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The problem with Malcolm's argument about abortion spurring a drop in crime vs. the Pill NOT spurring a drop in crime is the intention behind the action. Women who take the Pill want to prevent pregnancy but that does not logically lead to "a pregnancy is an unwanted pregnancy". Lots of married women who got pregnant on the pill did not have abortions. The Pill was intended to prevent pregnancy, not end it.

Abortions, however, are intended to end pregnancy. Therefore, a woman who gets an abortion does NOT want that particular pregnancy at that particular time. This is where the Freakonomics argument becomes convincing. A woman may not want a pregnancy, but when she goes that extra step to END the pregnancy there are often very good reasons. And, until the late 1970s when Congress ruled that Medicare didn't have to cover abortions, many more poor women were able to get abortions.

Tim McElgunn

OK, so I haven't even done a desultory scan to see what the observed "facts" on the installed base of projectile weapons are, but I am puzzled, to say the least, by the statement that increased police presence has meant fewer guns on the street.

As a casual observer of modern society, I see a huge gun lobby, a popular cultural ?movement? (Rap and its offshoots) that, while it may also glorify hip hop entreprenuers, surely glorifies guns (usually by brand name.

Another movement (white power) is dedicated, in theory anyway, to violent confrontation.

New organized crime groups ("The EthnicGroupXYZ Mafia") are reported to have made inroads in all large cities.

Gun shows continue to draw large crowds.

So, as I say, I would be surprised if guns are "off the street" in meaningful numbers.

Full disclosure - as a white suburbanite, I doubt that the bars I frequented in the 80s were awash in guns, so my perspective may be utterly worthless.

I think that people MAY have been shooting each other in the 80s because the music they were forced to listen to was so annoying. This makes the recent drop in crime even more puzzling to me.


The strength of Levitt's argument, I believe, lies in that he has identified a factor which corresponds both nationally and regionally to the crime-drop - your window-theory does not. You might very well be right about New York; I don't think you're right about New York, Dallas, San Francisco, Detroit, Rahleigh/Durham, etc. etc.


The Pill argument has some problems in that it assumes poor,uneducated and other demographic groups more likely to have unwanted pregnancies had access to contraception like the pill; and that even if they did have access that they chose to use it. This could make the Pill problem raised in this reponse - not much of a problem at all in termsof the accuracy of Levitt.


An increased police presence would also have a cumulative effect. If an auto thief has stolen 50 cars and never been caught, he is unlikely to be swayed by longer prison sentences or three strikes policies. (He won't get caught, if past history is any indication.) Catching him repeatedly when he is a youngster means he'll decide the probabilities aren't in his favor. The police response doesn't have to be very punishing, just likely.

Stephan Michelson

> No, neither . . . IS . . . Why is simple grammar on such a decline?

Monica B.

In a comment above, Mike D. put it best in stating the economical restriction in the pill argument.

Further research surrounding African-American perspectives on the Pill in the 1960's can be find here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/peopleevents/e_genocide.html

Highly recommended reading on the pbs sponsored site. Almost sardonic but more sad than anything else. Indulge.


You might be interested in this succinct and pointed book-review cage-match/comparison between "The Tipping Point" and "Freakonomics," (focusing on the broken windows theory) in comic-strip form:


It's from the library comic "Unshelved," which has a Sunday book-club strip each week.

Warren Holt

I find this dialogue intriguing with both writers putting forth convincing arguments. Mr. Gladwell is on to something when he draws an economics vs. psychology contrast in outlooks. I like to look at it more as something qualitative vs. something quantitative. In economics, one looks for isolated mechanism that you can prove with numbers, controls, and chi square testers. Mr. Gladwell's approach is harder to prove by isolating mechanisms. Its complexities speak to me on an intuitive level. Although they don't have the focused, surprising pop of Levitt's arguments, Gladwell's approach may have more levels of application stimulating new curious extensions to smaller and larger-scale queries.


zp, here's the justice department link you just mentioned. Not sure how it's supposed to show that most murders are committed over drugs or drug territory:



I find the whole debate here fascinating, but writing from distant India...I may just want to add a few lil observations.
1) Too often, the words hypothesis and theory are used interchangeably...that shows poor conceptual clarity. Knowledge, in the end, is more than science and scholarship.
2) If A has a correlation or causal relation with B, it proves a lot but still only a little. There are various factors influencing A (let us say X, Y, Z) and B as well ( Let us say K, L, M).
Now, each of these variables correspond to a subject, from the discourse above: Psychology, sociology, economics, politics (much debated above), technology, physiology, ecology, anthropology (not debated or insufficiently debated above).
A true seeker would get the algebra of interdisciplinary thinking right before getting into the statistics of INTRA-disciplinary scholarship.
But academicians love proofs and studies more than the truth, nay?


Yo dawg, love your writing, but please proofread this article.

all the best.


So, if a right leaning Supreme Court should overturn Roe, we would see an increase in crime 18 years afterwards. Interesting.

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Utilizers of abortion (whose rights I fully support) have, by definition, not planned ahead to prevent an unwanted conception.

Users of the Pill, by contrast, have planned far ahead to prevent conception-- by seeing a doctor, obtaining a prescription, and taking the Pill every day, whether or not sex is on the horizon.

I do not know if "not planning ahead" is a behavioral trait with a genetic basis. But I do know that two contributors to not planning-- namely, impulsivity and thrill-seeking-- can be passed on through genes, specifically through a gene called DRD4, which affects how the body processes the neurotransmitter dopamine.

