Friday, September 30, 2005


Every once in a while someone says something so utterly offensive and crude I can’t help but laugh. Most of the time that someone is me. Other times it comes from a public figure who really ought to know better. Take the comment made by former Education Secretary William Bennett this week on his radio program. The author of “The Book of Virtues,” said:

"…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.”

Yes, my friends – this is an actual statement made by an actual person who probably ought to know better. It’s all over the news if you don’t believe me. In fairness, he did go on to say that it would be “an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do,” then added for good measure, “But your crime rate would go down.”

Bennett made these comments in answering a question from a caller on his morning radio program Morning in America, explaining an argument he put forth in a recent book that crime is down because abortion is up. This argument, I should note, is not entirely without support – or merit, objectively speaking. Race aside, a controversial analysis of crime rates and abortion rates suggests there may be a strong connection between the two.

This controversial concept was most notably brought to light in the book Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. The basic (if appalling to some) premise is that unwanted children born to hard-luck parents are far more likely to become criminals later in life, ergo the legalization of abortion, which has prevented the birth of unwanted children since 1973, effectively served to lower crime rates over time. Indeed, the authors point to a statistically significant drop in crime in the early 1990’s that has been attributed to everything under the sun – except what they suggest is the primary reason: fewer babies born after Roe V. Wade that would likely have been out commiting crimes.

There are going to be some people so disturbed by this suggestion they will refuse to believe there is any connection at all, almost as a matter of reflex. I’m not going to say anything further about this other than that I personally found the book a very interesting read, full of interesting theories on what matters and what doesn't. Feel free to form your own opinions, but only after a thoughtful synthesis of all the information at your disposal.

And I wouldn’t go spouting off about it on the radio if you’re a well-known public figure. That’s probably not the kind of attention you want.

And here’s a link to an online survey where you can vote on whether you believe there’s a connection. The results may (or may not) surprise you.

Finally, Sir William isn't really that dumb. His comments were most certainly taken out of context, as most controversial statements these days are. He was taking a thought experiment to the next level to make his point. Feel free to read his response to the furor here.


Roy said...

The same could be argued about nuclear bombs. Where nuclear bombs are used there would be less crime in the following years, less poverty, less student drop out rates etc. Of coarse the reasons for these reductions would be due to the reduction of all life at ground zero but that doesn't matter for these stats.

Sheila K said...

Great book, Freakonomics. My book club took a good look at it this week. No great insights, but it did make me enjoy William Bennett's comments even more!