Monday, October 10, 2005


Bill Bennett got into trouble recently for citing the book Freakonomics by Steven J. Levitt and Stephen D. Dubner in his assertion that crime rates would decrease if African American mothers aborted their children.

We are reading the chapter that addresses abortion's correspondence with the crime rate right now in class, and it is an interesting and lively explanation of why crime went down in the 90s (after a huge increase from the 1960s to the 1980s). Levitt and Dubner affirm some of the conventional explanations and reject others. The ones they believe contributed to the crime rate decline are:
  • Hiring of more police
  • More prisons and tougher sentencing
They reject other reasons, including
  • Innovative policing
  • Aging population
  • Improved economy
In fact, they suggest that the praise of Rudolph Giuliani for the decrease in New York's crime rate in the 90s was not necessarily deserved. Giuliani became mayor in 1994, four years after the crime rate had begun a steady decline under Mayor David Dinkins, who had begun the practice of increased police hiring. (Giuliani, angry that Police Chief William Bratton, was getting all of the attention for the decline of the crime rate, pushed him out two years after he hired Bratton--after Bratton, not Giuliani, was featured on the cover of Time).

Anyhow, the final reason Levitt and Dubner cite for the decrease in crime is the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s. They compare this to the strict ban of abortion that occurred at roughly the same time (1966) under Romania's Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, and that led to a rise in the crime rate there:
Before Roe v. Wade, it was predominantly daughters of middle and upper-class families who could arrange and afford a safe, illegal abortion. Now, instead of an illegal procedure that might cost $500, any woman could easily obtain an abortion, often for less than $100.

What sort of woman was most likely to take advantage of Roe v. Wade? Very often, she was unmarried or in her teens or poor, and sometimes all three. What sort of future might her child have had? One study has shown that the typical child who went unborn in the earliest years of legalized abortion would have been 50 percent more likely than average to live in poverty; he also would have been 60 percent more likely to grow up with just one parent. These two factors--childhood poverty and a single-parent household--are among the strongest predictors that a child will have a criminal future.

Citing the above, albeit with racial overtones, is what got Bill Bennett in trouble.

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