April 22, 2005

Isn't it a logical inevitability that abortion reduces the crime rate?

While the historical evidence raises strong doubts about this popular theory, many people assume it must be true on simple logical grounds. A reader writes:

You began your "Pre-emptive Executions?" article by asking:

Did legalizing abortion in the early 70s reduce crime in the late 90s by allowing "pre-emptive capital punishment" of potential troublemakers?

Steve, the answer to the above question is obviously yes. If you abort a disproportionate number of the fetuses that would grow up to be criminals, you must reduce the crime rate. Of course there may be many other factors that effect the crime rate, as you point out, but these factors don't change the basic fact that elective abortion has reduced the crime rate. To argue otherwise is to make you come off as a doctrinaire conservative, rather than as a scientist.

This seems tautological, but keep in mind that in our country, educated people have a notorious history of misreading how not-so-educated people would react to changes in family structure incentives. For example, all the smart people in 1961 favored raising welfare payments to, say, $300 per month and giving it to unmarried mothers. Nobody they knew would have a baby out of wedlock just to get $300 per month.

Levitt assumes that legalizing abortion reduces the "unwantedness" of the babies who do get born. A close reading of Steven Levitt's book suggests that the reality, however, is not clear at all.

irst, we certainly didn't see an increase in wantedness by the fathers of the unborn babies that managed to get born. Legalizing abortion reduced the moral pressure on impregnating boyfriends to marry their girlfriends.

The illegitimacy rate grew steadily from 1964 (which, counterintuitively, was the year The Pill was introduced, yet was also the inflection point in the great illegitimacy upswing), until it suddenly somewhat pleateaued in 1995, the year after the violence rate began dropping, and a few years after the abortion rate began dropping, perhaps not coincidentally.

Lots of people assume that illegitimacy and abortion must be inversely correlated, but the historical record in America shows that they are both high at the same time and low at the same time.

The simplest model appears to be that the Crack Era of the early 1990s was when a lot of the offshoots of the Liberal Ascendancy of 1964-1980 -- crime, illegitimacy, abortion, and venereal diseases such as AIDS -- were seen by many people as all coming home to roost, and a broad turn toward more traditional morality began in reaction to the horrors on the streets.

fter the legalization of abortion, there was not a major drop in unwanted births as Levitt assumed when he concocted his theory, and he still implies even though he knows the facts are otherwise. Instead, there was a major rise in unwanted pregnancies. According to Levitt's own words, "
"Conceptions rose by nearly 30 percent, but births actually fell by 6 percent …" I know I reiterate this, but it's a stunning fact that you never hear in the abortion debate from either side, and it's a key to grasping what the impact of legalizing abortion was in reality, not theory.

Nor is it clear that this small decline in birthrate improved the quality of upbringing of the survivors.

Imagine a woman who started having unprotected sex because abortion was legalized. She gets pregnant, but then, for one reason or another, doesn't have an abortion.

Perhaps she hopes that having the baby will persuade the father to marry her. Perhaps when the father refuses to marry her she decides that if no man loves her, well, at least a baby would love her and cheer her up. Maybe all her girlfriends are having babies and it seems like the fashionable thing to do in her circle. Maybe it gets her out of having to go to high school and take a lot of boring classes she doesn't understand. Perhaps she finds she can get her own public housing project apartment and move out of her nagging mother's house if she becomes a mother herself, and then she can have sex with all the men she wants. Perhaps she keeps forgetting her appointment at the clinic because she's not too bright. Perhaps every time she gets the cash together for an abortion, she spends it on drugs first.

It's a statistical certainty that millions of babies were conceived because abortion was legalized but then were born for these kind of reasons. How many? I don't know.

But it's not at all impossible that legalizing abortion could have, on the whole, lowered the quality of parents and the upbringing they give their kids. In fact, it seems pretty likely that out of the tens of millions of women who had unwanted pregnancies due to legalizing abortion (tens of millions according to Levitt's own numbers), the ones who went ahead and had abortions tended to be the more ambitious, better organized women, while some the the ones didn't get around to having abortions were the more scatter-brained women.

This model fits what we all saw on the streets a lot better than Levitt's model. Urban black women had huge numbers of legal abortions from 1971 onward, far more than any other group. According to Levitt's logic, that should have improved the black male teenagers of the late 1980s through early 1990s.Yet, what evidence is there from, say, 1990 to 1994 that black males born in 1971-1979 were better behaved than the previous generation? The better behaved generation of black teens actually were the ones born in the early 1980s, yet the nonwhite abortion rate peaked back in 1977.

A reader writes:

Like Steven D Levitt, I am a published economist... I am so heart warmed to begin to see empirical data graphically presented, albeit in a critique of economic theory by your art critic, as to be tempted to forgive his sophomoric understanding of empirical social science. In the discipline's lingo, Levitt has relied upon something called ceteris paribus (all other things equal), an inference presumptively valid unless shown otherwise, to conclude abortion lowers crime.

