your alternative hypothesis appear to be false: The retreat of crack has not led to an “overshoot” in crime, causing it to be lower than 1985, and even if it had, the states with high abortion rates in the ’70s do not appear to be affected particularly strongly by the crack epidemic. Moreover, when we re-run our analysis controlling for both changes in crime rates from 1985 to 1991 and the level of crime in 1991, the abortion variable comes in just as strongly as in our original analysis.

Crack clearly has affected crime over the last decade, but it cannot explain away our results with respect to legalized abortion.

The best test of any theory is its predictive value. The abortion theory predicts that crime will continue to fall slowly for the next 10 to 15 years. Also, the declines in crime should continue to be greater in high-abortion states than in low-abortion states. What do you predict based on your crack theory? If you are willing to wait 10 years, perhaps we can resolve this debate.

To read more on this topic, see Steve Sailer’s 2005 posting after The Economist and the Wall Street Journal revealed that an attempted replication of Levitt’s state-level analysis by Boston Fed economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz discovered that Levitt had made a fatal error in his computer code, which explains why Levitt’s state-level findings didn’t match my national-level analysis in 1999.

Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)

   
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Crime, Freakonomics 
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Below is the fourth and final part of a 1999 debate in Slate between U. of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, and myself, Steve Sailer. We discussed Levitt’s most celebrated theory: Did the legalization of abortion in 1969-1973 cause the crime rate to fall? 

I’ve decided to host this debate on my website because it is of some modest degree of historical importance as the first airing of one of the longer-running social science controversies of the 21st Century, and because Slate deleted our names from their posting of it during a website reorganization. Several years ago, Slate promised to restore our names, but hasn’t done so yet. The absence of our names on Slate has made it hard for interested readers to find this using search engines.
E-MAIL DEBATES OF NEWSWORTHY TOPICS.
AUG. 25 1999 3:30 AM

Does Abortion Prevent Crime?

Part 4 of 4 of a debate between Steven D. Levitt and Steve Sailer

Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)
By Steve Sailer

I suspect that both the readers who have stuck it out with us this far and the professors at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Chicago who heard you present your theory must be thinking roughly along these lines: “Well, I’m not sure I followed all the statistical details, but Professor Levitt’s basic point is pure common sense. As long as abortion rids us of more fetuses likely to become gang members, it simply must reduce crime.” That would explain why those high-powered academics forgot to point out to you that, contra your theory, when the first generation to “benefit” from being culled by legal abortion reached ages 14 to 17, they went on a homicidal rampage. (Click here to see FBI graph. [Update 2014: see graph here.)

Therefore, rather than mud wrestle in the numbers here, I’ll privately send you my technical suggestions. In this essay, I’ll step back and explain why this straightforward insight might not actually work in practice.

The widespread assumption that your theory must be correct reveals just how many people deep down believe, whether they admit it publicly or not, that “certain people” are just permanently more incorrigible than others. As a contender for the World’s Least Politically Correct Human, I’m sympathetic. It’s ironic, but because I’ve been arguing for years that genetic diversity affects society, I was one of the few to notice in this particular case that crime has risen and fallen not because we are aborting the poor and black and unwanted, but because of that staple of genteel liberal commentary, Cultural Forces (e.g., crack).

Your “differential fertility” logic has a fascinating history. That the poor outbreed the rich was noted at least as long ago as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. A long line of both conservative and progressive nail-biters have worried that a bourgeoisie that’s self-disciplined and responsible enough to use abstinence or contraception will someday be demographically swamped by a working class too sexually indulgent and disorganized to prevent pregnancies. The “eugenicists” feared the spread of the lower orders’ inadequate genes, while the “euculturalists” dreaded their cruder culture. And agnostics on the subject realized that while disentangling nature and nurture was extremely difficult (only with the advent of twin and adoption studies have we made much progress), the precise mechanism mattered surprisingly little. Whether from genes or upbringing or both, people who are too irresponsible or incompetent to prevent most unwanted pregnancies tend to have fairly irresponsible or incompetent children. Thus, many unreligious right-wingers and WASP progressives (e.g., Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood) supported abortion as the antidote to the bad demographic effects of contraception. Abortion would allow the working class to tidy up its mistakes.

This logic implies that legalized abortion should reduce illegitimacy. And since illegitimacy is closely linked to crime, therefore abortion must reduce crime. Right? Yet, abortion and illegitimacy both soared during the ’70s, and then the youth violent-crime rate also soared when the kids born during that decade hit their teens. How come?

In theory, legal abortion reduces murder by being, in effect, “prenatal capital punishment.” But, first, it’s not very efficient. Like Herod, we have to eradicate many to get the one we want. While genes and upbringing do affect criminality, there’s so much randomness that predicting the destiny of individual fetuses is hard.

