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.

  • Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
The only truth ...
there is in that is that it would drastically reduce the statistic on the percentage of crimes committed by blacks. ;)

Even in context, that is a poorly chosen illustration of a point.
Re: The only truth ...
I agree that it's a poorly chosen illustration, but there's a tremendous amount of scaffolding propping up that idea. Everyone's looking at the tip and no one is looking at the scaffolding. To me that's disappointing.
Re: The only truth ...
I have observed that we, as a whole, will not allow our opinions to be altered by the facts.

Politics and marketing demand instant, clear demographics. Reality is so much more complicated than statistics.
I think the disproportional amount of incarcerated black people has a lot more to do with racial profiling when arrest and traffic stops are made, and worse legal representation for poor people than the fact that black people are more prone to crime than the rest. They are not more prone to commiting crimes, just more vulnerable to incarceration by an inherently racist system.

As for the stats, well, fewer people means less crime. Fewer people means less of EVERYTHING that people do. Period.
If I recall correctly, the vast majority of those arrests and incarcerations are found to be drug-related. Once again I find myself wondering why we even bother with the war and why we allow such harm to come to our society because of it. It's knee-jerk intolerance which props it up, not information. How topical :/
Prohibition only breeds criminals that would otherwise be fine, upstanding citizens looking for release from the pressures of daily life.

I want to thank you for your intelligent, thought-provoking posts. I don't know that I have ever expressed how much I appreciate them to you directly.
Agreed. The validity of the claim Bennett makes is irrelevant. It may very well be true, but it is the equivalent of chopping off your foot to cure an ingrown toenail.

His supposed "solution" is what is offensive here - even the suggestion of it. Black people are not genetically predisposed to commit more crimes than any other group.
I propose we abort all the children of the white upper class to prevent corporate crime and political corruuption!
Being more than a bit too knoweldgeable about crime research and crime statistic (it is my major, you know ;), part of my wants to pull apart the argument piece-by-piece, but unfortuanetly, there is that whole work things.

Some quick points. Kittie's point on racism in the CJ system. Very good point and the first one that I thought of. It has been statistically proven over and over again that African-Americans DO NOT commit more crime than whites. Police discretion of pickups for arrest, racist prosecutors who decide to push the cases of African-Americans through the sytem more often, the choice to treat more African-American juveniles as adults and longer sentences for the same crime from judges and supposed juries of their peers.

More police will not create a reduction in crime. Period.

Community policing is in its baby steps and actually it has been proven effective when combined with other community programs, like the Chicago School. COMMUNITY.

More prisons do not create less crime, it just commits more people. The longer we languish in this "lock 'em up" phase of judicial punishment, the more people that will end up behind bars. The rate is steadily rising because it has become an industry in America. Prisons/Jails equal money for communities and the more politics slide towards the right, the more people are going to end up in prison for petty crimes that 10 years ago would not have been prosecuted. Your comment on the drug war reflects this comment.

Crime has been steadily declining since the mid-90s. A period of almost 10 years now. Abortions were not legal before Roe v. Wade, but they were still practiced with regularity. People are now choosing to have less children, have children later in life or not all. Abortion is not the reason for the crime drop, it could be a factor there, but population decline and other reasons stand to be looked at. It is a period of 10 years now, with no signs of letting up, so how could it be that abortions are the reasoning behind this? I hope this doesn't sound too muddled. The crime drop of the current years is still a mystery to most criminologists and my studies generally aren't in this area anyway, but I doubt, with all sincerity that the abortion of poor children is the reasoning behind it.

If you look at statistics, it is not less poor black or white people going to jail (supposedly the populations that are getting abortions). The proportions are basically the same racially and economically that they have always been. If all of the sudden the prisons stopped being filled with the under-privileged than I might buy this argument of Levitt's.

I am not even going to address Bennet right now. *shudder*

If you have any interest, I strongly recommend his book. He has a very different point of view. Unfortunately, since it's a book for the masses and not a scholarly work, he presents the results of his research and not the research itself. Still, it's a good starting point and I think you would find it interesting, even if you do not agree with him.
It's also worth noting that he's not approaching this as a sociologist, preacher, politician, city planner or anything else. He's approaching it as an economist. If regression analysis shows a correlation between more police officers and less crime, then there's a correlation. It does automatically mean that more police officers lead to less crime. It simply means there's a correlation. Levitt (if I recall correctly from the book) asserts a correlation and later suggests that it's causative but he does this with statistics backing up his point of view rather than theories or "gut instinct". If you disagree with what he has to say, go yell at him. Since he present results and not the actual research, I have no way of defending or attacking him. You'll have to judge for yourself.