In his critique, Steve Sailer shows that today's youth are more violent and depraved. But his post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning fails to prove is that abortion has made them so. Rather, in the absence of such proof, ceteris paribus tells us that crime would be worse had it not been "culled" [of] 'the children who stood the greatest chance of becoming criminals.'"

Leaving aside the condescension dripping from this, there are two logical issues here: ceteris paribus and upon whom the burden of proof rests.

I addressed ceteris paribus in my debate in 1999 with Levitt:

Admittedly, it's still theoretically possible that without abortion the black youth murder rate would have, say, sextupled instead of merely quintupling [from 1984 to 1993].

Logically, this is what Levitt must be arguing over these last six years. But you can instantly see why he never makes clear his case. There's two problems: the first is that saying this instantly raises the question of why Levitt refuses to investigate the at least equally interesting question of whether legalizing abortion first drove crime up. As I wrote then:

Still, there's a more interesting question: Why did the places with the highest abortion rates in the '70s (e.g., NYC and Washington D.C.) tend to suffer the worst crack-driven crime waves in the early '90s?

The other reason is the obvious dubiousness of what Levitt is claiming: He is implying that: Although my theory fails its single best test case in catastrophic fashion, I can still separate out the very subtle breeze of the effects of legalizing abortion from the hurricane of other simultaneous events, such as the rise and fall of the crack wars, vast increases in imprisonment, changes in police tactics, the decline in the abortion rate from 1992 onward, changes in the economy, increased sales of guns to law-abiding citizens, increased number of cops, the rise of rent-a-cops, the spread of alarms and video cameras, the rise of marijuana among the urban underclass, the spread of Depo-Provera contraceptive shots, etcetera etcetera...

Well, good luck...

And that brings us to the question of the burden of proof. Upon whom should it rest: Levitt or me?

Levitt is a sympathetic figure, perhaps a heroic one, considering the difficulty of the analytical burden he has undertaken.

I am a less appealing figure: the scoffer, the sniper, the naysayer. I do not offer a complete model of the causes of crime trends as Levitt claims to do. Nor do I feel competent to undertake one. I am merely poking holes in his big theory.

Yet, it's a wise maxim in the sciences that large assertions require large evidence. Levitt's abortion-cut-crime theory is one of the bigger social science assertions of recent times. The weight of the evidence, however, falls far short of the weight of the importance of his claim. So, by all traditions of science, the burden of proof lies upon him, and he has failed to meet it.

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

Crime Misery Index Feedback

A reader writes:

Good work with the crime misery index. I can think of two factors that would affect the index-- one on the imprisonment side and one on the homicide rate (as proxy for crime in general).

To take the homicide rate first, emergency medicine is WAY better than it was 40 years ago (apparently the experience of combat surgeons in Vietnam revolutionized the field). A lot of shooting victims are alive today who'd be murder statistics if they had been treated with 1960 medical technology. Doctors, nurses and paramedics have done more to keep the murder rate down than judges, lawyers and cops. A better comparison (and I wish I could remember where I first read this point) would be adding homicides and armed assaults for any given year. Over time, there would be fewer murders, but the number of armed assaults would stay about the same or go up (as would-be murderers are charged with armed assault).

I think that lousy medical care may explain the high homicide rate in the 1920s during a period of much lower imprisonment rates -- people died often from single bullets or knife wounds due to infections before the introduction of sulfas in the 1930s and the arrival of mass quantities of penicillin around 1944-45. Also, the first hospital blood bank in the U.S. was begun in Chicago in 1937.

On the other hand, criminals' firepower has gone up. Al Capone's gang was notorious for being able to afford automatic weapons ("tommy guns") but by the late 1980s every two bit punk could afford to spray his rivals from a passing car -- drive-by shootings didn't become terribly effective until crooks could just hose bullets in the general direction of their victims.

The good news is that the number of "serious violent crimes" reported by the public in the FBI's National Crime Victimization Survey (taken annually since 1973) is very much down. The total number of estimated serious violent crimes peaked at over four million in 1981 and again in 1993 and 1994, but has been under two million in 2001-2003.

Second, concerning the incarceration rate, let's not discount that before the 70's, cops dished out a lot more "street justice". Someone who gets the crap kicked out of him but isn't arrested (if only to avoid a judge seeing the beat up defendant) isn't counted in any arrest or incarceration statistics. It's unfortunate that race gets mixed up in the whole equation-- but even with a white suspect, cops today are much more careful about respecting the suspect's civil rights.

I think the rise of the crime rate is largely a result in the decline of street justice. When cops are, as they inevitably will be someday, wired with lipstick cameras to monitor their behavior with suspects, the problem will only get worse.

Along those lines, the creator of Deadwood (and co-creator of NYPD Blue), David Milch said something interesting last year:

"And the reason that cops only trust other cops is because they know that they've been hired to lie, they've been hired to beat the balls off people, and get them to confess so they can be excluded from society. That's the first part of their job. The second part of their job is to lie about what they did. And the third part of their job is to know that if they're caught, they're going to be put in jail. So for me, what every cop always told me was, 'Every time I see a guy in a suit, I'm afraid I'm gonna get locked up'."

