Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The President's Pick

Conservatives are breathing a collective sigh of relief at the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. They wanted a brilliant originalist, and from all reports they seem to have gotten one. NRO is delighted, Hugh Hewitt thinks POTUS has hit "a home run" with SCOTUS, and Powerline is "Over the moon."

Meanwhile, the Democrats are in a difficult fix. Maybe two dozen or so of the hardest lefties among them will want to fight it out on the Senate floor, but a substantial minority of the Democrat caucus will likely lack the stomach to go to the mat opposing a candidate so highly qualified and highly esteemed by his colleagues. The special interests which comprise their base, however, will be demanding they do just that. Harry Reid may find himself trying to herd cats on this one, but if he makes only a perfunctory effort before conceding that this is not a nominee who meets the "extraordinary circumstance" test, he'll get drawn and quartered by People For the American Way, NARAL, and MoveOn.org.

Given Roberts' credentials it's certainly hard to see the Dems invoking or sustaining a filibuster. They may try it, but it'll probably not survive a cloture vote, and if it does the Republicans in the Senate will almost certainly call for a change in the rules on filibusters (the Constitutional option) and amass the simple majority necessary to prevail.

The Dems appear to be in a no-win situation. Unless there is some sort of shocking revelation in the Senate hearings that disqualifies Roberts, they have to decide how best to minimize their losses. It would seem that the last thing they would want to do, given the almost inevitable outcome of this nomination, is to lose the ability to filibuster future nominees, and the surest way to do that is to filibuster this one.

They must feel like Wile E. Coyote being foiled again by the Bush Road Runner.

Chrenkoff's 31st Installment

Arthur Chrenkoff's 31st edition of Good News From Iraq is up. It's a much-needed counterbalance to the relentless reportage of suicide bombings we get from the elite media. If one listened only to the evening news one would think that the only thing that's going on in Iraq is bombings and carnage.

The truth is far otherwise, however, and Chrenkoff's site is a good place to go to hear it.

Reducing Crime

BeliefNet has an article whose authors contend that abortion has significantly cut crime in the U.S. and elsewhere. Toward the end of their essay they write the following:

What sort of woman was most likely to take advantage of Roe v. Wade? Very often she was unmarried or in her teens or poor, and sometimes all three. What sort of future might her child have had? One study has shown that the typical child who went unborn in the earliest years of legalized abortion would have been 50 percent more likely than average to live in poverty; he would have also been 60 percent more likely to grow up with just one parent. These two factors-childhood poverty and a single-parent household-are among the strongest predictors that a child will have a criminal future. Growing up in a single-parent home roughly doubles a child's propensity to commit crime. So does having a teenage mother. Another study has shown that low maternal education is the single most powerful factor leading to criminality.

In other words, the very factors that drove millions of American women to have an abortion also seemed to predict that their children, had they been born, would have led unhappy and possibly criminal lives.

To be sure, the legalization of abortion in the United States had myriad consequences. Infanticide fell dramatically. So did shotgun marriages, as well as the number of babies put up for adoption (which has led to the boom in the adoption of foreign babies). Conceptions rose by nearly 30 percent, but births actually fell by 6 percent, indicating that many women were using abortion as a method of birth control, a crude and drastic sort of insurance policy.

Perhaps the most dramatic effect of legalized abortion, however, and one that would take years to reveal itself, was its impact on crime. In the early 1990s, just as the first cohort of children born after Roe v. Wade was hitting its late teen years-the years during which young men enter their criminal prime-the rate of crime began to fall. What this cohort was missing, of course, were the children who stood the greatest chance of becoming criminals. And the crime rate continued to fall as an entire generation came of age minus the children whose mothers had not wanted to bring a child into the world. Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime.

How, then, can we tell if the abortion-crime link is a case of causality rather than simply correlation?

One way to test the effect of abortion on crime would be to measure crime data in the five states where abortion was made legal before the Supreme Court extended abortion rights to the rest of the country. In New York, California, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii, a woman had been able to obtain a legal abortion for at least two years before Roe v. Wade. And indeed, those early-legalizing states saw crime begin to fall earlier than the other 45 states and the District of Columbia. Between 1988 and 1994, violent crime in the early-legalizing states fell 13 percent compared to the other states; between 1994 and 1997, their murder rates fell 23 percent more than those of the other states.

But what if those early legalizers simply got lucky? What else might we look for in the data to establish an abortion-crime link?

One factor to look for would be a correlation between each state's abortion rate and its crime rate. Sure enough, the states with the highest abortion rates in the 1970s experienced the greatest crime drops in the 1990s, while states with low abortion rates experienced smaller crime drops. (This correlation exists even when controlling for a variety of factors that influence crime: a state's level of incarceration, number of police, and its economic situation.) Since 1985, states with high abortion rates have experienced a roughly 30 percent drop in crime relative to low-abortion states. (New York City had high abortion rates and lay within an early-legalizing state, a pair of facts that further dampen the claim that innovative policing caused the crime drop.) Moreover, there was no link between a given state's abortion rate and its crime rate before the late 1980s-when the first cohort affected by legalized abortion was reaching its criminal prime-which is yet another indication that Roe v. Wade was indeed the event that tipped the crime scale.

There are even more correlations, positive and negative, that shore up the abortion-crime link. In states with high abortion rates, the entire decline in crime was among the post-Roe cohort as opposed to older criminals....

To be sure, the authors, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, are not using this one sociological consequence of abortion on demand as a justification for Roe v. Wade. At least I don't think they are. Such an argument would, after all, work just as well for infanticide since if killing the unborn children of poor, unwed mothers-to-be reduces crime then why not permit the killing of their born children as well, if the mother consents?

The authors, in fact, point out that:

To discover that abortion was one of the greatest crime-lowering factors in American history is, needless to say, jarring. It feels less Darwinian than Swiftian; it calls to mind a long ago dart attributed to G. K. Chesterton: when there aren't enough hats to go around, the problem isn't solved by lopping off some heads...Indeed, there are plenty of people who consider abortion itself to be a violent crime.

What the authors are doing, it seems, is calling attention to one very interesting consequence among the many that abortion has had in our society, and in so doing present a tough question to law and order utilitarians who may be moderately pro-life: Does a great societal good ever justify the employment of an evil means, and if so, how much good must accrue and how much evil is tolerable?