O’Reilly Transcript

There have been several requests on this blog for a transcript of the authors’ recent appearance on The O’Reilly Factor. Here it is:

Copyright 2005 Fox News Network, LLC. Fox News Network

May 9, 2005 Monday

HEADLINE: Unresolved Problem: Book Explores Relations Between Economy, Social Issues

BYLINE: Bill O’Reilly

GUESTS: Steven Levitt, Stephen Dubner

BODY:O’REILLY: Thanks for staying with us. I’m Bill O’Reilly.In the “Unresolved Problem” segment tonight, does abortion fight crime? Does spanking your kid mean he or she will do better in school? Why so many drug dealers live at home? These three topics and others are dealt with in a new book called “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.”Joining us now from Chicago is that rogue economist, Dr. Steven Levitt, and here in the studio, the co-author of the book, Stephen Dubner. Doctor, I’ll begin with you. I read the book, very interesting. I have some quibbles. I always have quibbles. I’m a quibbling kind of guy.The abortion deal, your thesis was that after Roe v. Wade, a lot of people in the lower socioeconomic realm of America had abortions. Kids that might have been born and unsupervised who would have grown up to criminals didn’t grow up at all, and that brought the crime rate down. Do I have it about right?

STEVE LEVITT, CO-AUTHOR, “FREAKONOMICS”: Yes, absolutely. After the legalization of abortion, there were a million abortions a year, and there were only three million children born each years in this country. And so those abortions were more likely to occur among teenage mothers, single women, and women who — who couldn’t handle or didn’t want the pregnancy.So you fast forward it. I think it’s hard to understand why — how it couldn’t have had a big impact.

O’REILLY: OK. Now, and I don’t disagree. I think that’s an unintended consequence of Roe v. Wade. I don’t think it’s a good thing. Social engineering never is. I think it’s, you know, almost horrifying, but the data is the data. But my question to you, Doctor, is did you go in wanting to prove that or did you just learn it by accident? Because I never even thought of it myself.

LEVITT: No. I had spent five years writing about prisons and police and policing strategies to the economy, trying to understand why we have this unbelievable drop in crime. I mean, the 1990s were a period when everybody thought the crime was about to take off. Instead it plunged. It fell 50 percent to levels we hadn’t seen since the early 1960s. And having exhausted the usual suspects of what was causing crime, I just stumbled — stumbled onto this observation. A million — a million abortions a year, and once I got to thinking a million abortions, I thought maybe this is part of it.

O’REILLY: OK. So you just — you just were looking at the data and then you said maybe there’s a cause and effect. Let me take a look at it. Now, I think you missed something. I want Mr. Dubner to address that. I believe that the unintended consequence of abortion could have impacted crime and probably has. Again, I think it’s social engineering, and we don’t want to get into that kind of a thing. It’s very dangerous. But I also think it’s mandatory sentences have dropped crime and the combination of mandatory sentences take the real hard-core bad guys off the streets for a long period of time. It’s hard to replace those bad guys right away, and that caused — particularly in New York City. You wouldn’t disagree with that, would you?

STEPHEN DUBNER, CO-AUTHOR, “FREAKONOMICS”: No, I wouldn’t disagree with it. The book — in the book, we say that there are several causes people like to attribute to the drop of crime, most of which has very little to actually do with it, including here in New York City the innovative policing strategy by Bill Bratton and Rudy Giuliani. We loved it. I lived in New York City that whole time. I loved getting rid of the squeegee guys.

O’REILLY: Right.

DUBNER: I loved getting rid of the turnstile jumpers, but to accept the idea that the broken window theory, you know, stopping the little things so that it won’t trickle up, didn’t show much impact. What Steve Levitt did in one paper was show the different factors that make a big pop in cutting crime. Prisons is a huge piece of it. More police is a huge piece of it.

O’REILLY: Community police and flooding.

DUBNER: Right.

O’REILLY: OK. So there are a variety of things, but the abortion is the headline. Now doctor, back to you. Here’s something I really thought, because this has been a big controversial aspect in America, spanking your children, all right? And all parents have opinions about this. You actually wrote that spanking your children might lead to a better performance in school?

