Thursday, September 07, 2006


This picture of an almost empty commuter bus reminds me of a particular chapter in the book I’m reading, Freakanomics. It's about the sudden drop in crime rate in America which completely baffled many social scientists and law enforcement officials. That is, until an unconventional-thinking economist came up with a mind-boggling theory. In fact, the Wall Street Journal dubbed this man, Steven Levitt, the Indiana Jones of economics.

A most recent winner of the John Bates Clark award for the best economist under the age of 40, Levitt‘s success as ascribed by this financial broadsheet, as having a lot more to do with his wit, pluck and disregard for conventional wisdom; not as a specialist of technical information for the select few.

“His genius is to take a seemingly meaningless set of numbers, ferret out the telltale pattern and recognize what it means,” according to this Wall Street Journal article. Through such method, Levitt outlined the cause which resulted to the drastic drop in crime in the United States.

During the 1990s, the Clinton administration along with many criminologists and socio-political scientists unanimously issued a dismal forecast that the entire country was facing a future steep in crime. Accumulated data was so compelling that odd makers were putting their money on the criminals.

“We know we’ve got about six years to turn this juvenile crime thing around, or our country is going to be living with chaos,” President Clinton declared. However, contrary to the common prediction by these learned men, the crime rate fell instead.

The reversal was indeed astounding — the teenage murder rate alone, expected to surge at 100 percent, dropped more than 50 percent within five years. By 2000 the overall murder rate in the United States had dropped to its lowest level in thirty-five years, including the rate of just about every other sort of crime, from assault to car theft. The stumped criminologists, relying upon conventional wisdom, grappled to explain this unexpected shift; only to come up with highly inaccurate and erroneous conclusions.

And then came Steven Levitt who pinpointed this drastic decrease in crime to a woman in Dallas who was then a 21-year-old uneducated destitute; an alcoholic and drug addict who had given up for adoption her two children. Her name was Norma McCorvey.

In 1970, she found herself pregnant again; all she wanted was an abortion. Without intending to, she also dramatically altered the course of events that affected the entire United States of America.

Abortion was illegal in Texas where Norma McCorvey resided, as well as in the entire United States during that time. There were, however, powerful people who adopted her cause and made her lead plaintiff to a class-action lawsuit seeking to legalize abortion. They named the Dallas County district attorney, Henry Wade, as defendant. To protect her privacy, her name was disguised as Jane Roe.

The case ultimately found its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court; hence Roe versus Wade.

On June 22, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ms. Roe, paving the way for legalized abortion throughout the country. Ironically, too late to get an abortion when the ruling came out, Norma McCorvey gave birth, but put the child up for adoption. In the succeeding years, she would renounce her allegiance to legalized abortion crusade and become a pro-life activist.

Millions of American women most likely to resort to abortion in the wake of the Roe vs. Wade were indigent, uneducated, unmarried teenage mothers whose children, if born, would have been more likely than average to become criminals. But due to Roe vs. Wade, these children weren’t being born.

According to Levitt’s theory, “this powerful cause would have a drastic, distant effect: years later, just as these unborn children would have entered their criminal primes, the rate of crime began to plummet.”

Again, Levitt based his findings on numbers and data, but what the link between abortion and crime tells him 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. If she decides she can’t, she often chooses the abortion.” On the other hand, should a woman decide to have the baby, a pressing question arises: “what are parents supposed to do once a child is born?”

This entry was created to briefly illustrate the unorthodox manner in which this famed economist, Steven Levitt, goes about drawing his conclusions. It wasn’t intended to allude to a personal perspective on the subject of abortion.

Freakanomics is a good read which I recommend to those who appreciate articulate, though a roguish style of deductive reasoning.

*Many thanks again to Minotte’s Notes for offering to get me a copy of this book in San Francisco when I thought none was available locally. I did, however, found it at a local National Bookstore.

* * *

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posted by Señor Enrique at 6:10 PM


Anonymous beth said...

Just curious eric, what were the other conclusions that were made? Wala basis for comparison sa theory ni Levitt.

