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Malcolm Gladwell on the Freakonomics Paradox

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and, over the years, a collection of startlingly good New Yorker articles, has addressed on his blog the question of why he endorsed Freakonomics (by writing a blurb before it was published) even though its explanation of the 1990’s crime drop dismissed as a cause the “broken windows” theory of law enforcement put forth by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, put into practice in New York by Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bratton, and put into the public’s eye by Malcolm himself first in a New Yorker article and then in The Tipping Point. (Malcolm and Steve Levitt held a friendly debate on this very issue many months ago.) As usual, Malcolm’s writing is well-considered and entertaining. One thing to consider, however: the theory put forth in Freakonomics examined why crime had fallen all over the country, not just in New York, and one of the many arguments against “broken windows” as a major cause was the fact that such innovative policing wasn’t being practiced elsewhere — and yet crime was falling in those places as well. A smaller point to also consider: Gladwell left out one other major reason that, according to Levitt’s research, crime did begin to fall in the 1990’s: the waning of the violent crack trade. (Thanks to Darren Rovell for pointing out the Gladwell blog.)