FREAK-TV: ‘All the Death Threats Came From the Left’

Video

There’s a new Freakonomics video today, the third and final installment of Levitt talking about his academic research, co-authored by John Donohue, that linked a rise in legalized abortion to a drop in crime. (You can access Parts 1 and 2 in the thumbnail images beneath the video player.)

In this piece, Levitt talks about the initial, stormy reaction to the abortion/crime research. As it turned out, this reaction continued to play out for years.

Just to show how dumb we are, we very nearly didn’t bother to include the abortion/crime argument in Freakonomics, since we felt it had been so broadly discussed in the media. But in the end we relished the opportunity to place it in the broader context of the 1990s crime drop, which allowed us to write about the abortion/crime link with a thoroughness that is often missing from media portrayals of it.


mgroves

The left and MSM generally seem to assume poor=black and vice versa. It seems like a fundamental identity for many of them.

frankenduf

you're probably right mgroves- but paradioxically, I think the social arguments (predating Freakonomics' release) linking abortion and crime were fostered by the left- that is, the argument used to be that abortion should be legal in part because of all the unintended pregnancies in the ghettos which lead to poorer living conditions for those children which increases crime- maybe there's a bit of denial on the part of the loonys who threaten death in that they can't admit to themselves their own racism, so they took their dissonance out on Levitt

George

Your video player still sucks.

Matt

This reminds me of the tempest surrounding The Bell Curve: There's apparently nothing wrong with suggesting that different groups of people have different mean IQs (indeed, many Democrats on the internet circulated such a document that alleged that states that voted for Gore had higher average IQs than those which voted for Bush, though it had no sourcing and nothing to confirm its veracity). As soon as one asserts that race might be a factor, though, the results are immediately suspect and the authors pariahs.

Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

I'm rather confused at this point. Steven Levitt says that certain conditions make a baby more likely to become a criminal when he or she matures. These conditions are a mother being poor, and/or not being ready to have a child, and giving birth to a child who grows up in a impoverished neighborhood. While these conditions are Not relegated to *only* one race, most people who are impoverished in this country are, disproportionately, people of color. So, if Levitt's premise is correct, there definately seems to be a link between race, poverty, likelihood of growing up to a life of crime, and the prevention of such by aborted births. This may be an unsavory fact, but I don't think it speaks ill of anyone's race. I think it speaks ill of the kind of conditions that lead most people to grow up to become criminals.

Chappy

Well, I'm curious. Did the death threats come post-comments from Bill Bennett. I read your book, but it seems this issue got a lot of attention after his comments. I'm wondering if the person (or persons) was responding more to Bill Bennett comments by way of you or was really responding to you.

Also, and I really don't mean this to be glib, how do you know the person claiming the death threat was from 'the left'? Did they announce an affilition with their threat?

BC

> The left and MSM generally seem to assume poor=black and vice versa. It seems like a fundamental identity for many of them.

That sounds more like willful conservative ignorance to me. No doubt, it makes you feel better to makeup stuff about "the left and MSM" in order to make yourself feel smarter. What seems to be going on here is that a handful of individuals made death threats, and now you're telling us what that says you about 100 million Americans "on the Left". Great. Now, shall I get on my soapbox and tell you what abortion clinic bombers says us about 100 million Americans on the Right?

bloodrage bob

others have also been subjected to "exclusively left-wing' death threats, and have published their experiences. including the befuddled 'washington post' blogger, a card-carrying lefty, who dared to write something not approved by the party. the fact he was a longtime lefty in good standing with the party didn't keep him from receiving a multitude of death threats. the left *really* doesn't like unapproved speech, and reacts violently to having their desires thwarted. as you gents found out.

naturally, the left vehemently denies this phenomenon exists, and viciously attacks anyone who points it out. (again.) by their actions ye shall know them.

are there any lessons we can learn from this?

joe

don't you love how the video player repeats itself after it's done playing?

i agree with Steven Dubners sentiments as well. Uneducated people and the idiot media make a bad combination.

Fred Wickham

Concerning your figure (in part 1) that there were 3 million births. You didn't say which year, but if the population of the country was even close to today's 300 million, that figure would have to be off by quite a bit. I can't imagine a birth rate of only 1% of the population.

Gaye Englund

I have only just read Freakonomics and through that was lead to this column. The abortion/crime rate correlation was very interesting and I took on face value as I had never heard any previous discussion on it. Now, after reading the comments from one of the links above, I see in the US it has been taken as a racial issue. I was wondering if the home education statistics would be of use in the questions of race. The homeschoolers use them to prove a superior education (and I am guilty here - its just too easy) but I think they might show that where parents have more or less the same motivation and commitment, then race, gender or wealth don't have any bearing on results.

sardonic

Being an ignorant European, but eager to learn, I'd love to know how you define left and/or lefties in the US and which party bloodrage Bob means. My perception of US politics was up to now always centered around Republicans and Democrats, both of which are hardly "left"? Is this left meant along the lines of being marxist on the search of a suppressed proletariate or is this a general tag for being politically correct, pro feminism, explaining everything with peoples bad living conditions when growing up and generally preferring churning out phraseolgoy to using the nice organ between their ears? Having been involved in left politics during my university years (not being left with 20 shows, you've got no heart. Still being left with 30 shows, you've got no brains, remember) I'd really be interested in that. No need to answer in this forum, anybody compelled to provide insight and if not to enlighten so at least to illuinate a European ignorant, please send me an email to gerald@finras.de.

