Saturday, October 01, 2005

ANDREW McCARTHY AT NRO tells us why Bill Bennett's comments on abortion, crime, and skin color demonstrate his strong ethical and moral values:

Here's what happened. In the course of his Morning in America radio show on Wednesday, Bennett engaged a caller who sought to view the complexities of Social Security solvency through the narrow lens of abortion, an explosive but only tangentially relevant issue. Specifically, the caller contended that if there had not been so many abortions since 1973, there would be millions more living people paying into the Social Security System, and perhaps the system would be solvent.

Bennett, typically well-informed, responded with skepticism over this method of argument by making reference to a book he had read, which had made an analogous claim: namely, that it was the high abortion rate which was responsible for the overall decline in crime. The former Education secretary took pains to say that he disagreed with this theory, and then developed an argument for why we should resist "extensive extrapolations" from minor premises (like the number of abortions) in forming major conclusions about complex policy questions.

It was in this context that Bennett remarked: "I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Was he suggesting such a thing? Was he saying that such a thing should even be considered in the real world? Of course not. His whole point was that such considerations are patently absurd, and thus he was quick to add: "That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do."

Thank you, Andrew. I'm sure every black person in America is breathing a sigh of relief that Bill Bennett is not suggesting that we abort every black baby in this country. It's not like they would be angry or offended that Bennett believes crime and blackness go together.

Really, McCarthy misses the point completely. Bennett's remarks are not being condemned because they suggested a draconian, if theoretical, solution to a real and actual problem. His remarks are being condemned because the problem (of crime being connected to blackness) is invalid; and thus his solution -- however draconian or theoretical -- is irrelevant.

Sisyphus Shrugged makes this point very cogently:

see, the problem is

there's an argument making its way around wonkish circles which claims that Mr. Bennett's unpleasant ruminations on race and crime were merely an extreme illustration of a point he was trying to make about the immorality of abortion.

This I do not buy. If you want a strong statistical correlation between birthstate and crime prevention, the most obvious form of useful infanticide would be killing boys. Odd that didn't occur to him.

However: Mr. Bennett made it clear today that he was not exploring his listeners' prejudices, he was expressing his own.

Exactly. In point of fact, racial identity is not the major determining factor in crime. Steven Levitt, the author of Freakonomics, the book Bennett said he'd been thinking of when he connected aborting all black babies to lowering crime rates, sets the record straight:

Race is not an important part of the abortion-crime argument that John Donohue and I have made in academic papers and that Dubner and I discuss in Freakonomics. It is true that, on average, crime involvement in the U.S. is higher among blacks than whites. Importantly, however, once you control for income, the likelihood of growing up in a female-headed household, having a teenage mother, and how urban the environment is, the importance of race disappears for all crimes except homicide. (The homicide gap is partly explained by crack markets). In other words, for most crimes a white person and a black person who grow up next door to each other with similar incomes and the same family structure would be predicted to have the same crime involvement. Empirically, what matters is the fact that abortions are disproportionately used on unwanted pregnancies, and disproportionately by teenage women and single women.
[...]
Some people might think that my comments ... above are just ducking the race issue because it is politically correct to do so. Anyone who has read Freakonomics knows that I am not afraid to take issues of race head on. Much of the book deals with challenging issues of race (e.g. black-white test score gaps, black naming patterns, etc.). I mean it when I say that, from a purely fact-based and statistical perspective, race is not in any way central to our arguments about abortion and crime.

I'm not actually, really worried about Bill Bennett or Andrew McCarthy talking up the "wholesale abortion of an entire race of people," as Jesse Taylor puts it. I'm worried about the fact that McCarthy and Bennett sincerely believe blacks are more prone to criminal behavior; and that McCarthy calls this myth a "minor point that [is] statistically and logically unassailable."

3 comments:

John McAdams said...

Planned Parenthood Advocates Abortion to Reduce Crime

And the bizarre thing is that Bennett, who explicitly rejects abortion, is under attack.

John McAdams said...

Freakonomics Author Tries to Cover Butt in Wake of Bennett Comments

In fact, the authors of Freakonomics made explicitly racial arguments in economics journal articles. They said nothing remotely racist, but they did stress the empirical connection between race and abortion and crime.

Kathy said...

In fact, the authors of Freakonomics made explicitly racial arguments in economics journal articles. They said nothing remotely racist, but they did stress the empirical connection between race and abortion and crime.

Here is what the authors of Freakonomics said:

"It is true that, on average, crime involvement in the U.S. is higher among blacks than whites. Importantly, however, once you control for income, the likelihood of growing up in a female-headed household, having a teenage mother, and how urban the environment is, the importance of race disappears for all crimes except homicide. ... In other words, for most crimes a white person and a black person who grow up next door to each other with similar incomes and the same family structure would be predicted to have the same crime involvement."

You're right. That's not remotely racist. And it's also not remotely the same as what Bill Bennett said.