Freakonomics, Chapter 4: Where Have All the Criminals Gone?

This chapter is bound to drawn some interest. Levitt and Dubner explore whether abortion has anything to do with the drop in crime a generation after it was legalized.

  • “Of all of the Communist leaders deposed in the years bracketing the collapse of the Soviet Union, only Nicolae Ceausescu met a violent death. It should not be overlooked that his demise was precipitated in large measure by the youth of Romania - a great number of whom, were it not for his abortion ban, would never have been born at all.” - page 119
  • Discussing how some experts miss the forest for the trees: “The mayor of a city sees that his citizens celebrate wildly when their team wins the World Series…. So the following year, the mayor decrees that his citizens start celebrating the World Series before the first pitch is thrown - an act that, in his confused mind, will ensure victory.” - page 123
  • Isaac Ehrlich wrote a paper in 1975 which is often used as the “proof” that the death penalty works. According to his paper, 1 execution saves 7 lives. - page 125
  • In talking about the idea that “innovative policing strategies” lead to a decrease in crime: “This theory rapidly became an article of faith because it appealed to the factors that, according to John Kenneth Galbraith, most contribute to the formation of conventional wisdom: the ease with which an idea may be understood and the degree to which it affects our personal well-being.”
  • In talking about the effect of gun buyback programs and their effect on homicide: “Given the number of handguns in the United States and the number of homicides each year, the likelihood that a particular gun was used to kill someone that year in 1 in 10,000. The typical gun buyback program yields fewer than 1,000 guns - which translates into an expectation of less than one-tenth of one homicide per buyback.” - page 133
  • “The typical crack murder involved one crack dealer shooting another (or two of them, or three) and not, contrary to conventional wisdom, some bug-eyed crackhead shooting a shopkeeper over a few dollars” - page 134, emphesis mine
  • “Another minor contributor to the falling homicide rate [among those likely to be crack dealers] is the fact that some crack dealers took to shooting their enemies in the buttocks rather than murdering them; this method ofviolent insult was considered more degrading - and was obviously less severely punished - than murder.” - page 135
  • “In the early days of the [United States], it was permissible to have an abortion prior to “quickening” - that is, when the first movements of the fetus could be felt…” - page 137 - that’s an interesting tidbit you don’t hear/read every day.
  • “Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime. This theory is bound to provide a variety of reactions, ranging from disbelief to revulsion, and a variety of objections, ranging from the quotidian to the moral.” - page 139
  • “But when it comes to cause and effect, there is often a trap in … open-and-shut thinking…. We too embrace faulty causes, usually at the urging of an expert proclaiming a truth in which he has a vested interest.” - page 140
  • “What the link between abortion and crime does say is this: when the government gives a woman the opportunity to make her own decision about abortion, she generally does a good job of figuring out if she is in a position to raise the baby well.” - page 144

How’s that for an introduction to Freakonomics? This is definitely one of the more provocative books I’ve read in awhile.