Malcolm Gladwell on the Freakonomics Paradox

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and, over the years, a collection of startlingly good New Yorker articles, has addressed on his blog the question of why he endorsed Freakonomics (by writing a blurb before it was published) even though its explanation of the 1990′s crime drop dismissed as a cause the “broken windows” theory of law enforcement put forth by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, put into practice in New York by Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bratton, and put into the public’s eye by Malcolm himself first in a New Yorker article and then in The Tipping Point. (Malcolm and Steve Levitt held a friendly debate on this very issue many months ago.) As usual, Malcolm’s writing is well-considered and entertaining. One thing to consider, however: the theory put forth in Freakonomics examined why crime had fallen all over the country, not just in New York, and one of the many arguments against “broken windows” as a major cause was the fact that such innovative policing wasn’t being practiced elsewhere — and yet crime was falling in those places as well. A smaller point to also consider: Gladwell left out one other major reason that, according to Levitt’s research, crime did begin to fall in the 1990′s: the waning of the violent crack trade. (Thanks to Darren Rovell for pointing out the Gladwell blog.)

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  1. kramsauer says:

    How does Freakonomics respond to this salvo:
    “the biggest drop in fertility in the U.S. came with the advent of the Pill in the mid-1960′s. The Pill allowed lots of women who would otherwise have become pregnant not to become pregnant because they were poor, or didn’t want a child, or lived in an environment where it was hard to raise children. But the fertility drop caused by the Pill didn’t lead to a decrease in crime eighteen years later. In fact, that generation saw a massive increase in crime. The advent of abortion in the early 1970′s, meanwhile, caused a far, far smaller drop in U.S. fertility but—Levitt argues—that drop is consistent with a fall in crime.”

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  2. kramsauer says:

    How does Freakonomics respond to this salvo:
    “the biggest drop in fertility in the U.S. came with the advent of the Pill in the mid-1960′s. The Pill allowed lots of women who would otherwise have become pregnant not to become pregnant because they were poor, or didn’t want a child, or lived in an environment where it was hard to raise children. But the fertility drop caused by the Pill didn’t lead to a decrease in crime eighteen years later. In fact, that generation saw a massive increase in crime. The advent of abortion in the early 1970′s, meanwhile, caused a far, far smaller drop in U.S. fertility but-Levitt argues-that drop is consistent with a fall in crime.”

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  3. Damien says:

    I’ve left a comment on Gladwell’s blog relating to that point.

    My question is- what is the Socio-economic background of those who used the Pill from the mid 60s, compared to those who began using abortion after Roe v Wade?

    The argument in Freakonomics is not that abortion itself for the sake of contraception reduced crime, but that the ability of those who required this emergency, after-the-fact contraception, to prevent an unwanted pregnancy reduced the amount of unwanted/unplanned children who would be born to parent(s) from lower socio-economic groups.

    If this group were not using the Pill, then their point remains strong. If this group were using the Pill (or other forms of contraception), they would not have required abortion.

    But I’d leave that conclusion for the statistics (I base it on nothing; I know nothing particular about this subject, and speak only as an interested reader; I’m not in the US).

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  4. Damien says:

    I’ve left a comment on Gladwell’s blog relating to that point.

    My question is- what is the Socio-economic background of those who used the Pill from the mid 60s, compared to those who began using abortion after Roe v Wade?

    The argument in Freakonomics is not that abortion itself for the sake of contraception reduced crime, but that the ability of those who required this emergency, after-the-fact contraception, to prevent an unwanted pregnancy reduced the amount of unwanted/unplanned children who would be born to parent(s) from lower socio-economic groups.

    If this group were not using the Pill, then their point remains strong. If this group were using the Pill (or other forms of contraception), they would not have required abortion.

    But I’d leave that conclusion for the statistics (I base it on nothing; I know nothing particular about this subject, and speak only as an interested reader; I’m not in the US).

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  5. prosa says:

    “My question is- what is the Socio-economic background of those who used the Pill from the mid 60s, compared to those who began using abortion after Roe v Wade?”

    I’d say the differences are fairly self-evident. Sexually active women of all backgrounds who didn’t want to become pregnant used/use the Pill, while abortions are sought, for the most part, by women who accidentally became pregnant. It’s not difficult to translate this into socioeconomic differences.

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  6. prosa says:

    “My question is- what is the Socio-economic background of those who used the Pill from the mid 60s, compared to those who began using abortion after Roe v Wade?”

    I’d say the differences are fairly self-evident. Sexually active women of all backgrounds who didn’t want to become pregnant used/use the Pill, while abortions are sought, for the most part, by women who accidentally became pregnant. It’s not difficult to translate this into socioeconomic differences.

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  7. R says:

    In “Wealth of Nations” Adam Smith pointed out that poor people tended to have more children than wealthier people due to higher mortality rates. Is there a negative correlation between income and the number of children in an era of much better health care along with contraception?

    The part of “The Pill allowed lots of women who would otherwise have become pregnant not to become pregnant.” is true. The problem of making an argument always begin with “because…”

    I would also disagree with
    “I’d say the differences are fairly self-evident. Sexually active women of all backgrounds who didn’t want to become pregnant used/use the Pill, while abortions are sought, for the most part, by women who accidentally became pregnant. It’s not difficult to translate this into socioeconomic differences.”
    Many women find themselves pregnant while on the pill due to the use of antibiotics; a drug interation that they are only informed of once it is too late.
    No manner of contraception is 100%. By “socioeconomic differences” I believe you are saying “poor and uneducated women are not bright enough to understand reproduction or to avail themselves of the low and no cost contraception available” I wonder if age is a variable that plays a more significant role. My only point being that there are many variables that determine a phenomenon and I question how much of anything is “self evident”

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  8. R says:

    In “Wealth of Nations” Adam Smith pointed out that poor people tended to have more children than wealthier people due to higher mortality rates. Is there a negative correlation between income and the number of children in an era of much better health care along with contraception?

    The part of “The Pill allowed lots of women who would otherwise have become pregnant not to become pregnant.” is true. The problem of making an argument always begin with “because…”

    I would also disagree with
    “I’d say the differences are fairly self-evident. Sexually active women of all backgrounds who didn’t want to become pregnant used/use the Pill, while abortions are sought, for the most part, by women who accidentally became pregnant. It’s not difficult to translate this into socioeconomic differences.”
    Many women find themselves pregnant while on the pill due to the use of antibiotics; a drug interation that they are only informed of once it is too late.
    No manner of contraception is 100%. By “socioeconomic differences” I believe you are saying “poor and uneducated women are not bright enough to understand reproduction or to avail themselves of the low and no cost contraception available” I wonder if age is a variable that plays a more significant role. My only point being that there are many variables that determine a phenomenon and I question how much of anything is “self evident”

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0