LEVITT: I wouldn’t say better. It’s just that we see no effect at all. From a whole range of behaviors, whether it’s taking your kids to a museum, even reading to them, spanking, watching TV, we just can’t find evidence in the data of whether or not those kinds of parental behaviors would have any impact whatsoever on the academic performance.

O’REILLY: All right. So then the bottom line, you copped out and you said it’s genes. It’s all about genes.

LEVITT: No, I don’t think we said that.

O’REILLY: Well, you said, look, if you have better educated parents, OK, then the kid’s likely to be smarter in school. That’s what you said.

LEVITT: Sure. Income doesn’t hurt, to have extra money to spend on your kids doesn’t hurt.

O’REILLY: If you have better educated parents, you obviously — well, most of the time, it’s cause and effect, that will lead to better income.

LEVITT: Yes. That’s what I mean. I’m saying it’s not genes, necessarily. It’s the fact that maybe you learn things in school that help you, you know, teach your kids better.

O’REILLY: So having little Timmy play soccer and spanking him or not spanking him, time-out, doesn’t have anything to do with it. Your conclusion, his conclusion, the doctor’s conclusion, Mr. Dubner, was that if you’re affluent parents and you’re well educated, little Timmy is probably going to do better in school.

DUBNER: Yes and no. Yes, the headline is it’s not really what you do so much as a parent that affects early childhood test scores. And that’s all we’re talking about. It’s very important to say we’re not talking about the character of a kid.

O’REILLY: No, it’s clinical data.

DUBNER: Right. Early test scores, too. We’re not talking about what kind of person, which is really important. Because you know, Steve and I between us, we have six kids. I do all that stuff that Steve says is hocus, because I love it, I believe in it. I take my kids to the museums. I, you know, read to them.

O’REILLY: They’re going to be pinheads, you know those kids.

DUBNER: Of course, you know. Genetics, is, you know.

O’REILLY: As long as you know.

DUBNER: But the point is a lot of this culture cramming that modern parents like me do doesn’t have any…

O’REILLY: It does not influence. Fascinating.

DUBNER: And we say, you know, love your kids, encourage your kids.

O’REILLY: Right.

DUBNER: Do the stuff you want to do but don’t drive yourselves nuts.

O’REILLY: All right. Last area that I found very interesting in the book, Doctor, was a lot of drug dealers live at home. And they’re not Superfly. They’re not wimping around in the big Ferraris. They’re living with mom, and why don’t you tell us why.

LEVITT: The simple answer is they don’t have any money. The drug gang is built very much like an American corporation. The people at the top have a lot of money, but the people at the bottom are making roughly minimum wage. And so more or less, if you look across these drug gangs, they’re living with their mother because they don’t have enough money.

O’REILLY: They don’t have any money. Now, why do they do that?

LEVITT: Well, it’s the same reason, we think, that young girls, homecoming queens go out to Hollywood to try to be movie stars and high school football players are taking steroids. It’s the chance at the big time. If you can make it at the top of the gang, you’ve made it.

O’REILLY: Even though you’re going to get shot in the head? Your stats say that if you’re in a drug gang, your odds of getting killed and going to prison and having a horrible life are, like, inevitable? It’s inevitable you’re going to wind up in a bad place.

LEVITT: Yes, it’s a big risk. It’s a big risk. But you know, when you look at the data, I doesn’t look like it’s crazy, you know. There aren’t that many options, and the gang is one way out.

O’REILLY: Yes, I disagree with that. I mean, if you go to school and do your homework, you’ve got options. You don’t have to sell drugs. I don’t give that slack to anybody. I’m going to give Mr. Dubner the last word. Where did you disagree with the doctor most in writing the book?

DUBNER: You know, it was mostly a matter of how much certainty we’re trying to declare. You know, what Steve does is takes data, uses economic analysis, the same kind that people use to figure out where the economy is going, and applies it to stuff like the family, crime, cheating. So really, it was a case of me having to marry storytelling to his data to make the book work for people like you and me to read.

