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Abortion and Crime, Revisited

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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29 July 2019 11:39
 

From Freakonomics, a new podcast featuring Steve Levitt and John Donohue, who “discuss their original research [linking Roe v Wade to a drop in the crime rate], the challenges to its legitimacy, and their updated analysis.”

The original research centers around the phenomenon of “unwantedness,” which is linked to undesirable life outcomes. Laws against abortion lead to unwanted children; unwanted children are more likely to become criminals. Statistical analysis, according to Levitt and Donohue, proves causality between the legalization of abortion and the decrease in the crime rate fifteen to twenty years later. What I found interesting was that legalizing abortion was a more significant factor in crime reduction than all the usual suspects: community policing, sentencing guidelines, gun control laws, right to carry concealed firearms laws, etc..)

Another researcher, also interviewed, found a causal link between the reduction of lead in the environment (stemming from laws against lead-based paint and leaded gasoline) and the decrease in the crime rate.

Here’s a question for the statisticians. We know that black women account for a disproportionate share of abortions. (Some anti-abortion activists claim that abortion is “genocide” against black people.) We also know that black people account for a disproportionate amount of crime. Given these two statistics, does it logically follow that more abortions must lead to a decrease in the crime rate?

The upshot, in my opinion, is that any politician claiming to be “tough on crime” while also favoring anti-abortion laws is full of shit. If you’re against abortion, then you’re willing to accept the higher crime rate that comes with anti-abortion laws.

 
 
Jefe
 
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29 July 2019 14:47
 

Check your facts, jack…

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Antisocialdarwinist
 
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29 July 2019 14:59
 
Jefe - 29 July 2019 02:47 PM

Check your facts, jack…

Check the definition of “disproportionate,” [insert name that rhymes with that here]. Black people make up 12% of the population but account for 28% of abortions.

 
 
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29 July 2019 15:24
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 29 July 2019 02:59 PM
Jefe - 29 July 2019 02:47 PM

Check your facts, jack…

Check the definition of “disproportionate,” [insert name that rhymes with that here]. Black people make up 12% of the population but account for 28% of abortions.

Nate?

If you compare abortion stats (proportionally) to poverty stats (proportionally) by demographic, the ratios are much closer.
That combined with the data that shows poverty as a primary statistic of those seeking abortion, we can understand the differential more clearly.  Poverty is a prime factor for a lot of different proportionate statistics.

It’s not 100% exact, due to the distribution of demographics, poverty, and availability of abortion services, but the disproportionateness is not quite so black and white (pardon the poor pun) as one might suspect.

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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29 July 2019 15:35
 
Jefe - 29 July 2019 03:24 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 29 July 2019 02:59 PM
Jefe - 29 July 2019 02:47 PM

Check your facts, jack…

Check the definition of “disproportionate,” [insert name that rhymes with that here]. Black people make up 12% of the population but account for 28% of abortions.

Nate?

If you compare abortion stats (proportionally) to poverty stats (proportionally) by demographic, the ratios are much closer.
That combined with the data that shows poverty as a primary statistic of those seeking abortion, we can understand the differential more clearly.  Poverty is a prime factor for a lot of different proportionate statistics.

It’s not 100% exact, due to the distribution of demographics, poverty, and availability of abortion services, but the disproportionateness is not quite so black and white (pardon the poor pun) as one might suspect.

Isn’t it also true that black people make up a disproportionate share of the impoverished?

Let me restate my question so it doesn’t come across as “black and white.”  We know that poor people account for a disproportionate share of abortions. We also know that poor people account for a disproportionate amount of crime. Given these two statistical facts, does it logically follow that more abortions must lead to a decrease in the crime rate?

The question is about statistics, not race.

In my opinion, the link between abortion and crime is the most compelling argument for abortion.

