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Old 04-17-2005, 09:32 PM   #1 (permalink)
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dy156's Avatar
 
Location: in the backwoods
more abortions = less crime?

Very interesting-and disturbing- op ed in the NY Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/16/op...16tierney.html

The text of the article is below. Malcolm Gladwell, a bestselling author, wrote about the dramatic decrease in crime in NYC in the mid 90's, and speculated that it was a result of several factors, including more police on the job, the natural economic decline of crack cocaine, and longer jail sentences. Another speaker brought up that it coincided with about 20 years from the point where NY, unlike most of the country, was alloeing legal abortions, and, implicitly, that those who would have been committing crimes had been aborted. This seems disturbing, mostly because, according to those that have studied the numbers far more than I have, the numbers add up. Personally, I think that, if there is any coorelation to abortions, it probably has more to do with the lack of overcrowding in the poor inner-city than with getting rid of "bad seeds" but I'm curious as to your thoughts on this interesting theory. Maybe this belongs among those "Deep thoughts by Dy156" political threads, but I had not found any mention of this article, or the ideas that led to it, and figured that those ideas were certainly worthy of comment.

Text of Article:
Quote:

OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Miracle That Wasn't
By JOHN TIERNEY

Published: April 16, 2005




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It is an inspirational urban lesson from the 1990's: take back the streets from squeegee men and drug dealers, and violent crime will plummet. But on Thursday evening, the tipping-point theory was looking pretty wobbly itself.

The occasion was a debate in Manhattan before an audience thrilled to be present for a historic occasion: the first showdown between two social-science wonks with books that were ranked second and third on Amazon.com (outsold only by "Harry Potter"). It pitted Malcolm Gladwell, author of "Blink" and "The Tipping Point," against Steven D. Levitt, an economist at the University of Chicago with the new second-place book, "Freakonomics."

Professor Levitt considers the New York crime story to be an urban legend. Yes, he acknowledges, there are tipping points when people suddenly start acting differently, but why did crime drop in so many other cities that weren't using New York's policing techniques? His new book, written with Stephen J. Dubner, concludes that one big reason was simply the longer prison sentences that kept criminals off the streets of New York and other cities.

The prison terms don't explain why crime fell sooner and more sharply in New York than elsewhere, but Professor Levitt accounts for that, too. One reason he cites is that the crack epidemic eased earlier in New York than in other cities. Another, more important, reason is that New York added lots of cops in the early 90's.

But the single most important cause, he says, was an event two decades earlier: the legalization of abortion in New York State in 1970, three years before it was legalized nationally by the Supreme Court.

The result, he maintains, was a huge reduction in the number of children who would have been at greater than average risk of becoming criminals during the 1990's. Growing up as an unwanted child is itself a risk factor, he says, and the women who had abortions were disproportionately likely to be unmarried teenagers with low incomes and poor education - factors that also increase the risk.

It's a theory that doesn't sit well with either liberals or conservatives, and Professor Levitt hastens to add that the reduction in crime is not an argument for encouraging abortion - he personally has mixed feelings on whether abortion should be legal. But he says the correlations are clear: crime declined earlier in the states that had legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade, and it declined more in places with high abortion rates, like New York.

Some criminologists have quarreled with his statistics, but the theory was looking robust at the end of the debate in Manhattan. Mr. Gladwell, while raising what he called a few minor quibbles, seemed mostly persuaded by the numbers.

"My first inclination," he joked at the beginning of his rebuttal, "is to say that everything you just heard from Steven Levitt, even though it contradicts things I have written, is true."

That's my inclination, too, as a less successful exponent of the same theory. (In 1995 I explained the crime decline with my version of the tipping point, the Squeegee Watershed, which became neither a buzzword nor a best seller.) In retrospect, the New York crime story looks like a classic bit of conventional wisdom, as the term was originally defined by John Kenneth Galbraith: an idea that becomes commonly accepted because it is "what the community as a whole or particular audiences find acceptable."

Unlike the abortion theory, which was raised in the 1990's and angrily dismissed, the tipping-point idea jibed reassuringly with everyone's beliefs and needs. Urbanites and politicians welcomed a new reason to crack down on street nuisances. Journalists wanted a saga with heroes. Criminologists and the police loved to see their new strategies having dramatic results.

