Ovid (publius_ovidius) wrote,

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Abortion, Crime and a Bit of Racism to Boot

As you may know, Bill Bennett's suggestion that aborting all black babies would make the crime rate go down has been getting a bit of press. Go read the link to get a bit of context. For those with short attention spans, the relevant quote is:

I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.

Of course, that lacks some context. Unfortunately, even reading the bit I linked to cannot give you the full context. In fact, you can go and read the excellent book they mentioned, Freakonomics, and you still wouldn't have enough context to properly appreciate what is being said here. I've read the book and there were definitely a few things that weren't covered as well as they could be (Trust me and buy that book. You won't be disappointed.)

So here's the question for you: is Bill Bennett's statement true?

Right now you may be wondering how the hell could I even ask something so disgusting. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may be even more confused as you've probably read some of my anti-racism rants. You know that this is an issue that I care passionately about. So why the hell would I ask if aborting black babies would reduce crime?

The idea is so repugnant that it's not worthy of consideration. However, if you were able to answer the question, you would understand more about sociology, economics and race relations than the vast majority of people out there. Unfortunately, while many people are screaming for Bill Bennett's head, they're really not asking what could lead to such a conclusion. Further, if the conclusion is true, why is it true? If it's false, why false?

The reality, I suspect, is that there are few, if any, who could adequately answer the question. And frankly, it's an important question in terms of what it can teach us about ourselves. Here's a few of the basic facts which led the economist Steven Levitt to believe that Roe V. Wade led to the decrease in crime:

  • Poor, single mother's children are statistically more likely to commit crime than other children.
  • Poor, single women are the ones who most commonly receive abortions.
  • Roe V Wade was decided in 1973. The aborted children would have become teenagers about the time of the national crime drop.

Despite those being demonstrably true, it does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that Roe v Wade led to the national drop in crime, so Levitt goes on to consider other factors involved in crime. He shows that the booming economy had nothing to do with it. Community policing had little apparent effect. More police officers, prisons and longer jail terms do have significant impact on crime reduction, but not enough to account for the drop. He eliminated the other factors and there was just one left -- Roe v Wade. This is an emotionally charged topic and there is so much involved in this that it's difficult to really give it proper coverage and, unfortunately, his book is only a summary of his work (and the abortion bit is only a small part of the book). However, he's been soundly attacked by many people upset with his conclusions but, because they've not read his research, are unable to refute his results (not that they care; they're happy to just attack).

This brings us back to Bennett. I doubt that Bennett did a lick of research to back up his claims; he was probably going on gut instinct. However, I doubt that those who deny his claim have any idea if it's true; they're just going on gut instinct, too. The idea is not to ask whether or not his idea has merit -- it doesn't -- but if it's true, how could we have allowed our society to remain in such a reprehensible state? Unfortunately, I don't think anyone really wants the latter question to be answered.

Tags: economics, politics
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