Economics expert lets numbers do talkingHaving a gun in the house is more dangerous to children than having a swimming pool in the backyard. The booming U.S. economy in the 1990s was the main reason behind the steep fall in crime rates. Hiring a knowledgeable real estate agent is the best way to maximize the sale of your home.
Tell me something I don’t already know, you’re thinking. How about this: Everything in the preceding paragraph is wrong, according to University of Chicago economics professor Steven D. Levitt.
Levitt has made a name for himself as a most unorthodox economist. He doesn’t deal with typical economic subjects like interest rates and stock market movements. Instead, he looks at the questions of ordinary life and pores over mountains of data to find the real answers.
In “Freakonomics,” Levitt and co-author Stephen J. Dubner explore some of these questions in detail.
Levitt follows the search no matter where it goes and no matter whom it upsets. Real estate agents are likened to the Ku Klux Klan (both groups whose power stems from the hoarding of information), and the drop in U.S. crime rates in the 1990s is credited to the legalization of abortion.
The latter finding was published in 2001 in a paper by co-authored by Levitt, which contended that the usual reasons couldn’t explain why violent crime fell at the staggering rates it did. For those who believe it was the improving economy, studies in the past have shown almost no link between the economy and violent crime. For those who credited creative policing strategies like those used in New York, Levitt points out crime plummeted everywhere in the United States, not just in New York.
Instead, Levitt says, the real reason lies in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. After the ruling, the women who were the most likely to get abortions were also the ones who were more likely to raise children prone to criminal behavior ― that is, poor and single mothers.
In other words, the children who were most likely to become criminals simply didn’t exist in the 1990s. “Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime,” Levitt writes.
He angered conservatives and liberals alike. But Levitt is no ideologue. He looks at the numbers, questions the conventional wisdom, and encourages us to do the same.
A Rogue Economist Explores
the Hidden Side of Everything
By Steven D. Levitt,
Stephen J. Dubner
William Morrow, 256 pp.
by Sei Chong