Zell Miller is wrong, but he isn’t crazy

Zell Miller got into trouble with the media a few days back when he made the following statement, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution website:

… former U.S. Sen. Zell Miller made a little news this week in Macon when he declared that abortion has contributed to the military’s manpower shortage, the Social Security crisis, and the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States.

“How could this great land of plenty produce too few people in the last 30 years? Here is the brutal truth that no one dares to mention: We’re too few because too many of our babies have been killed,” Miller said.

“Over 45 million since Roe v. Wade in 1973. If those 45 million children had lived, today they would be defending our country, they would be filling our jobs, they would be paying into Social Security,” the former Georgia governor said.

Miller’s argument, ostensibly, is similar to that of my work with John Donohue on legalized abortion and crime. As discussed in Freakonomics, unwanted children are at increased risk for crime, and legalized abortion reduced the number of unwanted children, thus less crime.Miller, however, makes a key mistake in his logic. While it is true there have been many millions of abortions (although according to the official statistics more like 35 million than 45 million), even if those abortions had not occurred, there would not be that many more Americans today. The reason is that the primary impact of an abortion is not to reduce a woman’s lifetime number of children born, but rather, to simply shift the timing of a woman’s fertility from early in life to later in life. Based on a paper by John Donohue, Jeff Grogger, and I which will be out in a few weeks, I would estimate that each teenage abortion reduces lifetime babies born to the mother by maybe one-tenth of a child, or possibly even less. (For a woman who gets an abortion in her forties, the impact is obviously larger, but there are very few of those type of abortions.)

The key to our abortion argument is that women shift their births to a time when they can better care for the children. So even though there is not a big change in the size of the cohort born, the kids still turn out less criminal. Miller’s statement, however, is all about the cohort size, not about the unwantedness.

By the way, Miller’s argument is the same one a caller to Bill Bennett’s radio show made a few years back, the response to which got Bennett into so much trouble — a lot more than Miller is in so far.

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  1. jreighley says:

    There are less kids because Americans are not reproducing at the rate that they used to.. This happens both from Birth Control and from Abortion.

    We are sacrificing our children, both conceived and not yet conceived on the altar of money.

    People see children as a liability, but in truth, they are our only lasting asset.

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  2. jreighley says:

    There are less kids because Americans are not reproducing at the rate that they used to.. This happens both from Birth Control and from Abortion.

    We are sacrificing our children, both conceived and not yet conceived on the altar of money.

    People see children as a liability, but in truth, they are our only lasting asset.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. uid007 says:

    jreigley:

    Becker would disagree. As members of a society invest more into their human capital (education, training, personal development), the society bears a lower fertility rate. This explains the lower fertility rates of industrialized nations compared to those of emerging nations.

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  4. uid007 says:

    jreigley:

    Becker would disagree. As members of a society invest more into their human capital (education, training, personal development), the society bears a lower fertility rate. This explains the lower fertility rates of industrialized nations compared to those of emerging nations.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. egretman says:

    No Mr. Levitt, you are wrong. Zell Miller is certifiably crazy. He was a southern politician, after all.

    But that Bill Bennett comment a while back brings back some great memories. “Bill Bennett said what?” “Yes, Bill Bennett said you should abort all the black babies” The look are your friends faces would be classic.

    But he did had a new rule #3 to the Oxford Rules of Instantly Losing the Debate.

    1.) Never compare your enemies to Nazis
    2.) Never compare yourself to Rosa Parks
    3.) And never ever ever under any circumstances no matter how innocent propose a scenario that proposes to “abort all the black babies”

    Ah, fond memories.

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  6. egretman says:

    No Mr. Levitt, you are wrong. Zell Miller is certifiably crazy. He was a southern politician, after all.

    But that Bill Bennett comment a while back brings back some great memories. “Bill Bennett said what?” “Yes, Bill Bennett said you should abort all the black babies” The look are your friends faces would be classic.

    But he did had a new rule #3 to the Oxford Rules of Instantly Losing the Debate.

    1.) Never compare your enemies to Nazis
    2.) Never compare yourself to Rosa Parks
    3.) And never ever ever under any circumstances no matter how innocent propose a scenario that proposes to “abort all the black babies”

    Ah, fond memories.

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  7. Justin Ross says:

    The higher opportunity cost of child-rearing for women in the U.S. probably plays the biggest role in fertility decline. This explains why the U.S. would be expected to have lower fertility rates across countries and decline over time. I know the biggest expense of my first born was my wife giving up her job that earns a $30,000 salary for a couple of months. An expense well worth it I should add.

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  8. Justin Ross says:

    The higher opportunity cost of child-rearing for women in the U.S. probably plays the biggest role in fertility decline. This explains why the U.S. would be expected to have lower fertility rates across countries and decline over time. I know the biggest expense of my first born was my wife giving up her job that earns a $30,000 salary for a couple of months. An expense well worth it I should add.

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