I still think the police made some difference, and not merely because there were more of them on the streets. The new computerized crime-tracking strategies put new pressure on them.

One veteran cop told me that traditionally only a quarter of the officers had done their jobs, and that the heroic achievement of Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had been to get that figure up to 50 percent.

But it now looks as if the good guys did not take back the streets all on their own, and the moral of the story is less about safe streets than safe beliefs. Professor Levitt's abortion theory is not appealing. But the ideas that make us comfortable are the ones to beware.

E-mail: tierney@nytimes.com

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Old 04-18-2005, 01:50 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Here are a couple of responses to the original piece:

Quote:
Tierney on Levitt vs. Gladwell

John Tierney's second NYT op-ed column "The Miracle That Wasn't" reports on the debate Thursday between Malcolm Gladwell and Steven D. Levitt on what really caused crime in NY to go down in the 1990s: The Tipping Point (Gladwell) or Pre-Natal Capital Punishment (Levitt).

The essential problem with this type of debate is that it frames the issue too narrowly as: what caused murder to go down in the later 1990s? Instead, the full question should be: What were the causes of the murder rate going up in the late 1980s and early 1990s and its subsequent fall? When we look at the bigger picture, it's easier to get a more realistic sense of history than to simply assume that the early 1990s were the norm and thus we need some bestselling author to give us his unique theory:

Tierney writes:

It is an inspirational urban lesson from the 1990's: take back the streets from squeegee men and drug dealers, and violent crime will plummet. But on Thursday evening, the tipping-point theory was looking pretty wobbly itself.

The occasion was a debate in Manhattan before an audience thrilled to be present for a historic occasion: the first showdown between two social-science wonks with books that were ranked second and third on Amazon.c

om (outsold only by "Harry Potter"). It pitted Malcolm Gladwell, author of "Blink" and "The Tipping Point," against Steven D. Levitt, an economist at the University of Chicago with the new second-place book, "Freakonomics."

Professor Levitt considers the New York crime story to be an urban legend. Yes, he acknowledges, there are tipping points when people suddenly start acting differently, but why did crime drop in so many other cities that weren't using New York's policing techniques? His new book, written with Stephen J. Dubner, concludes that one big reason was simply the longer prison sentences that kept criminals off the streets of New York and other cities. [Undoubtedly right.]

The prison terms don't explain why crime fell sooner and more sharply in New York than elsewhere, but Professor Levitt accounts for that, too. One reason he cites is that the crack epidemic eased earlier in New York than in other cities. [Right, but why did the crack wars begin earlier in NYC?] Another, more important, reason is that New York added lots of cops in the early 90's. [Likely, although motivation matters too, as Tierney notes later.]

But the single most important cause, he says, was an event two decades earlier: the legalization of abortion in New York State in 1970, three years before it was legalized nationally by the Supreme Court.

The result, he maintains, was a huge reduction in the number of children who would have been at greater than average risk of becoming criminals during the 1990's.

No, there was not a big reduction in the number of children. Instead, there was a big increase in the number of conceptions. Let me quote Levitt's own book on what actually happened after the legalization of abortion: "Conceptions rose by nearly 30 percent, but births actually fell by 6 percent …"

Growing up as an unwanted child is itself a risk factor, he says, and the women who had abortions were disproportionately likely to be unmarried teenagers with low incomes and poor education - factors that also increase the risk.

This sounds plausible until you look at the illegitimacy rate, which continued to skyrocket. Instead, what happened was that more women got pregnant outside of marriage, and more boyfriends refused to marry them on the grounds that they could get an abortion instead. Some got abortions, some didn't, and the percentage of babies unwanted by their fathers went up.

But he says the correlations are clear: crime declined earlier in the states that had legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade, and it declined more in places with high abortion rates, like New York.

This shows how Levitt wins minds by framing the debate as why the murder rate went down instead of why did it first go up and then go down? But why not ask why the teen murder rate went up first in the places like New York that had lots of abortions in the early 1970s? It's logically bizarre to focus on purported later effects of abortion and resolutely ignore potential earlier effects.