I just saw a South Korean movie with scenes of how the police over there interrogate recalcitrant prisoners. Travel tip: When in Seoul, obey the law.

Torturing suspects seemed to be fairly routine in Cook County when I lived there.

But, in general, it appears we reduced police brutality in America, but wound up having to replace it with much more imprisonment (which includes brutalization of weaker prisoners by other prisoners -- unfortunately, the prisoner-on-prisoner brutalization is enjoyed by the stronger inmates, so that's the opposite of a deterrent for the most dangerous criminals).

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

Nietzsche on KICS: "Keep It Complicated, Smartie:"

A reader writes:

Nietzsche said: "It's a lie that what thinkers hate most is being misunderstood. They actually love that. They think 'I've spent 30 years trying to understand this; how dare you think you can figure it out in 10 minutes?'"

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

I'm not the only bestseller-hater:

Matt Taibbi on Thomas Friedman's book The World Is Flat:

I think it was about five months ago that NY Press editor Alex Zaitchik whispered to me in the office hallway that Thomas Friedman had a new book coming out. All he knew about it was the title, but that was enough; he approached me with the chilled demeanor of a British spy who has just discovered that Hitler was secretly buying up the world’s manganese supply. Who knew what it meant—but one had to assume the worst

"It's going to be called The Flattening," he whispered. Then he stood there, eyebrows raised, staring at me, waiting to see the effect of the news when it landed. I said nothing.

It turned out Alex had bad information; the book that ultimately came out would be called The World Is Flat. It didn't matter. Either version suggested the same horrifying possibility. Thomas Friedman in possession of 500 pages of ruminations on the metaphorical theme of flatness would be a very dangerous thing indeed. It would be like letting a chimpanzee loose in the NORAD control room... [More]

Taibbi can be quite funny. Perhaps he's the War Nerd.

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

New Tech-Support Caste Arises In India

NEW DELHI—Thanks to widespread outsourcing of telephone-service jobs, a fifth caste has blossomed in India: the Khidakayas, a mid-level jati made up of technical-support workers. "I am happy to be a Khidakaya," said technical-support agent Ranji Prasat, who speaks English with a flawless American accent and goes by the name "Ron" at work. "While we rank below members of the reigning order, those of us responsible for helping Americans track their online purchases and change their account PINs share many privileges not enjoyed by the merchant class below us." Prasat said he expects to marry another tech-support worker. -- The Onion

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

The advantage of going to Harvard:

A reader writes:

You are absolutely right when you say that going to Harvard doesn't make you smart (it certainly didn't in my case). However what going to Harvard does do (at least it did for me) is to instill a sense of confidence and self-assurance that proves to be of enormous advantage later in life, totally apart from how smart or not smart you inherently are (or how much smarter the person who didn't go there is than you are, but since he didn't go there he lacks that confidence and thus "blinks" when the chips are down).

From my limited and admittedly personal experience alone (but confirmed in unscientific and statistically unrealiable connversations with classmates) this Harvard-inspired "bravado" (for lack of a better word) is a widespread phenomenon. On more than one occasion, when I have been confronted with a tough situation about which I have "not a clue" I find myself playing the mind game of "Hey, I went to Harvard, I should be able to figure this out!" and just that seemingly small bit of self delusion carries the day, because the other side in that situation immediately perceives the sense of power and control that this mind game imparts, and he backs down.

You would think that somewhere along the line someone or something would have "called my bluff" and exposed this little (or maybe not so little) charade, but I'll be 65 in a matter of weeks and it hasn't happened yet! Who knows what tomorrow brings, but so far so good.

Another observation about Harvard, the further you are from Cambridge, the more impressive the credential is perceived to be. In Boston, there are Harvard grads driving cabs and pumping gas, but west of the Hudson, across the pond or points east of Suez, a Harvard degree opens doors otherwise closed shut.

One of my most distinguished readers, who was an adornment of the Harvard faculty for many years, writes:

You are right about IQ tests. But see the study by Alan Krueger that shows that elite schools, such as Harvard, do not in fact add to what students learn compared to other, less prestigious schools.

Dan Akst reported in Money:

The economist Alan B. Krueger teaches at Princeton University, but in his view, it’s probably not worth the money it takes to send your kid there.

Not in terms of future earnings, anyway. Krueger ignited a minor furor when he and Stacy B. Dale, a researcher at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, concluded in 1998 that elite colleges do not pay off in higher earnings. They only appear to do so, the researchers contended. Krueger and Dale claimed that, in most cases, the higher earnings piled up by graduates of elite schools were attributable to elite individuals, not their college education. In other words, if you’re smart enough to get into Princeton, you’re smart enough to make a lot of money wherever you go to school...

But, other economists who have looked at the question, disagree. Akst's article has a lot of interesting observations on both sides, and I, personally, remain agnostic on the issue.