I am not saying tha that I completely agree with him though my sympathies are in that area. Instead, I am presenting some of his conclusions and if you think they are interesting or provocative enough, go find out more.
Ack. Major typo! I meant the correlation between more officers and less crime does *not* automatically mean that more police officers lead to less crime. That was a major boo-boo.
I was definetly not railing at you, dear. I was merely poking a few holes based on my rather vast amount of boring knowledge that no one ever wants to talk about ;)

I know very little about the dynamics of economics, so I can see your point. Most of the reseach that I have looked at, focuses not just at the numbers correlation, but the rebounds that come with it.

I am not one to "yell" at people, so I don't think that will be happening any time soon, I was merely presenting my POV and what I have learned over the past few years. I just felt that there are other points that might be interesting to other people reading your post. I was just being helpful, not trying to attack you, just some of the points I disagreed with.

I also wasn't suggesting that Levitt was unresearched. I was merely pointing at other research that I had seen that contradicts the summaries that you made of his points. That is the thing with research, there are differing opinions involved with it.

I would be interested in reading his book, but I have enough cj crap with school that I think my extra time will be spent reading cyberpunk.
I think alot of people may have misinterpreted this EXTREME senario. The reason aborting all black babies would lower crime has nothing really to do with their race but the social condition. Let's face it...statistically crime is higher among minorities and in poor communities...well, unfortunately a very large percentage of the black community is within those guidelines. I do not believe he was ACTUALLY suggesting something so horrific. I have noticed people are quite sensitive about racial topics and I wonder alot if it is out of fear. Personally I grew up with friends of any color you can imagine-and several who barely spoke any English at all. I have noticed Americans tend to be alot more paranoid about anything which may suggest racial profiling which causes more harm then good. I attempted to have a conversation at a party with someone once about Facist dictators...they actually brought it up. What I had attempted to say was the Hilter was brilliant with crowd control and it was sad how easily he managed to manipulate a nation with hatred and fear...because those two human emotions are the easiest to tap into. I got as far as saying Hilter was brilliant when two people became so overcome with anger they went off on me without letting me finish. Considering how many jews, gays and various races are represented by friends I hold dear and my fiance happens to be part gypsy...I do not see me as agreeing with Hilter slaughtering millions of my brothers and sisters...I also happen to loathe murder, no matter what spin anyone puts on it (hello Mr Bush). The problem with people getting excessively bent out of shape about any discussion of the sort or actually admitting that humans have weaknesses is that you don't learn from anything. People need to confront their fear and look into what they hate to learn from it...lest the same tragedies occur. I thank you for exploring such an interesting topic and for being open about things-more people should be...then perhaps this country could learn to love rather than hate.
The statement is true inasmuch as aborting all unborn children of any racial group would lower crime stats: For any group, there are going to be a number of criminals, and if you abort them they will not contribute to crime stats.
Seems less remarkable and yet in the same vein as Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal

I think it would have been more interesting if he had suggested baked... nevermind, I can't even bring myself to type it.

This is a very thought provoking post. Thanks.
I believe that all the poor black babies would be replaced with poor white babies and that the crime rate would eventually come back to an equilibrium.

Rather than accepting this interpretation of the statistical trend, I would attribute the correlation to a different reason. Roe v Wade had social reprocussions more significant than genocide.
I think shot o.j. out my nose when I heard this. At first I was "hoping" that he was joking.
First thing we do, is kill all the crackers.

We should abort all the white babies instead, or at least the poor ones -- there's more of them so crime stats should be affected more meaningfully, plus we can hope for a corresponding drop in Nascar revenue, Calvin pissing on various things stickers, rap cd's, and perhaps even crash the country music industry.

Dude. That would be sweet.

As to the issue of the drop in crime just as the aborted children would have been reaching their teen years, I would argue that other factors were in play. Perhaps women who were not forced to become mothers at fourteen or who didn't have to bear the children of fucked up abusive men went on to become better, more capable people who eventually raised fewer fucked up children than they would have if they'd had to pop 'em out willy nilly.

Holy convoluted sentence Batman! Um, ya get my drift, though, right?

Seriously, though, as a regular visitor to BanjoTown and LongTucky, I can tell you without question -- it's not the mud people we need to start whacking en masse. It's whitey.