The Conservatives vs. Freakonomics

Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.Conservatives hate Freakonomics, that book by economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner that takes on more than a few sticky issues that most people don’t normally consider to be within the purview of economics. (See also the Freakonomics blog).

Publisher’s Weekly notes:

There isn’t really a grand theory of everything here, except perhaps the suggestion that self-styled experts have a vested interest in promoting conventional wisdom even when it’s wrong. Instead, Dubner and Levitt deconstruct everything from the organizational structure of drug-dealing gangs to baby-naming patterns. While some chapters might seem frivolous, others touch on more serious issues, including a detailed look at Levitt’s controversial linkage between the legalization of abortion and a reduced crime rate two decades later. Underlying all these research subjects is a belief that complex phenomena can be understood if we find the right perspective. Levitt has a knack for making that principle relevant to our daily lives

See, conservatives like conventional wisdom because it supports things the way they are and counsels against change. And conservatives especially dislike Levitt’s theories in Freakonomics because one of them suggests crime rates are causally linked to abortion and that the drop in crime rates in the late 90s was caused by the legalization of abortion in 1973 (read the book to understand it).

That’s why conservative icon Bill Bennett was criticizing the book. Not only did Bennett misunderstand Levitt’s argument, but he tried to make a false and intentionally racist corollary: “I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could […] you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” Well, that made a sound.

In the list of those who understand how wrong Bennett was stands Harry Shearer, host of the radio program Le Show. His October 2 program (RealAudio stream, start at about 33 or 34 minutes in) of Le Show brought this to my attention and highlighted Bennett’s attempts to backpedal. iconLe Show, incidentally, is also available by iconpodcast.