I suspect the value of the friends and contacts you make in college differs greatly depending on career. Now that I'm in the opinion journalism business, for example, it's clear that the only sensible career path in this little industry is to go to Harvard, or, failing that, another Ivy League school, and then move to either New York City or D.C. and socialize as much as possible with people who look like they could help you out some day (and cut everybody else dead): i.e., don't do what I've done (go to school in Houston and LA and get real world work experience in Chicago). But this is hardly a representative business.

One general suggestion I have is that, all else being equal, it's a good idea to get your schooling and make your career in the same metropolitan area. For a lot of people, the younger you are, the easier it is to make friends. It's hard to keep up with old friends if you are a thousand miles away, and it's not as easy to make new ones as you get older.

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

April 21, 2005

Non-Lethal Youth Violence Peaked After Roe, Too

The kids born after abortion legalization didn't just go on a murder spree. Here's a graph of more data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. This is from the FBI's annual National Crime Victimization Study. It shows that "serious violent crime" (which includes " includes rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and homicide" but not murder, because homicide victims aren't around to be interviewed by the FBI) where at least one of the attackers was perceived by the victim as being age 12 to 17 peaked in 1993 in terms of both absolute number of crimes (1,108,000, as represented by the blue bars above) and percentage of all serious violent crimes (27% of total serious violent crimes, as represented by the red line above). Abortion laws were liberalized in 15 states in 1970 and Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationally in 1973, a full 20 years before the worst year for 12-17 year olds. So, contra Levitt's Freakonomics, the cohort born after Roe v. Wade was the most violent in the last three decades, and perhaps ever.

And don't assume that youth violence is an insignificant share of all violence. Over half of the 28% increase in the total number of serious violent crimes between 1986 and 1993 was due to the increased violence of 12-17 year olds compared to just 42% of the increase for all adults age 18 and over (and 5% for assailants of unknown age).

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

Is the Pope Catholic? New York Times Alarmed to Find Answer is "Yes."

Colby Cosh points me toward this quote from the NYT:

Pope Benedict's well-known stands include the assertion that Catholicism is "true" and other religions are "deficient"; that the modern, secular world, especially in Europe, is spiritually weak; and that Catholicism is in competition with Islam.

Tomorrow, the NYT will reveal the shocking secret of the sanitary habits of bears!

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

KICS: Keep It Complicated, Smartie!

One amusing aspect of the controversy over economist Steven D. Levitt's abortion-cut-crime assertion is how many academic economists seem to feel that, even though Levitt ducks answering my simple challenges to his theory, they should take his arguments for his theory (based on complex multiple regression studies) on faith because they are more complicated than my easy-to-understand graphs and comparisons.

My statistical training came at MBA school and on the job in the for-profit marketing research industry, where the maxim KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid! is much admired. Academic economists, however, seem to be followers of KICS: Keep It Complicated, Smartie. The more moving parts required to support a theory, the better!

A research psychologist at a university writes:

These economists, with their faith in regression analyses, amaze me. If you do lots of clever follow-ups you can sometimes get some fairly good idea what is going on using regression, but even that is never definitive -- but just to do some very molar-level coarse regression and declare victory -- it's just crappy social science.

Of course, several academic economists have written long multiple-regression based analyses undermining Levitt's theory. Both Ted Joyce and the team of John R. Lott and John Whitley have sent me their latest, unpublished responses to Levitt-Donohue's response to their first responses (got that?). (Here are the abstracts from the two newest papers.)

(Lott and Levitt notoriously don't like each other. I don't know whether Levitt first attacked Lott's more-guns-less-crime theory before or after Lott attacked Levitt's abortion-cut-crime theory, but in any case, Levitt's Freakonomics includes a half page of ad hominem abuse of Lott while attempting to dismiss Lott's more-guns-less-crime theory.)

One problem with highly complex models is that they make it easier to hide your assumptions. Levitt, in effect, assumes that abortion could not have caused the rise in crime among people born soon after legalization but could have caused the fall in crime after the crack years. So, hesto-presto, he gets the results out of his model that he pre-ordained in the first place.

Joyce assumes that the crack crime wave was a random event and works very hard to see what the effect of abortion was on non-crack related criminality. He finds no effect.

Lott and Whitley, in contrast, are open to the possibility tended to get started first in high abortion places like NYC is not a coincidence. They find a positive relation between the abortion rate and the subsequent murder rate.

Still, what strikes me about both papers is how Levitt's academic critics lack the instinct for the jugular that is inculcated in the business world. Due to the methodologically shoddy way Levitt assembled his theory, it's easy to show graphically that several of his claims about recent social history are 180 degrees false, but academic economists seem to have a prejudice against using killer graphs. The cumulative persuasiveness of both papers is great, but you can see how many observers would, rather than carefully read all the papers, instead just throw up their hands and assume that the fashionable young superstar from the U. of Chicago is right on reputation alone.

