October 7, 2005

Levitt complains he's not getting enough love from the NYT

On his Freakonomics.com blog, Steven D. Levitt complains about a New York Times article entitled "New York's Falling Crime Rate Is a Potent Weapon for the Mayor," which lists the following reasons for crime being down:

"Academic experts cite several plausible contributors to the nationwide trend, including an aging population (young men are responsible for most crimes), the end of the crack cocaine epidemic, an improving economy and rising rates of homeownership in urban areas."

Not satisfied with the NYT giving him two rave book reviews, a rave op-ed column, and a job writing his own column, Levitt whines:

Anybody notice any factors missing from that list? Like, maybe, the increase in the prison population or legalized abortion, which I claim are the two most important drivers of the decline in crime?

I replied in the the comments:

Let's face it. Your abortion-cut-crime theory is now tainted in the media's mind by the Bill Bennett Brouhaha and they would just as soon not deal with it.

Perhaps you could have headed off this fate if last week you had issued a ringing endorsement of free thought, quoted Voltaire, and in general used your media glamour to defend Bennett from the smear jobs. Instead, though, you chose to weasel and waffle to protect yourself by claiming, disingenuously, that what he said wasn't implied by your theory. By letting Bennett be trashed, though, you've let your trademark theory be tainted by association with his disgrace.

As you sow, so shall you reap.

By the way, if anybody really wants to understand fully why crime has fallen so fast in New York City, I would point to this statistic from the article by Jonathan Tilove, the Newhouse New Service's ace race and immigration reporter, called "Where Have All the Black Men Gone?" "There are 36 percent more black women than men in New York City..." Tilove wrote:

There are nearly two million more black adult women than men in America, stark testimony to how often black men die before their time. With nearly another million black men in prison or the military, the real imbalance is even greater -- a gap of 2.8 million, according to U.S. Census data for 2002. On average, then, there are 26 percent more black women than black men; among whites, women outnumber men by just 8 percent.

Perhaps no single statistic so precisely measures the fateful, often fatal, price of being a black man in America, or so powerfully conveys how beset black communities are by the violence and disease that leaves them bereft of brothers, fathers, husbands and sons, and leaves whole communities reeling. ...

In the March/April issue of Health Affairs, Dr. David Satcher, surgeon general under former President Bill Clinton and now the interim president of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, exposes the core of the problem: Between 1960 and 2000, the disparity between mortality rates for black and white women narrowed while the disparity between the rates for black and white men grew wider.

Exponentially higher homicide and AIDS rates play their part, especially among younger black men. Even more deadly through middle age and beyond are higher rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The imbalance between the numbers of black men and women does not exist everywhere. There is no gap to speak of in places with relatively small black populations like Minneapolis, Minn.; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco and San Diego. And Seattle actually has more black men than women.

But it is the rule in communities with large concentrated black populations. There are, for instance, more than 30 percent more black women than men in Baltimore, New Orleans, Chicago and Cleveland, and in smaller cities like Harrisburg, Pa. There are 36 percent more black women than men in New York City...

Levitt's favorite explanation, abortion, can't account for any of the huge sex difference among blacks today.

It's absurd for Levitt to focus on prenatal culling as a crime-reducer when the postnatal culling of black males in places New York City (and nearby East Orange, where the gender gap is a similar 37%), became so ferocious during the late 1980s and early 1990s. If there are 29 percent fewer black men in their 20s than black women in East Orange today, and a few percent of the black women are in jail or dead due to their being involved in criminal activities, then roughly 25 percent of the black male population gets culled by age 30, and those 25 percent tend to be the most violent members of that cohort. If the most dangerous 25% of a cohort disappears, that's going to have a much bigger impact than randomly aborting some of the cohort, prenatally.

However, not all the decline in crime came just from culling criminals. The 14-17 year old murder rate for black male youths born in the early 1980s was only about one third as high as for black male youths born in the late 1970s. (Abortion can't explain that because the non-white abortion rate peaked in 1977.) I like to think that a lot of little brothers learned tragic but valuable lessons from the fates of their older brothers during the abattoir years of 1990-1994.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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