Freakonomics Rev Ed: (and Other Riddles of Modern Life) is a fascinating book that makes a lot of valid and interesting points, but the authors had a double fail on the topic of abortion and crime. (See the Amazon review at the bottom for more about the book, and also see their blog.)
First, while seeming to have cleverly uncovered the reason behind the dramatic 1990’s crime drop (they thought it was because Roe v Wade had reduced the number of potential murderers), it turns out that they missed some obvious race-based statistics and the impact of the crack cocaine explosion and recession.
Second, and more importantly, they ignored what abortion is: The unjustified destruction of an innocent human life, aka murder. Yes, the Roe v Wade decision made it legal, but the act itself was unchanged. So using their logic, if we legalized unjustified killings outside the womb then the murder rate would decrease. Technically they would be right, but would that really be an improvement?
One of the charts from the book shows that by standard measures, homicides have gone down dramatically over the centuries and we are seemingly safer than ever. And that is true — for those outside the womb. But pre-born human beings inside the womb live in the most dangerous place on the planet — far more dangerous than a Chicago ghetto.
Simply put, even if the authors had been correct, murders outside the womb decreased because murders inside the womb were made legal. But that didn’t reduce overall murders, it increased them! All they had done, ironically enough, was murder the future murderers before they murdered. Oh, and they also killed a bunch of non-murderers — tens of millions of them. At least the book did get one thing right: Legalized abortion dramatically increased abortions.
This brings to mind Bill Bennett’s comments on this theory, when he noted that killing black babies would reduce crime while simultaneously noting how evil the abortions would be. Of course, the Left still tried to brand his comments as racist, even though they are a mostly white group supporting mostly rich, white, male abortionists who kill black babies at a rate three times that of whites. But they definitely aren’t racists . . .
All murder statistics should include abortions. The real murder rate was decreasing until the 1970’s, when it spiked up dramatically. We’ve just played word games to make it appear otherwise.
Economics is not widely considered to be one of the sexier sciences. The annual Nobel Prize winner in that field never receives as much publicity as his or her compatriots in peace, literature, or physics. But if such slights are based on the notion that economics is dull, or that economists are concerned only with finance itself, Steven D. Levitt will change some minds. In Freakonomics (written with Stephen J. Dubner), Levitt argues that many apparent mysteries of everyday life don’t need to be so mysterious: they could be illuminated and made even more fascinating by asking the right questions and drawing connections. For example, Levitt traces the drop in violent crime rates to a drop in violent criminals and, digging further, to the Roe v. Wade decision that preempted the existence of some people who would be born to poverty and hardship. Elsewhere, by analyzing data gathered from inner-city Chicago drug-dealing gangs, Levitt outlines a corporate structure much like McDonald’s, where the top bosses make great money while scores of underlings make something below minimum wage. And in a section that may alarm or relieve worried parents, Levitt argues that parenting methods don’t really matter much and that a backyard swimming pool is much more dangerous than a gun. These enlightening chapters are separated by effusive passages from Dubner’s 2003 profile of Levitt in The New York Times Magazine, which led to the book being written. In a book filled with bold logic, such back-patting veers Freakonomics, however briefly, away from what Levitt actually has to say. Although maybe there’s a good economic reason for that too, and we’re just not getting it yet.