NYT Contributor Pushes Unsubstantiated Abortion/Crime Link

Stephen J. Dubner, a best-selling author and a contributor to the New York Times (whose website hosts a blog "meant to keep the conversation going" about his book) would have his audience believe that abortions of "unwanted children" have led to the decrease in the violent crime rate.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on November 11 that Dubner, a co-author of "Freakonomics," addressed the Washington (State) Policy Center’s small business conference luncheon on November 8 and mentioned this apparent abortion/crime link during his speech. The link is a claim that Dubner’s co-author, Steven Levitt, first made in a 2001 paper entitled "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime." As Dubner put it during his speech, "Unwanted children are much more likely to become criminals. What happens, then, when your population pool has removed from it a big chunk of the unwanted children?" Dubner and Levitt devoted an entire chapter to the supposed abortion/crime connection in Chapter 4 of "Freakonomics."

But there is a problem with forwarding this kind of supposed link. Levitt himself admitted that there was a "programming error" in his research after economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston released a report in 2005 that faulted Levitt’s statistic research. In addition, John Lott of "More Guns, Less Crime" fame and John Whitley of the University of Adelaide in Australia came out with a paper later in 2001 which countered Levitt’s claims. (h/t to Dawn Eden of The Dawn Patrol blog for links to articles about both papers)

Despite these countering studies, both Dubner and Levitt stood by their claim. After the 2005 Federal Reserve Bank of Boston report was released, Levitt’s response was stalwart. "Does this change my mind on the issue? Absolutely not."

Dubner was even transparent in his explaining why he continues to sell his argument, as the following excerpt from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer article makes clear.

"Unwanted children are much more likely to become criminals. What happens, then, when your population pool has removed from it a big chunk of the unwanted children?"

It's a controversial message that Dubner is used to giving, but one that Washington's business leaders were clearly not used to hearing.

The lunchtime clinking stopped. No one in the banquet room moved. They didn't rub their eyebrows or sip their iced teas or even glance at their peers. They just stared straight ahead.

Dubner's prior comments had been amusing. His post-abortion story involved an experiment that taught monkeys to use money. Monkey antics made everyone laugh.

But even the serious stuff is "the kind of thing that people like you really need to think about," Dubner told the crowd.

"The less that we're able to talk in polite society about important incentives, the further and further we go down the road of making policy that responds to what people are willing to talk about, which isn't always the entire picture."

So, Dubner wants to "confront" people about the supposed truth of his findings, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center