Freedomnomics is John Lott’s free market retort to the wildly popular book, Freakonomics — that pastiche of thin analysis that skims over topics as diverse as sumo wrestling, real estate rip-offs, used car prices, and children’s names.
In particular, Lott disputes the most explosive claim in Levitt and Dubner’s work — that Roe v. Wade was a major factor in the stunning drop in crime in the 1990s. That huge assertion, based on four pages of analysis that included the negative impact of Communist Romania’s no-abortion policy, could easily have been labeled “fewer blacks, less crime.”
Lott argues, by contrast, that the Supreme Court’s legislative fiat in 1973 actually increased crime by boosting out-of-wedlock births and single-parent households. These crime-correlated statistics exploded in the 1970s and '80s as social sanctions against extra-marital sex disappeared and as the legal but odious option of abortion was rejected by millions of now-pregnant unmarried women.
If abortion isn’t the life-saving procedure that Levitt and Dubner suggest it is, other factors must have caused crime rates to plummet during the last decade of the 20th century. Accordingly, Lott provides evidence that the reinstitution of capital punishment in the early '90s explains some of the drop — a conclusion that coincides with the findings of other analysts and confirms what most folks, including criminals and police officers, sense intuitively — that people go out of their way to avoid being killed. Stated otherwise: harsher penalties, less crime.
The incarceration of more criminals is Lott’s next explanation for lower crime rates. Only among academics, the author notes, would it seem strange that “more inmates” results in “less criminality.” Individuals who rob banks, Willie Sutton might have noted, can’t engage in that illicit activity when they don’t have access to the place where the money is kept.
Lott’s third explanation for the '90s crime recession is, not unexpectedly, more guns among law-abiding citizens — a proposition to which Lott devoted his well-known 1998 book, More Guns, Less Crime. In this regard Lott notes that “for the first eight to nine years that concealed-carry laws are in effect, murder rates fall by an average of 1 to 1.5 percent per year, while robbery and rape rates decline by about 2 percentage points.”
The beefing up of municipal police forces also helped to reduce crime in the '90s — especially in places like New York City, where a precipitous decline in murders coincided with a 50% increase in police officers and improvements in the quality of recruits. These elevated recruitment standards, Lott notes, reversed the general degradation in force quality that was often associated with “affirmative action” hiring policies.
Concerning traditional economic topics, Lott is much more business friendly that his Freakonomics counterparts. While Levitt and Dubner compare real estate agents to Klan members (with inside information) and warn consumers that “many experts use their information to your detriment,” Lott emphasizes the economic value of reputation and provides data that contradicts or mitigates Levitt and Dubner’s unflattering assertions about used car prices and real estate agents. Lott even provides a plausible market-based explanation for high wine and liquor costs at restaurants.
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