I hope economists, of all people, also aren't too offended when I point out that they also have a self-interested reason for hoping Levitt iseen as winning this debate: Freakonomics remains the #2 bestseller on Amazon, which is an extraordinarily strong performance for a book by an economist. I'm sure that dozens of economics professors are preparing book proposals at this very moment.

Colby Cosh explains the ideological reasons both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life alike seem to prefer Levitt's theory:

"Meanwhile, Steve Sailer is quietly destroying the suddenly-ubiquitous Steven Levitt. Freakonomics' hypothesis that the demographic effects of Roe v. Wade ultimately served to drive American crime rates down in the 1990s. It feels like Levitt's theory has been embraced by both pro-choicers, who would like to believe that legalized abortion has positive social effects, and by pro-lifers, who just want to convince people that it has some sort of second-order social effect we are obliged to consider. Unfortunately for both sides, the theory had already been reduced to a rapidly drying heap of bones before Levitt put it in book form."

There is also a personal reason for the popularity of the abortion-cut-crime theory. After 40 million or so legal abortions, there are a whole lot of people with uneasy consciences, and Levitt's theory lets them say to themselves, "I wasn't really sliding out of a sticky situation, I was ... fighting crime! Yeah, that's the ticket!"

Levitt, on the other hand, appears to be personally Pro-Life. He and his wife have had three children themselves, one of whom tragically died, and adopted another. He's an activist in educating people about the dangers to children of swimming pools, saying they owning a swimming pool is times more dangerous to kids than owning a gun.

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

Pope Benedict XVI:

From what little I know, it appears that by electing Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope, the College of Cardinals has once again honored another outstanding man, but, as is their custom, a different kind of exceptional individual than the last Pope.

One interesting parallel, however, is that in 1978, the Cardinals elected a man from Poland, which turned out to be a key nation in rectifying the catastrophe of Eastern Europe that began in 1917. Today, they elected a man from Germany, which was at the center of the Western European catastrophe from 1914-1945. Moreover, in recent years, it has become increasingly clear that the current Western European malaise is exemplified by and centered in the perpetual, never-to-be-forgiven guilt of Western Europe's largest nation. (See, for instance, the Sunday Times of London's article from two days ago, "Papal hopeful is a former Hitler Youth," for a typical example.)

By electing a German, and a German who had turned 18 before the end of WWII, who had been a (highly unenthusiastic conscript) solider in the German military, the Cardinals are signaling that the guilt that has, more than anything else, corroded contemporary Europe is individual and thus mortal, not racial and eternal.

A reader writes:

Well, let's hope so... However, Ratzinger's German origin may make it impossible for him to address the immigration crisis in Europe.

Perhaps the election of an Italian Pope would have allowed for more Papal leadership in resisting Islamic immigration. There are lots of people who hate Germany and Germans so much that (they think) they'd like to see Germany overwhelmed by immigrants (of course, they will be rudely surprised by the consequences when their wish comes true), but almost nobody hates Italy and Italians that much. So, a German Pope might be constrained by anti-Germanism.

UPDATE: Good news! James Taranto of the WSJ's "Worst of the Web" blog is mad at the new Pope for opposing Turkish entry into the European Union. In an item entitled "Is Pope Neoconservative?" Taranto writes:

"The new pope does seem to be reactionary on one matter, however. According to the Washington Post, "he publicly cautioned Europe against admitting Turkey to the European Union and wrote a letter to bishops around the world justifying that stand on the grounds that the continent is essentially Christian in nature."

The horror, the horror!

As for whether Benedict XVI is a neocon or not, well, he hasn't invaded a country by mistake yet, so I say he's innocent until proven guilty.

Catholic World News reported last August:

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said in an interview released on Wednesday that Turkey should seek to join Islamic nations rather than attempt to join the European Union. The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told France's Le Figaro magazine that Turkey had always been "in permanent contrast to Europe," and that it should look to its roots for closer associations.

"In the course of history, Turkey has always represented a different continent, in permanent contrast to Europe," Ratzinger told the magazine, noting that the history of Ottoman Empire, which once invaded Europe as far as Vienna. "Making the two continents identical would be a mistake," he said. "It would mean a loss of richness, the disappearance of the cultural to the benefit of economics." The born cardinal said Turkey "could try to set up a cultural continent with neighboring Arab countries and become the leading figure of a culture with its own identity."

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

April 19, 2005

Introducing the Crime Misery Index!

Based on the traditional Economic Misery Index (unemployment rate plus inflation rate), the purple line above is the sum of the homicide rate (red line) plus the imprisonment rate (blue line). The idea is to measure both crime (with homicide victimization per capita being used as the most trustworthy measure of the crime rate because attention must be paid to a dead body) plus the costs we undergo to avoid crime (with the imprisonment rate per capita being used as a proxy -- by the way this includes state and federal prison rates, but not local jail rates, which weren't available this far back).

The average of the 1950s are set as equal to 100 for both homicide and prison indices, so the combined Crime Misery Index in the 1950s averaged 200.

