Sunday, January 21, 2007

Freak-O-Nomics...the review

This past Christmas, while trying to figure out what to buy for my father-in-law, which is always something akin to having a root canal with no anaesthesia, I decided to get him a book. I had been contemplating the book Marley and Me by John Grogan because my father-in-law has a soft spot for retrievers. I thought he would enjoy an entire book about a man and his dog. But, at the last moment, I chose to get him Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Through a turn of events, too boring to record here, I eventually wound up with two copies. I miscellaneously gave the second one to my oldest brother.

Before I actually wrapped the books, I leafed through a few chapters and was interested, but also felt bad about reading a gift before I gave it someone, and more truthfully, I just didn't have time to read it. I don't know if they read it yet, although my brother seemed interested, or perhaps was just feigning interest. I really need to call him because the first chapter is a comparison between school teachers and sumo wrestlers and the various ways they can game the system. My brother was a teacher and is now a school principal. I wasn't sure if he was going to be offended or interested...probably interested....I hope. :-)

Anyway...(and yes, I realize that merely typing the word "anyway" as a segue shows a lack of writing skill and the creativity needed to flow from one paragraph to the next seamlessly...but....anyway)

I picked up the book from the library this past weekend and read it from cover to cover in one night. I found it simultaneously thought provoking and disturbing. If you haven't read the book, it would be too much for me to go into sufficient detail to convey all of the writers' points.

One chapter deals with the theory that crime has been on a steady decline since the Nineties as a result of legalized abortion. Basically, the premise is that the majority of the children who would have been born to low-education, low socio-economic mothers would have made up a burgeoning criminal class which, up until that point in history, had been growing and causing crime rates to skyrocket. The elimination of these children created a void of would-be criminals whose lack of presence began to be felt at about the same time that they would have become teenagers. So, approximately thirteen years after Roe v. Wade, the crime rate begins to drop.

"Since 1985, states with high abortion rates have experienced a roughly 30 percent drop in crime relative to low-abortion states." -Freakonomics-Levitt and Dubner-pp 141


Earlier in the book, we are told that just after abortion had been legalized, conceptions rose by 30% while the birth rate declined by 6%. (Freakonomics, 139) So, my question would be: if the birth rate declined by only 6%, are we to believe that this 6% percent of the population would have been responsible for 30% of the crime rate listed above? I would be curious to know what percentage of the population contributes to the overall crime rate and if this holds up. That is also assuming that the entire 6% drop would be solely made up of poor, uneducated women who felt they couldn't provide for their children. Surely, some of the 6% drop would have come from a new, overall acceptance of abortion by the average woman during that time period. So, how much of that 6% fits the statistics?

I don't doubt that abortion has had some effect on criminality, but I do wonder how much of an impact it has had. I read the chapter on this subject several times and never found out by what percentage the overall crime rate had declined. There were plenty of comparisons of early legalizers to late legalizers, but no overall numbers. I thought that there should be.

Also, the authors are careful to note that a stricter justice system, and more criminals in prison, also contributed to the lower crime rate.( Freakonomics 123) So, considering these various factors, how much of the argument is hype and interesting discussion, and how much is tangible? I am still thinking this one through. Maybe I will e-mail Levitt and ask him to clarify! :-) Of course it would be funny if he actually did.

BTW...I am pro-life, so I have some bias in this regard, and even if it were true that abortion does lead to a lower crime rate, that in itself is not a justification for abortion. Less crime does not equate to more goodness.

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