Sunday, May 08, 2005

Freakonomics Unwanted

I am just starting to read Freakonomics about Steven D. Levitt's analysis of the economic incentives in people's behavior. He has already stumbled into several politically incorrect landmines. First he claims to have proved that school teachers are corrupting the No Child Left Behind program by cheating on the tests. Can this be true? Kids cheat. Teachers don't. Second he claims that the obvious cause for the startling, unpredicted drop in the crime rate has been due to the legalization of abortion, that unwanted children were no longer growing up to be unwanted citizens.

Really, this is an outrageous claim. I had assumed that it was something related to demographics or police practices. The improvement seemed to start in NYC which has the famous program to prosecute low level crimes such as graffiti and "window washing" by vagrants in order to raise the apparent level of civilization. The theory goes that 1) surroundings determine expectation and expectation determines behavior, and 2) people who commit little crimes will later commit big crimes. At any rate, the program was seemingly successful and repeated with seeming success in other cities.

Can this really be a coincidence? If so, and if abortion is the cause of this general reduction in crime, then certain related social policies become a whole lot more defensible. Head Start, supported daycare for single mothers, paid training for single mothers. The religious right's recent practice of supporting single mothers and finding adoptive homes for the child also begins to look like something more than paternalism. Anything we can do to cut down on the number of unwanted children and help single mothers cope can be seen as cost-effective.

At any rate. I am having trouble putting the book down.

5/8/2005 11:16 PM

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