O’REILLY: All right. “Freakonomics,” everybody. I liked it, I’ve got to say. I thought it was interesting. Thanks for coming in.


Who wanted to declare more certainty?

Desert Island Boy

I finally read the book, and had this one nagging question. Perhaps it's semantics, but you mentioned how you figured that a single mother is the best person to gauge her child's chances at future success (or her ability to raise a child on her own).My only poke is whether or not using contrcaeptives to prevent a pregnancy is a better gauge of that. As in, if she doens't think that having a child at a certain time would not be a good idea, why get preganant to begin with?


Hmph... I haven't watched O'Reilly ever since he sabotaged the Congressional investigation into the kidnapped kids being kept in Saudi Arabia, but in this exchange he seems pretty fair.


Thanks guys. O'Reilly laid his particular brand of 'spin' I see. To equate abortion (by pro-choice) with social engineering is ludicrous. And what has education have to do with genes? You did a good job but I think you were over his head.

Charles Lin

You guys rock. In my opinion, it takes a lot of guts to go on O'Reilly Factor. That man is just a bully.


what o'reilly doesn't seem to realize is this: even a garbage can outlives its usefulness and has to be thrown in the garbage...eventually.


The misleading appeal that you pounded home is that, to paraphrase, "Surely millions of abortions would have an effect, right?" Makes sense, but in good concience you have to also say that conceptions went up by the millions. The birth rates only went down 6%, not 25% like it would seem by the soundbite.Otherwise, a surpringly good segment of O'Reilly. I couldn't agree more with porchwise. Social engineering? Give me a break.Jeff


Regarding the "social engineering" comment that many seem to have a problem with: I think O'Reilly's point is not that abortion = social engineering, it is that using abortion as a tool to lower crime is social engineering. O'Reilly is simply concerned that some people will take Levitt's observation as a justification for abortion. Justifying abortion on those grounds is tantamount to approval of social engineering.

occidental tourist

I'm trying to write in the blog window and avoid all those nasty 'smart' quotes while making some. Little Freakonmics exercise, I think the efficiency and intuitive interface of Microsoft Word peaked back in 1996 (I still use 5.0 on an old mac and prefer it to anything written since, but I blog on the IBM with some god awful version named for a year because my old macs are slow as molasses in January in Greenland for browsing.)I think there is a reasonable tension reflected in the question of whether abortion amounts to social engineering. It is self-evidently micro-social engineering.But O'Reilly voices a kinder and gentler version of this accusation, that it was an unintended consequence of the legalization of abortion -- although he hints that perceiving this consequence casts the specter that abortion is a socially determinitive tool in a forward looking way upon the institution.Steven is right that the shear numbers of 1 million abortions (about a third the number of births) has to attract statistical attention. This is going to jump out at you before you get to the argument about increased conceptions. While those wishing to portray abortion in the least favorable light point out that the net result in births was only 6% drop rather than 25% loosely illustrated by the abortions to births ration, that is far from a remotely supportable statistical argument that abortion alone accounts for the change in conception rate.I mean this happened in the early 70's when sexual mores were liberated. So I don't think you simply chock up the difference in conceptions to the availability of abortion although that is intuitively a factor.Additionally,I haven't seen any reference yet to a good data set for class based incidence of abortion. Here is where narratives of abortion collide.Some conservatives disturbed by the idea that Steven has identified a salutary consequence to abortion are engaged in reasonable deductive speculation regarding counter-intuitive incentives.Their alternative history suggests that abortion would be more readily taken advantage of by more highly educated, motivated and disciplined women,i.e. the middle class, whereas perverse incentives seeped in as the welfare system was detached from the traditional extended family environment. This may actually have inspired the creation of less effective single parent families despite the availability of abortion.How one compares the 'wantedness' of a child in these circumstances is yet another freakonomics exercise and I confess to having no idea what percentage of the three million births, the one million abortions or the additional conceptions these represent, it just intrigues me. How all these factors affected the demographics of those actually getting the million abortions seems pretty relevant.But even assuming these conservative arguments are fictitious, if plausible, red herrings and the vast majority of abortions address the cases of those who can least afford and least effectively raise a child, there is an ironic tension lacking in the progressive response abortion.If, indeed, abortion results in a stunted underclass, and there were not an alternative progressive litmus test in its favor, progressives would be marching on Washington in droves declaring that abortion was a war on the oppressed. Normally it would be progressives shouting social engineering in this kind of circumstance.Ciao,Brian