 
 
Jefe
 
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29 July 2019 15:39
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 29 July 2019 03:35 PM
Jefe - 29 July 2019 03:24 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 29 July 2019 02:59 PM
Jefe - 29 July 2019 02:47 PM

Check your facts, jack…

Check the definition of “disproportionate,” [insert name that rhymes with that here]. Black people make up 12% of the population but account for 28% of abortions.

Nate?

If you compare abortion stats (proportionally) to poverty stats (proportionally) by demographic, the ratios are much closer.
That combined with the data that shows poverty as a primary statistic of those seeking abortion, we can understand the differential more clearly.  Poverty is a prime factor for a lot of different proportionate statistics.

It’s not 100% exact, due to the distribution of demographics, poverty, and availability of abortion services, but the disproportionateness is not quite so black and white (pardon the poor pun) as one might suspect.

Isn’t it also true that black people make up a disproportionate share of the impoverished?

Let me restate my question so it doesn’t come across as “black and white.”  We know that poor people account for a disproportionate share of abortions. We also know that poor people account for a disproportionate amount of crime. Given these two statistical facts, does it logically follow that more abortions must lead to a decrease in the crime rate?

The question is about statistics, not race.

In my opinion, the link between abortion and crime is the most compelling argument for abortion.

It might also be worthwhile to look at the availability of affordable (or free) contraception.
It is possible that fewer unwanted children leads to reducing crime.  Similarly, it is possible that reducing poverty, and providing non-abortive contraception stacks onto that reduction statistic across the board.

So while your point may, indeed be valid, there are also other factors at play that could increase reduction.

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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29 July 2019 16:34
 
Jefe - 29 July 2019 03:39 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 29 July 2019 03:35 PM
Jefe - 29 July 2019 03:24 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 29 July 2019 02:59 PM
Jefe - 29 July 2019 02:47 PM

Check your facts, jack…

Check the definition of “disproportionate,” [insert name that rhymes with that here]. Black people make up 12% of the population but account for 28% of abortions.

Nate?

If you compare abortion stats (proportionally) to poverty stats (proportionally) by demographic, the ratios are much closer.
That combined with the data that shows poverty as a primary statistic of those seeking abortion, we can understand the differential more clearly.  Poverty is a prime factor for a lot of different proportionate statistics.

It’s not 100% exact, due to the distribution of demographics, poverty, and availability of abortion services, but the disproportionateness is not quite so black and white (pardon the poor pun) as one might suspect.

Isn’t it also true that black people make up a disproportionate share of the impoverished?

Let me restate my question so it doesn’t come across as “black and white.”  We know that poor people account for a disproportionate share of abortions. We also know that poor people account for a disproportionate amount of crime. Given these two statistical facts, does it logically follow that more abortions must lead to a decrease in the crime rate?

The question is about statistics, not race.

In my opinion, the link between abortion and crime is the most compelling argument for abortion.

It might also be worthwhile to look at the availability of affordable (or free) contraception.
It is possible that fewer unwanted children leads to reducing crime.  Similarly, it is possible that reducing poverty, and providing non-abortive contraception stacks onto that reduction statistic across the board.

So while your point may, indeed be valid, there are also other factors at play that could increase reduction.

True. They mentioned contraception and a few other ways to reduce “unwantedness” in the podcast. It’s pretty interesting.

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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29 July 2019 16:44
 

There is significant distortion of Levitt’s argument here.

First, instead of stating there’s a simple tradeoff between either abortion/or high crime, he raises the question: “what are we to make of the tradeoff of more abortion and less crime?” (Freakonomics, p. 142).  To answer this question he offers a thought experiment, cost-benefit analysis.  After setting aside the adamant pro-life and adamant pro-choice positions—the first of which says 1 fetus= 1 newborn and the second of which says no number of fetuses equals a newborn—he suggests a more moderate, third way: assume that the life of 1 newborn is worth 100 fetuses, meaning that the fetus has some value as a human life (i.e. we can’t just abort willy-nilly), but it neither has equal value nor no value at all (i.e. we can’t completely bar it or completely permit it either).  Then he notes that under this assumption (one can quibble over the exact compromise), the number of abortions in the US annually amounts to a loss of 15,000 human lives—roughly the same number of people who die in homicides each year (p. 144).  However, since that number is far greater than the number of lives saved each year by the reduction in crime, “the tradeoff between higher abortions and lower crime is terribly inefficient” (ibid, emphasis added).  So, although he notes that there is a causal link between abortion and crime reduction, the more important question, for him, is: how are we to make sense of this tradeoff, not that the tradeoff is an either/or proposition, where being both against abortion and against higher crime is to be “full of shit.”