I also know that criminologists and psychologists have linked high levels of thrill-seeking and impulsivity with increased risk for criminal behavior in young men and women. Correlation is not causation, but Gladwell's homicidal-bar-fight example would be less likely to occuer if the two men arguing inside the bar were, say, risk-averse and highly contemplative.

Perhaps the legalization of abortion gave "reproductive non-planners" the chance to prevent the birth of offspring who would otherwise have inherited their propensity to take risks and act impulsively. And perhaps before Roe, the non-planners had far fewer options to prevent the births of infants genetically predisposed to act first and think later.

the guinz

Oh, puhleeze!

The fact that crime went down is completely correlative with the fact that UNEMPLOYMENT went down. It went down to Early 1960's levels. This is not to say that unemployment in urban centers was not still unacceptably high, just to say that a lot of young men who might otherwise have time on their hands didn't.

How boring an explanation that is, not the stuff to make an incredibly hip book with an incredibly hip title.

There are other factors as well, among them, once you see a bunch of your friends get offed in drive-bys, AND you have a viable alternative (which, altho not all and certainly not enough had, but unquestionably many more than before had) to get a legit job, you might rethink this whole lifestyle that puts you in harms way.

And by the way, where is the Freaking (to coin a phrase) science? Did anyone do any statistics as to WHO had the abortions in the first place. Dood, you'll find they were NOT the poor but the middle class, and, in fact, the upper middle class. You know, that hot bed for breeding violent crime??

And, uh, I guess it's inconvenient to bring up the epidemic of teen pregnancy in depressed economic areas that coincided with the rise in abortion. And who were having those babies. The vast majority were poor and urban, so one might expect ON THE CONTRARY a RISE in crime 20 yrs later, ie, in the 90s... But then again, that would be confusing "amazing" theories with the facts...

Dufus thinking.


A point/counterpoint in today's Denver paper on broken window policing. Here


or here


Hugh MacLeod

Maybe you're both right, depending on the worldview of the reader.

P.S. Currently reading 'Blink' . Love it. 'Tipping Ppoint' had fewer 'Wow' moments in it for me, but still, it was an excellent read. Godspeed!

jeff angus

Let me suggest it transcends demographics. The prime mover is the cognitive mapping of the woman, and that can be affected, among other things, by "class" or social status or cultural training. Or not.

Demographics tell us things because of averages, but each individual is making a set of individual choices. Women who count on abortion as their catcher in the rye when they might have been using contraception might be victims of rape or people who have a hard time gauging consequences (causeeffect logic) or as previously stated, too poor or too remote (some rural women in the Dakotas have to go over 100 miles to get legal contraception) or too uneducated to get reliable contrqaception. And, just to echo what's been said here more cleanly than I can, mothers affected by any of those factors are less likely to raise an unwanted foetus in an informed healthy optimistic/hopeful way.


This may be off topic, but is anyone familiar with "Think! Why Crucial Decisions Can't Be Made in the Blink of an Eye"? It's by Michael Legault, a former Washington Times contributor.

I haven't read it, but just by looking at the dust jacket and reading the info from the publisher, it's clearly piggy-backing off the popularity of Blink!. "Outraged by the downward spiral of American intellect and culture..." so begins the publisher's blurb.

"If bestselling books are advising us to not think, LeGault argues, it comes as no surprise that sharp, incisive reasoning has become a lost art in the daily life of Americans..." I thought this was a bit disingenuous: I don't recall anywhere in Blink! reading that we shouldn't think.

Anyhow, I was curious if anyone had read Think! Some of the reader reviews on bn.com were not flattering (e.g., "political rant, not critical thinking").


Is it possible that both the abortion explanation and the broken window explanation are wrong? Perhaps, during the time period studied, youth just became less alienated from society. Why? Maybe their parent(s)finally had jobs with more discretionary income for these youngsters. That, plus the mainstreaming of the hip-hop culture, and what did these youngsters have to be alienated from? Looking for arcane reasons like abortion or more police may be "looking a gift horse in the mouth," so to speak. This lowered crime rate may just reflect the success of our economic system to make more young people feel like there is no reason to be alienated and criminal.

Terry Storch

The first—obvious—point is that it is not necessary to agree with everything you read in a book to like that book.
You would think that is obvious, but it is not. Thanks Malcolm for all you do!


I won't wade through all the comments to pose a question - with abortion vs the pill aren't those child-avoidance solutions that are targeting different consumers? Is the practice of abortion a second chance after the pill - or a first line of defense. I have no used either, being that I am in a guy... but here is my though - if you are poor then you might not have the money to spend on pills, so you risk it by using condoms until something doesn't work right (or does work right) and then you have an abortion. Pills seem to be a middle class solution to the problem - and if there is a relation to crime and class level then would the rise of the use of a pill really affect violent crime? (Some crimes I understand are commited by suburbia - but violent crimes aren't typically found there to my knowledge.) Any thoughts, comments, ideas, snide remarks?

Jim A

The best part of Gladwell's response is that it's in an open forum. Let Levitt respond accordingly because I'd be interested in what he has to say now that Gladwell has stepped up and presented a case. Regardless, both books were thoroughly enjoyable and those who say one's crap is just being silly...

Arnie McKinnis

The most interesting thing about this post is the comments. As with all things internet, people are freaks (myself included) about certain things in our lives. I tip my hat to Malcolm for creating an area for passionate conversation. Regardless of who liked what.

DB Hottel

Mr. Gladwell,
Of interest? DH
The Marketplace of Perceptions
Behavioral economics explains why we procrastinate, buy, borrow, and grab chocolate on the spur of the moment.
by Craig Lambert

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