As you can see, there was a high murder rate during Prohibition, especially once the Depression started, followed by a long era of moderation. Then, in the 1960s, the prison rate went down while the murder rate shot up. Eventually in the later 1970s the prison rate started its long rise. The murder rate dropped a little in the mid-1980s, then rose again to another peak in the early 1990s. The prison rate went through the roof in the 1990s and the murder rate finally dropped significantly.
Although by 2000 the murder rate was almost back down to the good old days of the 1950s, the overall Crime Misery Index remained at a historically unprecedented level due to the huge costs we continue pay to avoid crime.

Legalizing Abortion Spread Venereal Diseases:

Legalizing Abortion Spread Venereal Diseases: Law professors Jonathan Klick and Thomas Stratmann wrote a paper entitled "The Effect of Abortion Legalization on the Incidence of Sexually Transmitted Diseases." From their abstract:

Using CDC data on the incidence of gonorrhea and syphilis by state, we test the hypothesis that judicial and legislative decisions to legalize abortion lead to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. We find that gonorrhea and syphilis incidences are significantly and positively correlated with abortion legalization. According to our estimates, abortion legalization might account for as much as one third of the average disease incidence.

Not only did unmarried people have coitus more, but my impression is that the introduction of the oral contraceptive in 1964 and the legalization of abortion in 1970-1973 sent condom usage into an eclipse until the accumulating venereal epidemics (herpes, AIDS, chlamydia, etc.) brought the condom back into fashion in the 1980s or 1990s.

Besides being icky, this STD trend has some implications for the abortion-cut-crime theory. Steven D. Levitt's notion rests on his claim that legalizing abortion increases the "wantedness" of the survivors of legalized abortion. While this sounds plausible at first, illegitimacy rates soared, which suggest that wantedness by the surviving babies' fathers definitely didn't go up.

Klick writes about his finding of a big jump in VD rates stemming from legalization:

This too provides some indirect evidence against the Donohue and Levitt hypothesis, since arguably abortion legalization could lead to an increase in unwanted kids (woman has sex w/o protection because of the security that she could have an abortion, but then cannot go through with it; or women who are against abortion face competition from women who are willing to have abortions, so to compete, they need to be willing to have unprotected sex, etc).

Legalized abortion reduced unmarried women's position in relation to the men who wanted to have unprotected coitus with them. That wasn't good for their children.

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

April 18, 2005

A Crime Misery Index?

The murder rate is down, but we are still paying a huge price for this improvement. How we can quantify the total picture?

Ronald Reagan used the "Economic Misery Index" -- the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate -- to quantify in an understandable away how bad the economy had gotten under Jimmy Carter. A reader suggests we create a Crime Misery Index composed of, say, the homicide rate plus the incarceration rate. In the 1960s, the incarceration rate went down while the murder rate went up. In the 1990s, the imprisonment rate went up while the murder rate went down (funny how that works). But just because the murder rate is down now, we are still paying a huge price for how much we have had to deform our lives to reduce the danger of being murdered or otherwise victimized. He explains:

We do not have any real data on how violence-prone are males, males by race, males by age or state or any other classification. What we have are data on how successfully violent these classes of males are. There is another piece of the index that we need to measure the tendencies of people to commit crime. That is some measure of the various efforts other people must make to avoid being killed, robbed or raped and the efforts society must make to keep the violence-prone under control.

In a way, thinking about the effects of criminal behavior or criminal tendencies is like thinking about the performance of the economy. You want to measure both some underlying problem and the costs to society of keeping the problem very roughly under control. Both the underlying problem and the various cures cause pain. And sometimes the magnitude of the underlying problem is chiefly expressed in the extraordinary efforts society must make to keep it under control.

In principle, that second half of the index would include things like migration of law-abiding people to ever-further exurban areas, money spent on home alarms, Plexiglas shields for taxis and gas stations, and so forth. And it would include the public expenditures on police, criminal justice and the prison system

The highly simplified way of expressing both halves of our economic problem used to be the "misery index," which was simply the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate. You could take unemployment as the basic problem, which we were trying to cure by accepting high inflation rates. Or you could take inflation as the problem - because it damaged some people's living standards and hurt productive planning - which we were trying to cure by putting people out of work. But both were clearly part of the same problem, the apparent inability of the economy to provide work for everyone without creating chaos and confusion in everyone's lives.

A similarly simplified index of the breakdown of traditional restraints on violent behavior might be simply the murder rate plus the incarceration rate, appropriately converted. I have not looked up the numbers, but I would be very confident that the post-1960s world looks much different, and much worse, than it did before courts started solving all our problems for us.

I can find the homicide rate going back 100 years, but I haven't been able to find an imprisonment rate going back before 1973, and, obviously, the decade before 1973 is the crucial one. Anybody know where to look?


One enormous cost of the 1960s Murder Wave was the vast disruption of stable urban neighborhoods, and the dispersion of people into the lonely suburbs, far from their old friends and relatives.

