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.


pkimelma

Zell Miller is both wrong and crazy. If you remember his speech for the Republican convention (he was not a Republican) and his statements to the press afterwards, such as Chris Matthews, you know he was and is crazy. He challenged Chris to a duel (or said he would have if he was allowed to). He made similarly outrageous statements to other reporters who dared to ask him questions he did not like.
It is hard to tell if he is just unhinged or using this as a ploy to get attention. But, it is a shame that he gets as much attention as he does, including in this case.

jreighley

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.

uid007

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.

egretman

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.

Justin Ross

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.

meomaxy

Bennett never said that you should abort all black babies.

They were talking about the same point, however. The premise is that the rate of abortions is leading to a lower birthrate and slower population growth. Lower population growth rate leads to a shortage of young workers to pay into social security, fight in the armed forces, etc.

So both Bennett and Miller fell for the assumption that those abortions subtracted directly from the total number of Americans that would have been born otherwise.

Bennett at least said that even if it were true, that is no basis for an argument about whether abortion is right or wrong.

Miller should just change his argument and instead of blaming Roe vs. Wade, he should say that American families should have had more children.

egretman

Bennett never said that you should abort all black babies.

Technically, you may be right. But he violated rule #3 above, therefore he immediately lost the argument. He was subjected to much ridicule which a dishonest hypocritical Bennett richly deserves anyway.

Rimpinths

I meant to provide a link to Taranto's comment above in Opinion Journal:

http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110009785

Rimpinths

I don't see my first post, yet my second one made it through. Basically, today's edition of Opinion Journal has a comment about this blog entry. Check the link above for more information, under the subheading "A Freakonomist's Blind Spot".

egretman

This is so funny. Abortion isn't about crime or social security or staffing the military.

It's simply about a woman not wanting to have a baby. That's all folks.

Bruce Hayden

Taranto's point in the WSJ was that time shifting births forward through time works at a population level almost like reducing birth rates per woman.

Imagine three people who have their kids, and their kids have kids, etc. at different rates. The first person has his kids at 20, and his kids do the same. The result is that even with only one per generation, he has 4 descendants by the time he is approaching 100. Now take someone who does so at 25, as do his descendants. With one per generation, he will have 3 descendants by the time he approaches 100. And for the person who waits to 33, as do his descendants, there are only 2 by the time he approaches 100.

Now, let us assume 2 per generation. The first person now has 16 descendants, the second 8, and the third 4 as they approach 100.

Now, if you had to depend on the earnings of your descendants for your retirement, and each of them were to contribute equally, which would be better for you? Five generations per 100 years? Four generations per 100 years? or Three generations per 100 years?

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Zhou

wouldn't all these unwanted babies put even more pressure on our broken social security system? 45 million more people would be requiring support before they reached an age to generate wealth (and tax); that is, if they didn't turn into criminals before they reached that age.

John412AD

Mr. Levitt has provided a very clever obfuscation to conceal the physical facts, but all his cunning remains futile. The overwhelming majority of women who actually obtain abortions are middle-class professionals between 20 and 35, who simply don't want their career path interrupted. Teenagers, working class women, and welfare women are very small minorities in the abortion total each year.

The so-called theory that delaying child-rearing for middle class women merely moves the total number of births along a decade or so is simply untrue. I'm amazed that so many could fall for such an obvious sucker scam. Mr. Levitt's so-called theory is plain dishonesty in a grandiose disguise. The number of abortions remains the same, and thus so does the number of lost opportunity births. Any delay in child rearing has no relation to that fact. Mr. Levitt attempt to draw a relation is pure deceit.

Enrique

As the writer notes, the population impact of abortion is different if it is a teenage girl or a women in the forties. But there are also women in their twenties and thirties. And as other have already noticed, there is also an impact of the time shift of childbirth. So the total impact on population is certainly less than Sen. Miller asumes, but far more than Levitt implies

Rachelle

When will folks understand that an unwanted child is simply unwanted, no matter what the reason, and mostly remains that way through his/her lifetime? And if society objects to this fact, women will be obliged to wait longer than they should have... Any woman who doesn't know she is pregnant at the end of the first trimester is either an idiot or is receiving mixed messages from the father, take your pick. Do ANY of you recall creches? Have you never read about the fathers who simply skipped responsibility?

I do object, however, to late term abortions or even, arbitrarily, to those after the 1st trimester, unless the fetus shows decided signs of severe mental or physical disability.

Canadian Roots

While (see # 1 above ) there likely is a slower growth of population with abortion because of the time delay until women have children they keep, it does not logically follow that the total US population at any point in itme will be depressed by these abortions. Immigration, both legal and illegal, must first be considered. If the slower growth of the native population results in excess demand for labor that is filled from abroad, and the part of this inflow that stays permanently equals or exceeds that lost through the abortion delay factor, then total population growth will not be depressed.

The problem in quantifying these effects accurately is that the percentage of increased immigration (if any) due to abortion caused retardation of the growth of native population is hard to separate out from immigration due to other political and economic factors. Perhaps some sort of general pattern could be discerned if the matter were to be investigated.

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carlos montes

Are you or Mr Miller saying that abortions should be forbidden because they are iondispensable cannon fudder in the future? Grown, they would still be planned for a deathly purpose- so why try to kill them unborn when istead they could be used to the "noble" purpose of war...!?
There is somthing utterly mostrous about this mode of thinking. I agree with egretman. abortion is only a bout a woman who does not wish to have a c hild. Expanding this thought which I do not feel intelligent enough to discuss any further would have to do away with armies, wars, hates and above all PATRIOTISM, which to me is a commodity for the people who have not been able to get away from their personal beasts. C

Seon

#7

you are saying that Levitt have made a mistake about the assertion on "socio-economic" impact of abortion based on those numbers and calculations, which in a glance makes sense. BUT, you also forget something very fundamental to analyze the socioeconomic surrounding abortion and, that is, employment rate.

There is not an absolute guarantee that the economy will thrive and in fact, as we see it now, economy as any other social function, "evolves and changes".

No one can guarantee Sylvia's granddaughter's employment when she turns 25 so she can contribute SS. Even worse, she could be unemployed and draw unemployment benefits actually making the situation worse for the society as a whole.

Suppose military recruitment. I know what I am talking about because I am one of them.

The government is trying to reduce the size of our military force and make more elite than just have bunch. Quality over quantity, you see.

Your reasoning of possibility of having more recruits just because the society is bigger and younger is absolutely non-sense. Remember, economy is a function for need. When there is no need for, capital will never be invested in.

If there is no war, there is no need for more soldiers that what is required for. Therefore, economy of needs.

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pkimelma

Zell Miller is both wrong and crazy. If you remember his speech for the Republican convention (he was not a Republican) and his statements to the press afterwards, such as Chris Matthews, you know he was and is crazy. He challenged Chris to a duel (or said he would have if he was allowed to). He made similarly outrageous statements to other reporters who dared to ask him questions he did not like.
It is hard to tell if he is just unhinged or using this as a ploy to get attention. But, it is a shame that he gets as much attention as he does, including in this case.

jreighley

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.