Levi Funk

I'm going to assume that Levitt would have been more certain in his results then Dubner.Also, O'Reilly was not saying that abortion is a "tool" for social engineering. I think he meant to compare it to the idea of social engineering. We did not legalize abortion to decrease crime. I think he was more saying that if we had, THAT would have been social engineering.-Levi


Bill O'Reilly is a first class nut.

The Daveman

If you want to see O'Reilly at his finest (not), buy / rent / borrow a copy of the documentary Outfoxed <a href="http://(www.outfoxed.org).(www.outfoxed.org).<br />In one segment, O'Reilly says in an interview that he doesn't tell people to "shut up" on his show. The filmmaker then cuts together a series of shots from O'Reilly's show in which he is shouting "shut up" in people's faces.In another segment, O'Reilly is interviewing a young man whose father was killed during the attacks on World Trade. The young man doesn't buy O's version of events and what they mean and O'Reilly gets progressively more belligerent, telling this fellow to shut up, telling him that he is a disgrace to his dead father, telling his production staff to kill the guy's microphone etc. Apparently after they were off air, Bill told this fellow to get the hell out of the studio or he would beat him up.The movie makes a shambles of Fox's slogan of Fair and Balanced and exposes O'Reilly for the moronic bully that he is.


Dr. Forbush

The social engineering comment that O'Reilly eludes to but doesn't explain is disturbing. It is almost as if he is saying the whole idea is "communist" so lets not entertain the thought.Social Engineering would be if the government mandated that some social class should have abortions. Instead, what we see with this data is that when abortions are available people who can not take care of a child will realize that they can not take care of a child. Isn't that a good thing?Humans make stupid mistakes all the time. When a mistake will effect not only a life, but a society should the option be there for a person to make the choice. Equating this "choice" to social engineering is inflamatory...


Its too bad O'reilly's personallity is abrasive sometimes, because it gets in the way of what he is saying. A lot of people dislike him so much that they don't even listen to what he is talking about. He most definitely is saying that using the data on abortion to implement abortion as a crime fighting tool WOULD BE SOCIAL ENGINEERING and that it's dangerous do so.


The "Big O" never lets me down. He managed to steal the spotlight from your cheesy book. You guys really need to hang it up. How can you even pretend this junk has any basis in economics? Nice waffle job on the genetic question by the way. "No, its not just genes...uh yeah it is...wait...never mind."


Geez. When O'Reilly said "They're going to be pinheads, you know those kids" was he actually refering to Stephen's children? So low. He knows he's got at least a few people sitting in front of their TV cheering him on for poking the smart kid with a stick.


Is there any correlation between people who take their kids to museums and who watch O'Reilly?

Aunt Judy

I can't believe you let O'Reilly get away with saying that mandatory sentences were a big part of reduced crime. Everyone knows--studies here in Calif. have proven--that mandatory sentences have NO deterrent effect on crime whatsoever.


To Mayana, I honestly believe that O'Reilly was joking with Stephen...its just not that easy to pick up on in its text translation.


3 million births a year 1 million abortions a year how is that not social engineering.1 million women a year decide that it's not a good time for them to have a baby at that particular time in there life.IT'S SOCIAL ENGINEERING ON AN INDIVIDUALS RIGHT TO CHOOSE.STOPPING 1 MILLION NEW LIVES A YEAR BECUASE OF INCONVIENCE. P.S I'M ALL FOR IT BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE IRRESPONSIBLE