Second—and relatedly—Levitt specifically notes that this cost-benefit tradeoff doesn’t really get at the more basic question, which for him is: “what are parents supposed to do once a child is born?” (p. 144).  And more specifically, it doesn’t address another fundamental question: what are we supposed to do about the circumstances into which children in general are born, to wit, those that lead to crime?  To these points he suggests (in the original work, not the Freakonomics chapter) that we could “in principle” remedy crime by addressing its environmental causes, as opposed to preventing it through abortion; in effect he suggests that we could address the predictors of criminal life, two of which (the most significant) are “childhood poverty” and the “single-parent household” (Freakonomics, p. 138 for the predictors).  Employing the same logic and causal analysis of abortion and crime, then, one can just as easily argue for programs insuring good, supportive child care and ones that reduce childhood poverty, as one can argue for ‘more abortions.’  And in fact, that argument would both address the casual mechanism that makes abortion work as a preventative measure and be a potentially more palatable cost-benefit way to prevent crime, one that does not require transacting in relative costs of fetal and newborn life.  This dimension to Levitt’s causal diagnosis is entirely lost in the dichotomy: “any politician claiming to be ‘tough on crime’ while also favoring anti-abortion laws is full of shit.  If you’re against abortion, then you’re willing to accept the higher crime rate that comes with anti-abortion laws.”  Nothing of the sort is the case—on Levitt’s analysis, at least.

Third—and bringing one and two together—to answer your question, specifically: “does it logically follow that more abortions must lead to a decrease in the crime rate?”—the answer is: no, of course not.  The effect of having or not having an abortion is mediated by other variables (like childhood poverty and single-parent households), and these variables are contingent on the larger, more intangible variable, “unwanted children.”  Levitt is quite clear on this: it’s ultimately the fact that a woman “generally [does] a good job of figuring out whether she is in a position to raise the baby well” that makes having an abortion causal, not just the abortion per se (p. 144).  In other words, only abortions preventing unwanted births into crime-inducing circumstances reduce crime; therefore the number of abortions—absent these factors—is neither here nor there.  And it bears stressing again: from this analysis it follows logically that changing the environmental circumstances leading to crime would have the same effect as having an abortion that prevents a child from being born into those circumstances.  This—again—goes to the falseness of the political dichotomy proposed here: either both for abortion and against crime or “full of shit” on abortion and crime.  One can be both against or ambivalent on abortion and in favor addressing the causal factors leading to crime with perfect consistency (and arguably with more moral clarity as well).

[ Edited: 30 July 2019 06:46 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
GAD
 
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29 July 2019 21:16
 

The counters here are side stepping the question, saying, that say, giving a million dollars to every poor pregnant women to raise a kid would address crime therefore the abortion question/connection isn’t valid, isn’t valid because there isn’t a million to give to everyone, abortion is the far, far cheaper process.

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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29 July 2019 22:09
 

Birth control is even cheaper.  Thinking the issue through or actually reading Levitt before opening your mouth might have sufficed to note that, for Levitt himself mentioned that obvious alternative in the original paper.

 
Twissel
 
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30 July 2019 00:11
 

we can ignore the white/black difference and focus on the poverty issue, since Whites don’t commit less crimes, they are just statistically less likely to serve time for them.

I did hear that the timing of legalized abortion and decrease in crime doesn’t quite match up, but I would be surprised if there is some correlation.


