Saturday, June 17, 2006

How to cut Poland’s crime rate in the long run?


Answer: re-legalize abortion!

That’s the conclusion you could come to, I suppose, after reading the wonderful Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything, by America’s most inventive number cruncher, Steven Levitt.

The populist Law and Justice government has made great play out of its commitment to cut crime, impose law and order and regenerate Poland’s moral fabric. But I don’t think that legalizing abortion will be one of the measures on the agenda at the next meeting at the Ministry of Interior.

America 1990

Sociologists warned of a ‘bloodbath of the streets’ if something wasn’t done about the US’s soaring crime rate. Crime became the number one political issue.

And then, all of a sudden, instead of going up the crime rate started to fall and fall…Why?

Steve Levitt goes through the ‘conventional wisdom’ on the subject and finds much of it wanting. Many think that the fall in crime was due to innovating policing methods, particularly in cities like New York. But crime has already gone down 18% in New York by the time the ‘broken’ window’ theory of criminology had started to drive Mayor Rudi Guiliani’s policies.

More police does have an effect in reducing crime, so does locking away more criminals. But not to the extent of the remarkable reduction in crime over the last 15 years or so.

Levitt’s conclusion was that changes in America’s demographics was the answer. And, apart from a generally ageing population (the baby boomer generation now appraoching its pension), the Roe vs. Wade (1973) ruling was the most determinant in this.

Most crime is committed by young males from low-income, unstable families. Sad but it’s a fact. The pro-abortion ruling meant that the numbers of kids in these families went down. The pool of potential criminals had reduced – so had the number of crimes.

Levitt’s work, published academically in 2001, caused a storm of protest from all sides. Conservatives hated the thought of abortion as a crime control measure. Liberals screamed that Levitt was blaming the poor. Everyone hated his neat way with a correlation.

Romania, 1966

Nicolae Ceau┼čescu comes to power in a Romania where abortion is the number one method of birth control. For every one baby born there were three terminations.

In order to build the new Romania, home of the New Socialist Man, Ceau┼čescu decided to outlaw abortion, charge a ‘celibacy tax’ on childless women and send inspectors out to work places to give them pregnancy tests!

The birth rate soared. And we’ve seen the consequences of that with the Romanian orphanages outrage and much else besides.

Sociologists have found that kids born after 1966 were far more likely to do badly at school and commit crime that kids born before 1966.

It seems to be the mirror image of the American experience. Children born into homes that want them, and are financially and emotionally capable of bringing them up, do much better than kids that aren’t.

Poland 2006

The Law and Justice administration has put crime at the top of the agenda. They also have a policy of paying parents 1000 zlotys (330 dollars!) if they have a kid. The ‘cash for babies’ policy has met with much derision but it does signal the government’s commitment to increasing the birth rate.

Abortion has been illegal in Poland basically since 1993. Does that mean that in a few\years time the streets will be full of kids looking for a chance to practice a bit of GBH?

Will a policy of bringing into the world more unwanted kids eventually scupper any policy coming out of the Law and Justice government to reduce crime and restore order?

It was just a thought

15 comments:

Piotr said...

According to a paper by 2 Fed economists picked by Wall Street Journal here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB113314261192407815-email.html something is wrong with statistical evidence that was suppose to back up Levitt's theory. I've read Levitt's book and really enjoyed it, but Im not convinced by his 'abortion theory'. Even if we assume that Wade vs Roe contributed to the drop in crime in recent years there have been some other bigger factors at play. Ageing population you mentioned is one, but we also have to remember that the society has become richer which usually leads to lower crime rate. There is stronger link between crime and unemployment than abortion ban.

sonia said...

I am glad you stopped talking about soccer!

If your theory is correct, Poland is literally a few years away from a crime boom. The first unaborted criminals-in-waiting are already 12 years old...

James Torr said...

Hey Peter, if you're interested in that kind of big picture book, check out 'The Wisdom of Crowds' by James Surowiecki. A fantastic look at how the many are smarter than the few - to quote the subheading of the book.
The Freakonomics blog:
http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/
is regularly updated too and is well worth checking out.

Renegade Eye said...

I remember when the book came out.

It would be hard to argue with the logic of the method.

beatroot said...

James: I have a stack of books being sent from Amazon (I like reading lots of books in the summer) and the Surowiecki is one of them!! I will let you know what I think of it.

Sonia: you don't like soccer? What if it was a nudist World Cup? Which team would you support?

The first unaborted criminals-in-waiting are already 12 years old...

:-) I can see a couple of twelve year olds from my window...they look suspicious!

Piotr: the correlation between rising GDP and falling crime is a spurious one. In the US in the sixties, the economy was growing but so was the crime rate. In Poland we have a richer society per capita but we also have a rising crome rate.

Maybe the crucial variable is not rising overall incomes but how those incomes are shared out.

The Levitt hypothsis would still work then...but forget the abortion bit... if governments try and close the gap between rish and poor they could reduce the number of low income families that way. The abortion bit may be a red herring.

~JS said...

UNWANTED children is the key here...abort the abortion argument...

catholic attitudes and contraception is the real clash (of civilizations)...more liberal church dogmas about sexuality could reduce the number of unwanted children before they become both unwanted and dead (or alive)...

Redwine said...

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme...no wonder they are so appreciated.

I am curious: I would like to see those liberal sex dogmas. Thou shalt.....?
This religious support for the backstreet kitchen table abortions is really refreshing. Elderly grandmas will have a nice income, once again.

beatroot said...

more liberal church dogmas about sexuality could reduce the number of unwanted children before they become both unwanted and dead (or alive)...

I have no idea what that means at all...

Kewenay said...

I wasn't sure if I was convinced by Levitt's hypothesis or not. It seems logical, but a little too simple. Either way it raises some dangerous questions. If it is correct, it tends to advocate Nazi-style social policies. Which is scary. But at least it'll give the woolly liberals pause for thought.

beatroot said...

Kewenay...I am not sure that that is the implication at all. If crime comes from 17-35 year olds from low income families - and it does - then the implication is to reduce the amount of low income families.

That can be done by social policies like redistribution of wealth, abortion rights for women but also, and crucially, making available affordable chold care for everyone.

~JS said...

who would finance those low-income abortions? the same people who thought it was a good hypothesis (the freaks), ironic, but probably true...

beatroot said...

The Polish national health system would finance terminations if women had rights over their own bodies....as they did till 1993

~JS said...

in other words, taxpayers (some of whom don't support abortion)...and we all know that those who can afford it will opt for private, and highly likely safer clinics at their own expense...the poor are left to their own devices, getting screwed (again)...

Williams said...

more liberal church dogmas about sexuality could reduce the number of unwanted children before they become both unwanted and dead (or alive)... I have no idea what that means at all...

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