Haven't read the book so i don't really know freakonomics but sometimes i wonder about the so many results on the different studies being made... so many of them are conflicting yet all of them have their basis for their conclusions. You know sometimes i feel that these people (scientists, economists and whatever) already have their conclusions and they get (consciously or unconsciously) the tests, surveys, other researches and what have you that would support their conclusion.
Ako, i feel that in everything there is always so many factors involved that it will really be hard to attribute something to one factor, and one thing that may be true for one will not be true for another. But it sure is nice to think of possibilities of the why's of things.

September 07, 2006 6:59 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Actually, Beth, this entire chapter offers a compelling reason why the sudden drop in America’s crime rate, and should address your concerns.

What I find more intriguing is the genesis of the Roe vs. Wade case, a thorny issue which would always come up every time a seat in the US Supreme Court justice becomes available, as well as during every significant US election year.

And more significantly, for me, that is, is how this woman’s desire to get an abortion changed the whole of American society.

Again, this abortion/crime equation is only one of the chapters discussed in this book. There are other intriguing subjects such as: What do schoolteachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common? How is the Klu Klax Klan like a group of real-estate agents? Why do drug dealers still live with their mothers?

And as I had said in the entry, this man has an intelligent, though roguish style of illustrating certain causes and effects – the hidden side of everything, as they say.

It is really a very interesting read.

September 07, 2006 7:40 PM  

Blogger ipanema said...

Sometimes we have a crude way of assessing things from already available situations and give deductions. Thus, one will be able to predict.

Roe vs. Wade was referenced again several months ago when South Dakota Women’s Health and Human Life Protection Act (HB 1215)
was signed into Law by South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds March 6, 2006. There were protests on the other side, challenging an already US right to abortion.

The South Dakota abortion ban is considered the most restrictive in the United States, banning abortions at all stages of a pregnancy, even those that result from incest or rape or harm a woman's health.

I don't know what's the implication of this ban if any, to Levitt's theory in the long run.

September 07, 2006 8:01 PM  

Blogger cyberpunk said...

interesting... i've always been pro-abortion because of the same's not the quantity but the quality of people...a screwed up parent will most likely have screwed up kids...

darn, abortion should be legalized here in the, most of the people who have huge families are poor, ignorant, and criminal (and the cycle never ends) while those who are capable of being good parents are the ones who bother with planning their families...

September 07, 2006 9:32 PM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

Dear cyberpunk,

I agree with you to a certain degree. Most don't turn into criminal but unavoidably become vagabonds (pulubi), IMHO those who turn to crime are on their 'last-resort' mode. I'm guessing because of a sick family member or to meet the basic basic basic necessity of life (food).

Economically challenged people are not 'evil' or 'bad-to-the-bones' they usually try to rectify it by getting work. It's fierce in the pinas, my own brother is a college grad and have been downsized 3 TIMES IN A ROW. Times are tough, competition is fierce for the educated.. what more for the less learned ??

Pinas doesn't have an adequate social welfare in place. It's unavailable for people who really need it and a target for people who wants to abuse it. That's on 1 end. On the other end I'm sure our 'wily' politician will find holes in the system to benefit from it as well.

I see a deadlock. Huge number of unfortunate and desperate individuals who will VOTE for food. And corrupt individuals who will take advantage of it.

Dear Eric,
Sorry for the long post. :)

September 08, 2006 7:04 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Abortion will always be one thorny issue that will command continued arguments/discussions in various societal, political, and religious arenas, Ipanema.

September 08, 2006 8:11 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

I need not look beyond my family circle here in Manila, Cyberpunk, to agree with you that those with the means and capability to provide are the ones who smartly practice family planning.

One of my nieces became pregnant while in high school and this first child was immediately followed by two more. Needless to say, the first few years of her marriage was a living hell for all.

September 08, 2006 8:18 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

You've just articulated a disturbing yet prevalent ailment in our local state of affairs, S.A.

A welcome jolt of reality in my often optimistic and light-hearted posts.

No apologies required for lengthy comments here, S.A. :)

September 08, 2006 8:28 AM  

Blogger Sidney said...

Torture numbers, and they'll confess to anything.
-Gregg Easterbrook-

98% of all statistics are made up.
-Author Unknown-

Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.
-Aaron Levenstein-

Needless to add that I don't believe Steven Levitt theory about abortion and crime.

