Bennett's Black Babies Theory Blows Up The Blogosphere

Bennett's Black Babies Theory Blows Up The Blogosphere


So to address some major points:

  • Are blacks, on average, convicted of more crimes than any other race? Yes.
  • Did Bennett disagree with author Steven Levitt’s theory that higher abortion rates = lower crime rates? Yes.
  • Did Bennett agree that higher black abortion rates = lower crime rates? Yes.

I blogged about the Bennett’s Black Babies Theory story yesterday. At that time I pointed out the inherent contradiction in Bennett’s logic, something that a former Secretary of EDUCATION should patently see.

And then I hop onto memorandum and I see blogger after blogger defending Bennett’s faulty logic with more faulty logic.

Well, here’s what Steven Levitt, author of the book Bennett cited, said today about his comments:

7) There is one thing I would take Bennett to task for: first saying that he doesn’t believe our abortion-crime hypothesis but then revealing that he does believe it with his comments about black babies. You can’t have it both ways.

Let’s look at some of the bloggers who defend Bennett.

First, Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom:

Predictably, the race baiters sprung immediately into action, and, instead of trying to understand Bennett’s point (which has nothing to do with anything inherent to blacks�and in fact, is an argument for just the opposite), decided instead to seize upon the remarks robbed of their context and intent to charge Bennett with racism and demand an apology. (For the record, Bennett was merely referencing “Freakonomics,� which posits the hypothesis that falling crimes rates are related to increased abortion rates decades ago�a position which I take it he rejects)

Jeff, he disagreed with Freakonomics in one breath and then agreed with the exact same thing, only this time he applied the theory to a smaller subset of blacks. If this was an offhand reference to Freakonomics, he would have disagreed that “higher abortion rate=lower crime rates” and left it at that.

John Podhoretz says any reasonable person can see that Bennett misspoke.

Any remotely fair person would acknowledge that Bennett simply misspoke. He was summarizing the argument in Freakonomics in order, five seconds later, to argue AGAINST it. “”These far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky,” he said. In short, he didn’t mean to say the Freakonomics argument about abortion and crime was “true” because he was actually arguing it was FALSE.

Misspoke? Perhaps. However, Bennett isn’t backing down from the comments.

Here’s what he said to ABC News:

Bennett said that anyone who knows him knows he isn’t racist. He said he was merely extrapolating from the best-selling book “Freakonomics,” which posits the hypothesis that falling crimes rates are related to increased abortion rates decades ago. “It would have worked for, you know, single-parent moms; it would have worked for male babies, black babies,” Bennett said.

Sorry, that’s neither an apology nor a sufficient explanation of his comments. This could be SO easily brushed under the rug with “I misspoke because I actually meant to again DISAGREE with Freakonomics,” but he didn’t.

But the Moderate Voice nails it:

Bottom line: no matter what his intentions, how his friends (or even enemies) defend him, by the relentless rules of the game in 21st century America as a political commodity Bill Bennett will be damaged goods except to those who already agree with him. On the other hand, if his foes press taking his radio show off the air, Bennett will garner lots of support from even many who criticize him. If he’s given the boot for a big mouth, than many talk show hosts on the right and left ought to bend down, too.

But Bennett has heightened the controversy. It was bad enough that he made the original comments, that he tried to quickly qualify them. It was bad enough when his foes leaped on it to make it a political issue. And it was bad enough when he decided to go on the offensive against the Democrats.

Bill Bennett had a mouth dysfunction and, when his critics pushed the political button, he pushed the polarization button.

And what does Bush think about Bennett’s comments:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Friday criticized as “not appropriate” a comment from former Education Secretary William Bennett that aborting black babies would reduce the U.S. crime rate.


Asked for President George W. Bush’s reaction to the remarks, spokesman Scott McClellan said: “The president believes the comments were not appropriate.”

Do I think race is off limits to talk about? No, not at all. But Bennett’s comments were, at best, ridiculously clumsy and, at worst, hopelessly racist. Personally, I think the intentions lay somewhere closer to the best case scenario on that, but I still think they betray a slightly racist outlook on blacks and their status in this country.

What are your thoughts given these reactions?

Bennett says he was using the Socratic method to show how ridiculous both arguments were.

From his show’s blog.

“Then, putting my philosophy professor’s hat on, I went on to reveal the limitations of such arguments by showing the absurdity in another such argument, along the same lines. I entertained what law school professors call ‘the Socratic method’ and what I would hope good social science professors still use in their seminars. In so doing, I suggested a hypothetical analogy while at the same time saying the proposition I was using about blacks and abortion was ‘impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible,’ just to ensure those who would have any doubt about what they were hearing, or for those who tuned in to the middle of the conversation.

