October 2, 2005

File Under "Racists Suck"

As you have likely heard, Bill Bennett, in remarks on his radio show, trotted forth the idea 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."

Rapidly tacking on a caveat that such a measure would be "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do," Bennett probably hoped to avoid a national shitstorm landing atop his head. (Courtesy WaPo)

Not so fast, there, Bill. Bill was under the impression that Steven Levitt, the author of Freakonomics, in his now famous bit about abortion rates and crime rates, saw race as a major contributing factor to the crime rate. He did not.

In remarks on Slate.com, Levitt argued that,
As an aside, it has been both fascinating and disturbing to me how the media have insisted on reporting this as a study about race, when race really is not an integral part of the story. The link between abortion and unwantedness, and also between unwantedness and later criminality, have been shown most clearly in Scandinavian data. Abortion rates among African-Americans are higher, but overall, far more abortions are done by whites. None of our analysis is race-based because the crime data by race is generally not deemed reliable. (Courtesy mediamatters)

Bennett is clearly using a not entirely accepted intellectual theory to back up his own race-based prejudice. If he had actually read the book, or read it without his racializing blinders, he would not have said what he did, targeting specifically black children.

The point is, Bennett made clear that he thinks 'poor' is equivalent to 'black,' without any attempt at qualifying that over-generalization. In an argument supposedly about an academic matter, precision is key. Bennett's imprecision displays a tendency to racialize such matters at the expense of truth. That is what racism essentially is.

And if you need confirmation of his general assholic behavior, read this.


  1. Anonymous11:12 AM

    Here's an analysis from Andrew Sullivan, who advises that you look at, you know, the context of his remarks:

    "I'm sorry, but when you look at the full context of the remarks - specifically responding to a caller's assertion that abortions in the past meant lost revenue for social security in the future, Bennett's entire point was to oppose such idiotic generalizations and he used the "black babies" point as a way to reinforce that point. I stand by my moral sense here. This is simply a lesson in not using hyperbole or arguments designed as reductio ad absurdum when your comments can be wrenched out of context. And again: I'm no fan of Bennett. He has wrenched things I have written out of context for his own purposes. What he said was ill-advised, poorly phrased but not evil."

    And one does not need "racializing blinders" to know that black people are generally poorer and more likely to commit crime. That's what we like to call a "fact."

  2. actually, the crime part's not a fact at all.
    Blacks have a higher rate of criminal involvement, but not, says Levitt, "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. (The homicide gap is partly explained by crack markets). In other words, for most crimes a white person and a black person who grow up next door to each other with similar incomes and the same family structure would be predicted to have the same crime involvement."
    The context of the remark was in regards to Freakonomics. Bennett got his facts wrong and in doing so perpetuated a racial myth--that blacks are more criminal than other races, which was clearly implied by the fact that he picked them out specifically. The fact that he was making an argument from a hyperbole or a reductio ad absurdum is not the point--the point was he substituted prejudice for facts in doing so.

  3. Planned Parenthood Advocates Abortion to Reduce Crime

    And the bizarre thing is that Bennett, who explicitly rejects abortion, is under attack.

  4. Even if Bennett's argument is logically connected to the Freakonomics argument, I don't think that's an excuse for saying that sort of thing publicly.

    Naming a possible benefit of racial genocide probably does more than enough harm to the public "debate" to outweigh any good he may have intended. Maybe his intentions were good, but he deserves to get trashed for this.

  5. Anonymous11:52 PM

    bennett was clearly not suggesting that he agreed with the comment. he was presenting as an adversarial postion, one set up to show "what not to do." that he said this, in the context of the things said, suggests neither that he thinks this to be true, nor that he connects "blackness" with a disposition to commit crimes. What it does suggest is this: that person with brown skin do (in fact) commit crimes at a higher rate than the national average (another poster rightly attributed this to some other factors, but remember that correllating crime with person with darker skin in no way implies actual causation) and that hypothetically, eliminating a segment of the population which commits crime at a higher rate than that of the general population would reduce crimes. Bennett is an outspoken advocate of the abolition of abortion (so he clearly would not support this) and then said, himself, that to abort black fetuses in order to prevent crime would be "morally reprehensible." This is, after some rather hasty observation by myself (after all, that's all it actually takes to figure something like this out), a nonstory which was blown out of proportion by people who wished to attribute racism to Mr. Bennett.

  6. 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.

  7. Anonymous11:31 AM

    Andrew Sullivan has many virtues. Clearheadedness about race is not one of them. The man published an excerpt from The Bell Curve when he was editor of TNR and still defends it today.