I am not against abortion in some extreme cases but I am pro life.

Quote Cyberpunk: most of the people who have huge families are poor, ignorant, and criminal

My blood pressure raised steeply by reading such a comment.
I totally agree with Senorito. Poor people are NOT inborn criminals. Often they have no other choice than to enter criminality to survive.

The right to have children or not is a human right and should not be the privilege of the so called "rich & educated" people.

I could rant some more but I better stop :-(

September 08, 2006 10:43 AM  

Anonymous kyels said...

I've seen the book in bookshops but I've yet the time to browse what it's like.

Through this post, I guess there's a high possibility that I'll get a copy for myself.

Thanks for sharing Eric.


September 08, 2006 11:16 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Point well taken, Sidney.

However, personally, what I question is some young people's decision to have children (as my high school age niece had done) when they lack the means to provide even for the very basic needs of the baby. These are children having children. But then again, it's their life and right to do as they please.

September 08, 2006 10:14 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

It is actually a very amusing and entertaining book, Kyels. I think you'll enjoy reading it :)

September 08, 2006 10:15 PM  

Blogger dave (",) said...

"A slum environment breeds slum behavior."

One way to get rid of the slum menace is to eradicate or at least remove the people in such areas. Another way is to change the slum environment itself. The latter is what Gawad Kalinga (GK) aims to achieve in the Philippines. By the way, I attribute the quote above to the founder of GK.

September 08, 2006 11:29 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

"Gawad Kalinga (GK) , translated in English means “to give care,” and it is an alternative solution to the blatant problem of poverty not just in the Philippines but the world. Its approach is integrated, holistic and sustainable – a concrete action plan to rebuild this nation by harnessing the best of the Filipino – our faith and our patriotism."

Didn't know about this organzation until now. Thanks, Dave!

September 09, 2006 5:39 AM  

Blogger Amadeo said...

Irony of ironies, the woman named J. Roe has reversed her position and has now become a pro-life advocate.

And she has now also advocated for the repeal of Roe vs Wade.

And with the present composition of justices in the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) there is a good likelihood that it may be repealed if brought before it again.

September 09, 2006 7:23 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

This is correct, Amadeo. Norma McCorvey eventually renounced her allegiance to legalized abortion and joined the pro-life movement.

Roe vs. Wade will be an ongoing saga amongst politicians and religious leaders in the American landscape.

September 10, 2006 6:56 AM  

Blogger ipanema said...

South Dakota will be battle ground for this. That law took effect only 1st July and will be hotly contested come November.

September 10, 2006 10:18 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

What I find most baffling about this entire issue from the very start, Ipanema, is this: How come it is the men who are in the forefront of this debate when, in fact, it is a woman issue? It is her body, after all, no?

September 10, 2006 12:20 PM  

Blogger daniel palma tayona said...

do you know why there's an increase in underarm and body deodorants for men these days? if i am to use Steven Levitt's thinking, i'd say i give credit to Imelda Marcos and the LRT.

prior to the Lrt, there were these trundling open-air buses going through the streets of manila. open-windows of buses would mean open ventilation. thus, if a man who stinks to the high heavens is sitting beside you, you can thank the open air bus for not making it stinky.

however, since the advent of the lrt, the open-air buses became obsolete. i mean, who'd ride it if for a lesser fare, you can travel faster and be in an airconditioned couch? but alas, with the absence of open-air ventilation, women (and cleaner men) clamoured that the stranger beside them should smell a bit better.

thus, enter unilever, procter and gamble and the other consumer product manufacturing companies they saw this opportunity in their marketing niche-ing and... voila! we have a plethora of deodorants galore avalailable for every shape and size of male.

thanks to steven levitt, we saw the connection, another example of freakanomics.

April 24, 2007 5:48 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Hahaha! Very amusing analysis, daniel! What else can I say?


April 24, 2007 6:07 PM  

Anonymous Dan Hunt said...

The connection between a lower crime rate and abortion is an interesting one. Contraceptives also became easier in that time. Maybe it is a combination of the two.

The connection between deodorant use and air conditioned buses is a funny one.

November 01, 2007 7:34 AM  

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