Fair enough. Although, I still wish he would apologize for misspeaking. Seems fairly weak.

But then he does something very inappropriate.

Anyone paying attention to this debate should be offended by those who have selectively quoted me, distorted my meaning, and taken out of context the dialogue I engaged in this week.

A call to philosophical arms? Really? People should be offended because others were offended by your original comment? That’s ridiculous and is just the sort of defense somebody would take if they’re trying to cover their tracks. It’s an old trick really. Attack those who are attacking you so they lose some sense of credibility. And to be fair, some on my side of the argument are being incredibly caustic, and it detracts from overall argument. But that doesn’t mean what we’re saying isn’t valid.

Of course, more thoughts on this are welcome too.

  • Jeffrey Feldman

    Bill Bennett can not be held responsible for giving a bad analogy as an example to a bad analogy.

    He is, however, a self righteous man.

    A righteous (moral) man would show more concern for the implication of his statement.

  • Justin Gardner

    A righteous (moral) man would show more concern for the implication of his statement.

    Agreed, and I wish Bennett would. I don’t think he will, but I wish he’d realize the impact of what he said.

    Let’s hope he does.

  • John McAdams

    Freakonomics Author Tries to Cover Butt in Wake of Bennett Comments

    In fact, the authors of Freakonomics made explicitly racial arguments in economics journal articles. They said nothing remotely racist, but they did stress the empirical connection between race and abortion and crime.

  • Justin Gardner

    Thanks for the note John.

    One point though.

    Levitt is neither politically correct nor a coward, but he should, rather than appearing to distance himself from Bennett, have admitted that Bennett was simply adopting the empirical analysis that he and Donohue first laid out.

    See, here’s the problem that I have with Bennett’s comments. He did not adopt the empirical analysis UNTIL he included race in the equation.

    Remember, this is what he said.

    BENNETT: you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well –
    CALLER: Well, I don’t think that statistic is accurate.

    BENNETT: Well, I don’t think it is either, I don’t think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don’t know. But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could � if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.

    See, at first he rejects it and then he accepts a slight variant on the same idea.

    Broken out as a logic problem it looks something like this:

    IAR = Increased Abortion Rate
    ABAR = Absolute Black Abortion Rate
    DCR = Decreased Crime Rate

    Bennett first said IAR ≠DCR
    Bennett then said ABAR = DCR
    However, all things being equal, ABAR = IAR
    Therefore, IAR must = DCR

    I have no doubt Bennett did not mean what he said, but he committed a pretty glaring logic flaw and people are excusing it because there is a link between blacks and crime. Well, of course there is, but as Levitt pointed out in that same blog article in response to Bennett’s statements.

    7) There is one thing I would take Bennett to task for: first saying that he doesn’t believe our abortion-crime hypothesis but then revealing that he does believe it with his comments about black babies. You can’t have it both ways.

    Also, Levitt isn’t covering his butt. Note he talks specifically about homicide in his statment on the blog.

    Importantly, however, once you control for income, the likelihood of growing up in a female-headed household, having a teenage mother, and how urban the environment is, the importance of race disappears for all crimes except homicide.

    And the paper that you mention talks specifcally about homicide rates.

    Given that homicide rates of black youths are roughly nine times higher than those of white youths, racial differences in the fertility effects of abortion are likely to translate into greater homicide reductions. Under the assumption that those black and white births eliminated by legalized abortion would have experienced the average criminal propensities of their respective races, then the predicted reduction in homicide is 8.9 percent. In other words, taking into account differential abortion rates by race raises the predicted impact of abortion legalization on homicide from 5.4 percent to 8.9 percent.

    Levitt isn’t covering his butt because his butt is already covered with data and previous statements.

    Sorry John. I don’t think the title of your post is fair and I’d hope you would amend it.

  • John McAdams

    Perhaps you didn’t get my point.

    I don’t dispute that Bennett seemed to both reject and then embrace the race/abortion/crime argument in Freakonomics.

    My post was about the fact that Levitt claimed that his theory wasn’t about race at all.

    But in fact race figures importantly in the QJE article.

  • http://yahoo Michael Hughes

    Since its o.k. for a white christian leader (Robertson) to call for an assasination of another leader of a country, its o.k. for a white education spokeman to put crime on my race. Dam, I wish I were white. I mean I could speak my ignorant mind and still have others back me up! Only in the good ol US of A.

  • Hillary

    Good job.