So in short: yeah, everyone who supports less crime, happy families and women’s health should be in favor of easy, unstigmatized access to pregnancy-prevention methods and early abortion medical care.

 
 
GAD
 
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30 July 2019 00:17
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 29 July 2019 10:09 PM

Birth control is even cheaper.  Thinking the issue through or actually reading Levitt before opening your mouth might have sufficed to note that, for Levitt himself mentioned that obvious alternative in the original paper.

And abstinence is even cheaper (hint it’s free), we are talking about the Is not the fucking Ought have’s.

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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30 July 2019 10:22
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 29 July 2019 04:44 PM

There is significant distortion of Levitt’s argument here.

I think I made it pretty clear that the either/or tradeoff is my opinion (“The upshot, in my opinion . . .”), not a “significant distortion of Levitt’s argument.”

Levitt’s thought experiment depends on accepting his relative valuation of fetuses and newborns, which is completely subjective and can be manipulated to suit either position.

While I agree that, in theory, abortion vs. crime is not an either/or proposition, in reality, it is. For two reasons. First, the politicians who want to make abortion illegal are also against state subsidized contraception, or even requiring employers to provide health insurance that pays for contraception. In fairness, I can modify my original claim to something along the lines of, “Politicians who are against abortion and subsidizing contraception (and against social programs that might mitigate the problem of “unwantedness”), and simultaneously claim to be tough on crime, are full of shit.” Just keep in mind that wanting to make abortion illegal, being against subsidized contraception and being against social programs to mitigate “unwantedness” all go hand in hand.

Second, women who accidentally get pregnant are not suffering from the lack of access to contraception, they’re suffering from a lack of self control. It’s easier to procure contraception than it is to get an abortion; the fact that any given accidentally pregnant woman is capable of procuring an abortion says to me that she was also capable of procuring contraception. She made a poor choice to have unprotected sex, then rectified the consequences of that poor choice with the choice to have an abortion.

Similarly, your third point sounds good in theory, but the reality is that women who lack self control will continue to get accidentally pregnant regardless of the availability of contraception; and social programs to deal with “unwantedness” are a pipe dream. The reality, in my opinion, is that abortion will continue to be the most likely avenue for dealing with “unwantedness.” Given those assumptions, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that more abortions inevitably lead to less crime.

 
 
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30 July 2019 10:55
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 30 July 2019 10:22 AM

Second, women who accidentally get pregnant are not suffering from the lack of access to contraception, they’re suffering from a lack of self control. It’s easier to procure contraception than it is to get an abortion; the fact that any given accidentally pregnant woman is capable of procuring an abortion says to me that she was also capable of procuring contraception. She made a poor choice to have unprotected sex, then rectified the consequences of that poor choice with the choice to have an abortion.

Every choice to have unprotected sex involves both a man and a woman.
Every unwanted pregnancy requires the (brief) participation of a non-sterile man, not just a woman.
The ‘blame/shame’ you seem to be throwing is a bit mis-directed.

AND, we have plenty of studies that show that access to contraception reduces the instances of abortion, sometimes dramatically.
(In many cases IUD’s, which can be expensive and out of reach for many of the impoverished, are much more effective and less prone to ‘forgetting’ than condoms and ‘the pill’, are a part of these studies.)

To turn the argument around, we’d have many fewer unwanted pregnancies if all male children received vasectomies when they were 13-16 years old, and only had them reversed when they intended to start a family.  (This method chosen because it has been demonstrated to be easily reversible.)

 

 
 
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30 July 2019 16:05
 

Given those assumptions, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that more abortions inevitably lead to less crime.


The assumptions you make are moral denigrations, not empirical propositions; they get you the conclusion you want at the expense of further distorting Levitt’s causal model; and the conclusion itself doesn’t follow logically from that model.