As forb the death threats - ever thought take taking that crap serious just encourages more of those. Considering the fact that alone in front of a PC, worked up to the max, anger relief is often only a mouse click away. We all know that, although the ones sporting an IQ > 60 normally don't post death threats. For that reason I'm fairly sure that ignoring them or creating a blog "My most hilarious threats" or writing a book like "Online harrassment for dummies", in fact simply ignoring or ridiculing these scum might do a lot to decrease the numbers. And Steven, for heavens sake, you were not really scared, were you?

Read more...

Jason Malloy

Levitt:

The amazing thing was it was actually the people who thought it was racist that were most angry, and we couldn't really understand, because in the entire paper there was nothing about race, and one thing I realized at the time is how powerful the media was, that the media wanted this to be a story about race, and so they warped our conclusions to make it seem like we were saying black people shouldn't be allowed to have babies, but the amazing thing is if you read our paper we never even said that, it's not even true

Well I can think of a number of instances where this racialized false summary was true: where if a theory included even a periphery examination of race in a larger discussion of unfavorable behavior, the part public reviewers preferentially focused on was race. This happened with The Bell Curve, which was a book about IQ, not race.

In comparison, Levitt has little room to complain; the media was, in fact, very favorable to Levitt and his abortion theory which is why he is blogging at the New York Times today.

Levitt's assertion that the media invented the racial aspect of his abortion theory by itself is thoroughly disingenuous nonsense. The bolded sentence is in fact a demonstrable falsehood (p 16):

Fertility declines for black women are three times greater than for whites (12 percent compared to 4 percent). Given that homicide rates of black youths are roughly nine times higher than those of white youths, racial differences in the fertility effects of abortion are likely to translate into greater homicide reductions. Under the assumption that those black and white births eliminated by legalized abortion would have experienced the average criminal propensities of their respective races, then the predicted reduction in homicide is 8.9 percent. In other words, taking into account differential abortion rates by race raises the predicted impact of abortion legalization on homicide from 5.4 percent to 8.9 percent.

Does that paragraph deserve a death threat? Of course not. Is it enough to outrage race agitators? Yep. Did Levitt write it? Yes.

Read more...

Tony

Regarding item 10. and the population/birth. Before you question someone's data, you should do a little checking yourself. Per InfoPlease.com and sourced to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Population in 1970 was approx 203,000,000 (exact number on the web site). I believe Levitt was considering 1973. Also, per that website the Live Birth count for 1973 was 3,159,000 (approx).
In 1980, the population was 226,000,000 (approx) and births were 3,612,000. All from Infoplease.com with population sourced to US Census Bureau and births to US Dept of Health and Human Services. Pretty good sources, I would say

Jeremy

I agree with the expert authors of the book when they say that the legalization of abortion had a positive effect on the drop of crime rate in our cities. It just seems that in trying so hard to make this point, the authors don't consider the fact that: moral people with any kind of beliefe in god whatsoever, would not care the slightest bit that abortion decreases the crime rate so it amazes me the amount of effort they seem to have put into their study. It doesn't matter that abortion decrease crime because abortion is morally wrong. Why make a point about something like that? It's almost if the author is trying to promote abortion in order to decrease crime.. Legalized abortion is just an insurance policy for promiscuous girls to have their "fun." There are plenty of other ways to keep disadvantaged children from appearing on our streets and becoming criminals....Just off the top of my head. How about these: 1. Quit sleeping around. 2. Use birth control.(various kinds) 3. Get your tubes tied. Any of these things would solve the same exact problem, be cheaper, and would be morally acceptable. BTW, we don't have the right to even try and put a value on a human life. As smart as the authors seem to be, I am surprised that they even attempted to try and do that, especially when it was unnecessary, due to all the other alternatives that would have the same effect on crime. Like I said before, they obviously aren't scared of making enemies and it seems they were just doing it so a few immoral readers could get a kick out of it. Which converts to them saleing a few more books. Which converts to them having a new sports car in their drive way. Funny what things incentives will make an economist do.

Read more...

mgroves

The left and MSM generally seem to assume poor=black and vice versa. It seems like a fundamental identity for many of them.

frankenduf

you're probably right mgroves- but paradioxically, I think the social arguments (predating Freakonomics' release) linking abortion and crime were fostered by the left- that is, the argument used to be that abortion should be legal in part because of all the unintended pregnancies in the ghettos which lead to poorer living conditions for those children which increases crime- maybe there's a bit of denial on the part of the loonys who threaten death in that they can't admit to themselves their own racism, so they took their dissonance out on Levitt

George

Your video player still sucks.

Matt

This reminds me of the tempest surrounding The Bell Curve: There's apparently nothing wrong with suggesting that different groups of people have different mean IQs (indeed, many Democrats on the internet circulated such a document that alleged that states that voted for Gore had higher average IQs than those which voted for Bush, though it had no sourcing and nothing to confirm its veracity). As soon as one asserts that race might be a factor, though, the results are immediately suspect and the authors pariahs.

Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

I'm rather confused at this point. Steven Levitt says that certain conditions make a baby more likely to become a criminal when he or she matures. These conditions are a mother being poor, and/or not being ready to have a child, and giving birth to a child who grows up in a impoverished neighborhood. While these conditions are Not relegated to *only* one race, most people who are impoverished in this country are, disproportionately, people of color. So, if Levitt's premise is correct, there definately seems to be a link between race, poverty, likelihood of growing up to a life of crime, and the prevention of such by aborted births. This may be an unsavory fact, but I don't think it speaks ill of anyone's race. I think it speaks ill of the kind of conditions that lead most people to grow up to become criminals.