Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The most recent column by David Brooks was another adventure into how David's brain works more than anything else. Like GW, he very much has the mind of a young child trapped within a grown man's body.

To explain the drop in crime and violence over the last fifteen or so years, Brooks offers up wistful explanations that woefully lack any proof or evidence. Again like Bush, he simply chooses to believe a pretty picture, much of it manufactured in his own cranium with no outside help or influence.

His assertions for why the decrease in crime/violence are: 1) "people have stopped believing in stupid ideas," 2) "many Americans have become better parents," 3) "the younger generation, under age 30 or so, are reacting against the culture of divorce," and 4) "over the past few decades, neighborhood and charitable groups have emerged to help people."

I kid you not. The NY Times has a columnist who wrote such "weighty" prose. Gads.

Steven Levitt, an economics professor at the esteemed Univ. of Chicago, proposes a set of four different reasons for the drop in violence and crime over this time period. I would first point out that 1) the Univ. of Chicago is known for producing conservative economists, and 2) take a look at Levitt's CV -- quite impressive, to say the least (many say he's on the Nobel track). Note also that in his recent book, Freakonomics, he performed extensive research and tests to arrive at his conclusions (as compared to Brooks' warm-and-fuzzy guesswork).

Levitt's first reason is the bursting of the crack bubble. This occurred during the 1990s (with Clinton in the White House), with the profits for selling crack plummeting. His second reason: in the '90s (again, Clinton's years), more people were put in jail. Third reason: the number of police on the streets during the '90s increased -- due to legislation passed by Clinton.

Levitt's fourth factor, and likely most controversial, is legalized abortion. Levitt states that at the start of the 1990s, we saw a direct effect resulting from Roe v. Wade, namely the absence of teenagers who would've been born into unhealthy or dysfunctional, or perhaps even abusive, homes, an environment that frequently shapes criminals-to-be. Levitt presents extensive evidence supporting his claims. In fact, he shows that crime and violence dropped first in those five states which legalized abortion two years prior to Roe v. Wade.

Levitt's book has been a bestseller and his ideas concerning the drop in crime have been fairly well-circulated. Why is it the case that Brooks had no clue about Levitt's work? Is it simply easier to drum up reasons off the top of one's head? Yes, perhaps so, but the NY Times should demand and expect more and yet Brooks regularly lets them down.

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