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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.