Where Have All the Criminals Gone?

Chapter 4 of Freakonomics looks at the causes of the decline in American crime in the 1990s. Levitt and Dubner confirm (i.e. increased number of police) and debunk (i.e. aging of the population) several common explanations for the drop in crime, but they reach a controversial conclusion as to what the key source is: abortion. Roe v. Wade ushered in a generation that “came of age minus the children whose mothers had not wanted to bring a child into the world” (127).
The arguments presented for and against each listed explanation for the drop in crime are carefully crafted with substantiated discussions of the perceptions that led to these explanations and how they hold up against reality. Levitt and Dubner use statistics to bolster their claims but one of the questions I have for the authors is, where did you get some of these? For instance, how do we know that a particular gun has a 1 in 10,000 chance of being used in a homicide? I feel like this would be hard to measure because the authors mention the bustling black market trade in America. If people are selling guns illegally, wouldn’t they make it difficult to trace them?
Although I did not find anything overly suspicious, one thing that drew my attention came at the end of the article when the authors are discussing the value of a fetus. Levitt and Dubner make a strong value judgment in arguing that abortion contributed to the decline in crime. Some view abortion as a crime; in this case the crime rate would have risen in the 1990s. We can also never know which of the aborted fetuses would have committed crimes and which would have not. If poor single mothers are the ones most likely to have children that commit crime, couldn’t we do something to address the social issues that cause poor single mothers in the first place? I believe that women should have the right to decide what to do with their bodies, I just think the authors somewhat promote abortion as a quick fix to society’s ills.


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