I've got to say that the pre-Murder Wave white urban ethnic lifestyle, like my wife's family enjoyed on the West Side of Chicago, sounds like a pretty good way for kids to grow up, because the population density was high enough that there were lots of other kids to play with on the sidewalks of their street, their were plenty of adults around to glance at them occasionally and see all was well, they could walk to school and to stores, and, when they got older, they could take public transportation. Mom didn't have to chauffeur them around, like in the modern suburban lifestyle, so they grew up less dependent on their parents, and parents felt like they could handle having more children. But that way of life was pretty much obliterated between about 1965 and 1975.

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

Almost 100 Times Worse than 9/11

At GNXP, Dobeln has an important posting on "The Second American Civil War:" the doubling of the murder rate from 1964 to 1974, and it's continued high level for another couple of dozen years:

The US murder rate hovered around 4.5 per 100 000 during the fifties. Then, in a few short years in the mid-to-late sixties, the rate doubled. What happened? In short: Liberalism happened, and Americans haven’t forgotten yet...

We can determine that all in all, the US had roughly 300 000 more murders between 1964 and 2002 than had been the case if the sixties ‘explosion’ had not happened. The ‘excess murder rate’ causalities during the Vietnam War years of 1965-75 alone number roughly 74 000 people – well above the number of US soldiers killed in Vietnam.

Vast amounts of ink have been spent detailing the impact of Vietnam on the American psyche. Some of that ink would probably have been better used in determining just how the great killing spree that lasted from the mid-sixties to the mid-nineties changed how Americans view the world.

The exact figure for the Great Murder Wave can be debated, but it was clearly more than one and possibly two orders of magnitude bigger than the death toll in 9/11. It had an enormous impact on American life, permanently desolating several once-great cities like Detroit.

There's an interesting paradox at work here in terms of public vs. elite awareness of this history. The great murder/crime wave that began during the golden age of liberalism -- the first years of the LBJ Administration -- is probably the single most important reason that "liberal" is a dirty word in American election campaigns today. Yet, crime is such a declasse subject in the Establishment press and considered so politically incorrect because it touches inevitably on racial differences in crime rates, that many liberals who take their worldviews more from what they read than what they see about them don't have a clue as to what went wrong that permanently damaged the once-proud name "liberal."

Ironically, in this case, political correctness in the media works to the GOP's advantage by keeping elite liberals ignorant of why so many average voters fear their policies.

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

April 17, 2005

Almost 100 Times Worse than 9/11

At GNXP, Dobeln has an important posting on "The Second American Civil War:" the doubling of the murder rate from 1964 to 1974, and it's continued high level for another couple of dozen years:

The US murder rate hovered around 4.5 per 100 000 during the fifties. Then, in a few short years in the mid-to-late sixties, the rate doubled. What happened? In short: Liberalism happened, and Americans haven’t forgotten yet...

We can determine that all in all, the US had roughly 300 000 more murders between 1964 and 2002 than had been the case if the sixties ‘explosion’ had not happened. The ‘excess murder rate’ causalities during the Vietnam War years of 1965-75 alone number roughly 74 000 people – well above the number of US soldiers killed in Vietnam.

Vast amounts of ink have been spent detailing the impact of Vietnam on the American psyche. Some of that ink would probably have been better used in determining just how the great killing spree that lasted from the mid-sixties to the mid-nineties changed how Americans view the world.

The exact figure for the Great Murder Wave can be debated, but it was clearly approaching two orders of magnitude bigger than the death toll in 9/11. It had an enormous impact on American life, permanently desolating several great cities like Detroit.

There's an interesting paradox at work here in terms of public vs. elite awareness of this history. The great murder/crime wave that began during the golden age of liberalism of the first years of the LBJ Administration is probably the single most important reason that "liberal" is a dirty word in American election campaigns today. Yet, crime is such a declasse subject in the Establishment press and considered so politically incorrect because it touches inevitably on racial differences in crime rates, that many liberals who take their worldviews more from what they read than what they see about them don't have a clue as to what went wrong that permanently damaged the once-proud name "liberal."

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

How to Ease the College Admissions Arms Race:

From my new VDARE.com column:

So, why do employers care about which college applicants attended? Mostly because it’s evidence of an applicant’s SAT score—along with high school grades—which in turn is correlated with his IQ. What college you go to permanently signifies your position in the IQ strata.

This is why high school students and their parents are so frenzied over college admissions: it really does go on your Permanent Record...

Obviously, this is a screwy, Rube Goldberg way for companies to evaluate job prospects. The consequent lousy hiring decisions cost all Americans in lower overall prosperity.

When a 28-year old, for instance, applies for a job, why should a company care so much about how he did on an IQ-type SAT test a decade before?

Why not just give him a new test—perhaps one fine-tuned to the needs of the job?

The reason: the Supreme Court's 1971 Griggs v. Duke Power decision made it risky for employers to give written tests to applicants.

If the test has a "disparate impact" on blacks, or other legally protected groups, the employer must demonstrate that the need for the test rises to the stringent level of a "business necessity."