Some criminologists have quarreled with his statistics, but the theory was looking robust at the end of the debate in Manhattan. Mr. Gladwell, while raising what he called a few minor quibbles, seemed mostly persuaded by the numbers.

"My first inclination," he joked at the beginning of his rebuttal, "is to say that everything you just heard from Steven Levitt, even though it contradicts things I have written, is true."

Gladwell appears a little out of his league in dealing with Levitt.

That's my inclination, too, as a less successful exponent of the same theory. (In 1995 I explained the crime decline with my version of the tipping point, the Squeegee Watershed, which became neither a buzzword nor a best seller.) In retrospect, the New York crime story looks like a classic bit of conventional wisdom, as the term was originally defined by John Kenneth Galbraith: an idea that becomes commonly accepted because it is "what the community as a whole or particular audiences find acceptable."

Well, a lot of people find the abortion-cuts-crime theory very comforting, even if they won't say it in public. But the issue is hardly whether it's comforting or not, but whether it's true.
-- http://isteve.blogspot.com/2005/04/t...-gladwell.html

Quote:
Crime Myths and the New York Times
Fifteen minutes ago, I sent the following letter to the New York Times. You may notice that it weighs in at about double the paper’s 150-word limit. I usually try and stay within that limit, even though for political reasons, it is an exercise in futility. The Times hasn’t published any of my letters to the editor since 1997, its editors have no intention of publishing me in the future, and I haven’t felt like sending it letters using aliases over the past eight years. And since this letter could not be composed on the cheap, were it to make any worthwhile points, and I planned on publishing it myself from the get-go, I decided to do it right.


To the Editor:

In
John Tierney’s April 16 column (“The Miracle That Wasn’t”), he accepts Steven D. Levitt’s theory, whereby legalized abortion caused the drop in crime in New York, as opposed to Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping-point” (“epidemic”) theory. And yet, it is not clear how much of the reduction in violent crime in New York even occurred, and if it did, whether the real cause wasn’t an elaborate con game.

Mr. Gladwell’s theory begs the question: What caused the “tipping point”? He has written that it was due to police being more aggressive in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods. But in the crime-ridden neighborhoods I lived and worked in at the time, the police actually became more timid. Meanwhile, Mr. Levitt’s theory has repeatedly been disproved by writer http://isteve.blogspot.com/2005/04/tierney-on-levitt-vs-gladwell.html>Steve Sailer, who showed that the greatest crime reduction in New York was among men born before abortion was legalized there in 1970, that illegitimacy increased unabated immediately after 1970, and that teenagers born there after 1970 went on the greatest murder spree in U.S. history.

And since the early-to-mid 1990s, the NYPD has been repeatedly exposed engaging in massive fraud in crime reporting by Newsday’s Leonard Levitt,
myself, and several other local journalists.

Following the tragic police shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999, local media organizations stopped reporting on crime statistics fraud for three years, as reporters and editors instead perpetrated the “racial profiling” hoax, until its target, Mayor Giuliani, left office in January, 2002.

If there truly was a “tipping point,” it occurred when criminals came to believe – aided by journalists,’ politicians,’ and activists’ spreading of the racial profiling hoax – that the NYPD was being more aggressive. But the full truth regarding New York crime is unknown and perhaps unknowable.
__________________
"The theory of a free press is that truth will emerge from free discussion, not that it will be presented perfectly and instantly in any one account." -- Walter Lippmann

"You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists." -- Abbie Hoffman
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Old 04-18-2005, 03:27 PM   #3 (permalink)
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It's quite possible that abortion does indeed lead to less crime. What are the root causes of crime? Generally, the root causes are seen as being socio-economic in nature. There is no doubt that environment can lead to criminality on an individual basis. For example, children that have been abused are far more likely to engage in certain kinds of criminality than non-abused chuildren are (abused kids do abuse their children at a higher rate than non-abused children do). Logically, less abused children (regardless of the reason) leads to less abuse in the future. If children at a high risk of being abused are not born, then you'd see a reduction in the future levels of child abuse, at least in theory.
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Old 04-20-2005, 03:03 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Location: Bowling Green, KY
About 6 years ago this debate was covered in Scientific American. Can't remember which issue, tho.
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