May 6, 2005

"Freak Out!" Advises The Weekly Standard

Another small step in Steven D. Levitt's abortion-cut-crime theory becoming conventional wisdom is the ecstatic review of Freakonomics on The Weekly Standard's website. Dean "Soxblog" Barnett writes:

STEVEN D. LEVITT CLAIMS that physically he is the "weakest human being alive." He may also be one of the most courageous.

Along with his coauthor Stephen Dubner, Levitt has written a book called Freakonomics, which details his innovative and brilliant way of looking at the world. Levitt's mind works in the following manner: First he asks questions that few have the creativity to ask; then he follows a rigorous statistical analysis to find the answers.

Some of Freakonomics' conclusions are fearlessly contrarian. To wit, Levitt posits, among other things, that some teachers are cheaters, real estate agents tend not to serve their clients' best interests, successful parenting has a lot more to do with who the parents are than how they actually parent, and crime rates dropped in the 1990s as a direct result of 1973's Roe v. Wade decision. In spite of the controversy that Freakonomics is almost certain to cause, Levitt has produced a work full of stunning insights that can rightfully be called genius.

One reason that a number of bloggers are wetting themselves with joy over Freakonomics is because Levitt's publicists put together an innovative PR campaign that made bloggers feel appreciated. The flacks apparently Googled up a list of bloggers who had mentioned Levitt previously and mailed them free copies of the book about a month before it came out.

As I pointed out when word came out that the Department of Education had given columnist Armstrong Williams almost a quarter of a million dollars in bribes, that seemed like suspicious overkill: you could buy scores of columnists' affections for a fraction of that price. Just show 'em a little love -- e.g., invite them to speak at your conference and nod appreciatively -- and they'll be your golden retriever. Bloggers apparently come even cheaper -- just send them a copy of your book!

[Barnett writes to say he bought his copy of the book at Amazon.]

Back to Barnett, whose blogname is James Frederick Wright:

FREAKONOMICS IS MOST LIKELY to become controversial (and perhaps notorious) because of its chapter on crime and abortion...

Levitt convincingly argues that the fortuitous drop in crime of the late 1990s was due to 1973's Roe v. Wade decision.

Here is Levitt's theory boiled down to its essence: "Decades of study have shown that a child born into an adverse family environment is far more likely than other children to become a criminal. And the millions of women most likely to have an abortion in the wake of Roe v. Wade--poor, unmarried, and teenage mothers for whom illegal abortions had been too expensive or too hard to get--were often models of adversity . . . Just as these unborn children would have entered their criminal primes, the rate of crime began to plummet." Levitt goes on to support this assertion with an almost unassailable statistical analysis (although given the discomfiting nature of his argument, it is likely to be vigorously assailed

The link, nicely, is to my follow-up page of blog items and data further debunking Levitt's theory. (Linking to my original article would have made more sense, but perhaps The Weekly Standard doesn't want to deign to acknowledge The American Conservative's existence.)

Still, I get irritated by the constant assumption that I object to Levitt's theory because I find it "discomfiting." All these Jack Nicholsons of the keyboard insinuate to me, "You can't handle the truth!"

Okay, okay, fine, I'm a politically correct wimp. But the reason I object to Levitt's theory is that it doesn't appear to be true. If the evidence was on Levitt's side, a wimp like me sure wouldn't get into this uneven fight with the glamour boy of the whole economics profession.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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