So, because African-Americans average lower scores on every predictively valid IQ-style test ever devised, all written tests are guilty—unless proven innocent by a battery of high-priced consultants.

Many companies still do use written tests—because they are so useful. Consumer packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble, long famous for the quality of its employees, paid a large amount of money to have their 65-minute problem solving test validated. The NFL encourages all college football players hoping to be drafted to take the 12-minute Wonderlic IQ test. (For average IQs by position, click here.)

Other firms insist that their managers conduct personal interviews that are IQ tests in disguise.

Fear of discrimination lawsuits is why Microsoft famously uses IQ-type questions in interviews—such as "Estimate how many gas stations there are in the US"—instead of using written tests, even though Bill Gates is obsessive about IQ.

This is no secret. Rich Karlgaard, former editor of Forbes ASAP, reminisced in the Wall Street Journal about a journey he took with Gates in 1993:

"During that trip, I must have heard Mr. Gates mention ‘IQ’ a hundred times. The obsession with smarts is embedded deep in Mr. Gates's thinking and long ago was institutionalized at Microsoft. Apply for a job and you’ll face an oral grilling that probes for IQ. It is oral and informal because of Griggs v. Duke Power, the 1971 Supreme Court ruling that banished written IQ tests and ‘tests of an abstract nature’ from job applications. But Microsoft knows what it wants. It wants IQ. And Microsoft always has been savvy at getting what it wants."

(Whenever I mention how much Gates values high IQ employees, somebody objects that Microsoft’s software is lousy so his workers must not be very smart. But that assumes that Gates wanted his Microserfs to deliver good software. I suspect that, instead, he just wanted them to make him the richest man in the world. If they had to foist buggy software on the public to do it, well, that was a price Bill was willing to pay.)

Griggs leads to some bizarre corporate customs worthy of Dilbert cartoons. [More]

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

Dueling Dual Dual Negatives in Time:

From Time's cover story on Ann Coulter comes a headache-not-uninducing sentence:

"But while Coulter can occasionally be coarse—she's not one of those conservatives who won't say "f___" two or three times over dinner—she doesn't seem particularly uncomplicated."


Excuse me while I go put ice on my forehead. My head overheats whenever I try to decipher that sentence.


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

"The Roe Effect"

For a long time, James Taranto of the WSJ web page has been pushing the idea that legalized abortion has had a huge effect on American demographics, with Democrats killing themselves off. It's his hammer that works with every nail.

The Washington Post reports on an interesting new analysis by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The campaign, noting that U.S. teen birthrates fell 30% between 1991 and 2002, calculates that if those rates had instead remained constant, there would be some 406,000 additional children living below the federally defined poverty line and some 428,000 living in households with single mothers.

Since 1991 was exactly 18 years after Roe v. Wade, we got to wondering if the Roe effect might have something to do with all this. The Roe effect would predict that the effect of a reduction in birthrates would be greatest in liberal states, where pregnant teenagers would be more likely to exercise their "right to privacy" and thus less likely to carry their babies to term. The campaign's numbers seem to bear this out.

Here, in order, are the 10 states with the biggest percentage decline in teen birthrates (links for tables in PDF): California, Maine, Michigan, Alaska, New Hampshire, Washington, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Hawaii.

I doubt it. If you'll look at his list of ten states, they are primarily northern states with mostly white populations. (The main exception is California, which is on the list because in 1991 it was in the throes of a huge Hispanic baby boom caused by the 1986 amnesty for illegal aliens. That has since died down ... but of course Bush wants to start another illegal immigrant baby boom with his amnesty plan. The other exception is Hawaii, which has a unique population whose social dynamics I don't pretend to understand well.)

Yet, the abortion rate has fallen since 1991, especially for whites: from about 19 per 1,000 15-44 year old white woman in 1991 to only about 11 by 1999. (See page 8 of this Alan Guttmacher Institute report). Black and Hispanic are also down too, although not by as large a percentage. So, I strongly doubt that increased abortion in these mostly white states accounted for the decline in teen births. I think the main cause was decreased teen pregnancies.

I haven't studied the general question of the validity of the "Roe Effect" in detail, but I suspect Taranto badly exaggerates its magnitude. What he doesn't grasp is that legalized abortion led to a big increase in pregnancies and only a small decline in birthrate -- in other words, most conceptions ended by abortions would never have happened in the first place without legalized abortion. According to Steven Levitt, in the 1970s conceptions went up by 30% but births declines by only 6%. So, the demographic impact of legal abortion is significantly smaller than the enormous raw numbers (almost 1.6 million abortions per year in the 1980s and about 1.2 million per year in the 1990s -- page 2 of the Guttmacher report) would suggest.

Legalized abortion, however might have had some noticeable effect on the size of the black population -- by 1999, the black abortion rate was close to five times the non-Hispanic white abortion rate, up from about three times earlier -- but Taranto is too coy to come out and say that.

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