Regarding the main assumption and the logic…

Whether women have “self-control” is neither here nor there for the causal model of abortion and crime; all that requires is the assumption of pregnancy.  And if it were relevant, the data suggests that women who need to can exercise self-control, making more abortions unnecessary.  As noted in the podcast, teenage pregnancy has declined 60% over the same period crime has declined, indicating that targeting self-control can be just as effective as permitting abortion.  So your “assumption” about “self-control” is both unnecessary and empirically unsupported. 

Logically your account is flawed as well.  According to Levitt’s model, the impact on crime of children born into at-risk environments (the “unwanted” variable) has two components: the birth of the child and the at-risk environment.  In principle, then, one can address rising crime in two ways: prevent the at-risk children from being born (birth control, abstinence, or abortion) or change the risk factors in the environment into which they are born (any number of possibilities).  From these mechanisms it follows that who has the abortion in which environment is the causal mechanism for the effect of abortion on crime, not just the overall number of abortions.  This alone makes the conclusion “more abortions inevitably lead to less crime” false.  For obviously, abortions for women in non-at risk environments can increase, while abortions for women in an at-risk environment stays the same, and according to the model crime will remain unchanged.  Alternatively, abortions can increase, but if the causal factors of crimes increase as well, there can either be no net difference or even an increase in crime, despite more abortions.  And so forth.

Of course none of this is to say that more abortions doesn’t lead to less crime.  Of course it can; in fact, on Levitt’s analysis they did.  Just there is nothing inevitable about it because the causes of crime are always more than a lack of abortions.  Even Levitt qualifies the causality of ‘more abortion leads to less crime’ with “should” and “all else equal.”  “Should” and holding “all else equal” is a far cry from inevitable.

I think I made it pretty clear that the either/or tradeoff is my opinion (“The upshot, in my opinion . . .”), not a “significant distortion of Levitt’s argument.”

Actually, your upshot is a distortion based on a distortion, as Levitt himself can attest (and you link to it).  He says: “So ultimately I think our study is interesting because it helps us understand why crime has gone down.  But in terms of policy towards abortion, you’re really misguided if you use our study to base your opinion about what the right policy is towards abortion.”  Regarding not being “full of shit” even if one favors fewer abortions and still wants less crime, he goes on: “We should try to do things to make sure that children are wanted.  You could at least begin to think about how you would create a world in which kids grow up more loved and more appreciated and with brighter futures.  And you know, is that better early education?  Is that, you know, permits for parents? Or training for parents?  Or, you know, minimum incomes?  Who knows what the answer really would be.  But there’s a whole set of topics I think which are not even on the table.”  This is his upshot, and my point is that yours is a distortion.  If you want to claim sole authorship of an opinion, so be it.  Just acknowledge that your upshot neither follows from Levitt’s causal model nor represents his own view.

In fairness, I can modify my original claim to something along the lines of, “Politicians who are against abortion and subsidizing contraception (and against social programs that might mitigate the problem of “unwantedness”), and simultaneously claim to be tough on crime, are full of shit.”

Sure, if you move the goal post, you can score a point.  If you are saying that any politician against abortion, against contraception, and against social interventions addressing known risk factors of crime is “full of shit” if he claims to be serious about reducing crime, then no shit.  But in so doing, you’ve changed a false dichotomy that excludes alternatives into a sensible statement that includes them all.  If you’ve changed your mind that way, then I’ve changed mine.  This last statement is a fair account of the upshot of Levitt’s position.

 

[ Edited: 31 July 2019 08:31 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
DEGENERATEON
 
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30 July 2019 20:56
 
Twissel - 30 July 2019 12:11 AM

we can ignore the white/black difference and focus on the poverty issue, since Whites don’t commit less crimes, they are just statistically less likely to serve time for them.

We might have to start a separate thread based on this claim.  Now if you mean in absolute numbers in the United States, you may be right.  But your additional statement about serving less time for crimes would indicate that isn’t what you meant.  Per capita, you think whites commit MORE crimes?

 
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