Second, what if besides a contraceptive-using bourgeoisie and an abortion-using working class, there also exists an underclass to whom, in the words of Homer Simpson, “Life is just a bunch of things that happen”? What if in the ’70s members of the underclass didn’t effectively use either contraception or abortion, but, being too destitute or distracted or drunk or drugged, they just tended to let s*** happen all the way to the maternity ward? And what if the legalization of abortion gave them an excuse to be even less careful about avoiding pregnancy? In fact, in your paper you cite evidence that 60 percent to 75 percent of all fetuses aborted in the ’70s would never have been conceived without legal abortion. If that’s what happened across all classes, the increase in careless pregnancies specifically among the underclass might have been so big that it negated the eugenic or euculturalist effects of abortion.

Thus, legalizing abortion would have thinned the ranks of the respectable black working class but not the black underclass. Its cultural influence would therefore have mounted. Just compare the working-class black music of the ’60s (e.g., Motown) with the underclass gangsta rap of the late ’80s, which spread the lethal bust-a-cap code of the East Coast and West Coast crack dealers across America.

Third, legalizing abortion finished off the traditional shotgun wedding. Earlier, the pill had shifted responsibility for not getting pregnant to the woman. Then, legal abortion relieved the impregnating boyfriend of the moral duty of making an honest woman out of her. This would drive up the illegitimacy rate.

Finally, even more speculatively, but also more frighteningly, the revolution in social attitudes that excused terminating the unborn may also have helped persuade violent youths that they could be excused for terminating the born.

To conclude, you ask for my prediction on crime trends. Because you failed to use data that focused precisely enough on particular generations (e.g., the highly violent group born after Roe vs. Wade in 1975-1979), your model has consistently failed to even predict the past. For example, in utter contrast to your logic, the murder rate for 14- to 17-year-olds even in the low crime year of 1997 was 94 percent higher than it was for 14- to 17-year-olds in 1984. Yet, over the same span, the murder rate for 25- to 34-year-olds (born pre-legalization) has dropped 27 percent. (Click here to see FBI table.

Thus my faith in your theory’s ability to forecast the future is limited. Last week, in the Human Biodiversity discussion group, the polymath Gregory Cochran (who was the co-subject of the February 1999 Atlantic cover story on his new Darwinian theory of disease) responded to your prediction that crime will fall slowly for another 10 to 15 years, assuming all else is equal: “A counter-prediction: that all else will not be equal. Social changes are more important to crime trends than abortion, they’re still ongoing, and they’re likely to dominate.” At some point in the future when black teens no longer remember much about the previous generation’s self-inflicted crack wound, somebody will invent a new drug. Then we’ll be back on another drug-epidemic-driven crime roller coaster.

To read more on this topic, see Steve Sailer’s 2005 posting after The Economist and the Wall Street Journal revealed that an attempted replication of Levitt’s state-level analysis by Boston Fed economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz discovered that Levitt had made a fatal error in his computer code, which explains why Levitt’s state-level findings didn’t match my national-level analysis in 1999.
   
Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)
    
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Crime, Freakonomics 
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Paul Shirley, a 6’10″ white basketball journeyman and sportswriter, got fired from ESPN for blogging on FlipCollective that he wouldn’t be donating to Haiti “for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads ‘Need You’re Help’ is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him.”

That reminds me of the Two Minutes Hate directed at William Bennett about the same period of time after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans for referring to Steve Levitt’s Abortion-Cuts-Crime theory on the radio. I wrote:

Ever since New Orleans, the hysteria among the political and media elite has been building: Who among us bigshots will crack first and allude to the elephant in the living room?

Also, I’m reminded of the 2003 incident when Michael Eisner fired ESPN columnist Greg Easterbrook for mentioning “Jewish [movie] executives” in denouncing a slasher film in his blog on the The New Republic:

Easterbrook was widely excoriated both for terminal unhipness and for supposedly resurrecting the myth that Jews control the media. Disney supremo Michael Eisner, however, did control Easterbrook’s other employer, ESPN, which immediately fired him. Most commentators opined that Easterbrook had it coming.

All I can say is that if Walt Disney were alive today, he’d be spinning in his cryogenic preservation chamber.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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In National Review, Jim Manzi reviews economist John R. Lott’s Freedomomics and takes a look at Steven D. Levitt’s Freakonomics as well:

“Levitt wrote that Roe is “like the proverbial butterfly that flaps its wings on one continent and eventually creates a hurricane on another.” He ought to be more careful with his similes: Surely he knew that he was echoing meteorologist Edward Lorenz’s famous evocation of a global climate system–one that had such a dense web of interconnected pathways of causation that it made long-term weather forecasting a fool’s errand. The actual event that inspired this observation was that, one day in 1961, Lorenz entered .506 instead of .506127 for one parameter in a climate-forecasting model and discovered that it produced a wildly different long-term weather forecast. This is, of course, directly analogous to what we see in the abortion-crime debate: Tiny changes in the data set yield vastly different results. This is a telltale sign (as if another were needed) that human society is far too complicated to yield to the analytical tools that Lott and Levitt bring to bear. Nobody in this debate has any reliable, analytically derived idea of what impact abortion legalization has had on crime. ”

I didn’t know that about the famous “butterfly in Brazil” effect, but that is what I’ve been saying about Levitt’s abortion-crime theory since 1999: it’s beyond the power of contemporary social science to determine.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Freakonomics 
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Here’s the abstract of a paper in press by economist Ted Joyce, followed by Joyce’s cogent explanation of why it’s important to keep harping on this subject.

A Simple Test of Abortion and Crime
Ted Joyce
Baruch College and Graduate Center
City University of New York
and
National Bureau of Economic Research

Forthcoming in Review of Economics and Statistics

A Simple Test of Abortion and Crime

Abstract

I replicate Donohue and Levitt’s results for violent and property crime arrest rates and then apply their data and specification to an analysis of age-specific homicide rates and murder arrest rates. The coefficients on the abortion rate have the wrong sign for two of the four measures of crime and none is statistically significant at conventional levels. In the second half of the paper, I present alternative tests of abortion and crime that attempt to mitigate problems of endogeneity and measurement error. I use the legalization of abortion following the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade in order to exploit two sources of variation: between-state changes in abortion rates pre and post Roe, and cross-cohort differences in exposure to legalized abortion. I ind no meaningful association between abortion and age-specific crime rates among cohorts born in the years just before and after abortion became legal.

I. Introduction

The debate as to whether legalized abortion lowers crime leaped from academic journals to mainstream discourse with the huge success of Freakonomics.1 In the Chapter titled, “Where Have All the Criminals Gone?” Levitt and Dubner summarize academic work by Levitt and coauthor John Donohue, which shows that a one-standard deviation increase in the abortion rate lowers homicide rates by 31 percent and can explain upwards of 60 percent of the recent decline in murder.2 If one accepts these estimates, then legalized abortion has saved more than 51,000 lives between 1991 and 2001, at a total savings of $105 billion. But the policy implications go beyond crime. If abortion lowers homicide rates by 20 to 30 percent, then it is likely to have affected an entire spectrum of outcomes associated with well-being: infant health, child development, schooling, earnings and marital status. Similarly, the policy implications are broader than abortion. Other interventions that affect fertility control and that lead to fewer unwanted births—contraception or sexual abstinence—have huge potential payoffs. In short, a causal relationship between legalized abortion and crime has such significant ramifications for social policy and at the same time is so controversial, that further assessment of the identifying assumptions and their robustness to alternative strategies is warranted.

The New York Times more or less sets the agenda for the rest of the news media. If the NYT decides a story is fit to print, much of the the rest of the press will soon decide, what do you know!, that the topic deserves coverage. But if a tree falls in the forest and the NYT doesn’t cover it … This means the NYT has a particular responsibility to avoid giving in to conflicts of interest, which they have clearly succumbed to over the last two years in their refusal to report on any of the controversies swirling around their star columnist turned blogger Steven D. Levitt.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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Did getting the lead out of gasoline, not legalized abortion, cause crime to fall? From the Washington Post:

The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children’s exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

What makes Nevin’s work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.

“It is stunning how strong the association is,” Nevin said in an interview. “Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead.” …

“It is startling how much mileage has been given to the theory that abortion in the early 1970s was responsible for the decline in crime” in the 1990s, Nevin said. “But they legalized abortion in Britain, and the violent crime in Britain soared in the 1990s. The difference is our gasoline lead levels peaked in the early ’70s and started falling in the late ’70s, and fell very sharply through the early 1980s and was virtually eliminated by 1986 or ’87.

It would be interesting to see Nevin’s new data. Here’s an old article. (I haven’t read it yet.) And here’s a newspaper article about another researcher’s lead-IQ-crime connection.

Abortions can be assigned to very precise times, which quickly allowed big doubts to be raised about Steven D. Levitt’s abortion-cut-crime theory, since the cohort born soon after legalization had much higher murder rates. Lead is a little slipperier to analyze, because it hangs around in the environment, perhaps providing wiggle room for the analyst if the chronology doesn’t quite match up.

The WaPo article ignores Nevin’s link of lead to lowering IQ, as in this 2000 article. That ingesting lead makes you stupider was known for a long time. In James T. Farrell’s 1930s novels about Chicago prole Studs Lonigan, Studs and his pals debate whether to give up the good pay of working as painters because all the old painters seem pretty dim from exposure to lead paint.

Meanwhile, Modern Dragons offers another potential source of influence on human behavior, one that’s been analyzed even less: gut flora.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Crime, IQ 
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In the WSJ:

It’s Not Enough to Be ‘Wanted’
Illegitimacy has risen despite–indeed, because of–legal abortion.
BY JOHN R. LOTT JR.

And here’s a graph I made up a few years ago during the Freakonomics controversy. Hard to see much evidence that legalizing abortion increased the “wantedness” of babies like Steven D. Levitt claims these days, now that he figured out he’d get in trouble if he mentioned that he originally attributed 39% of his theorized crime-fighting effect to the much higher abortion rate seen among blacks.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Crime 
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Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, VDARE.com columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.


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