Where Have All The Criminals Gone Essay

Levitt became briefly notorious for collaborating on a research paper that contained a strikingly novel thesis: abortion curbs crime.

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Levitt has strayed far from the customary paddock of the dismal science in search of interesting problems.

That is what makes it so useful to undergraduates seeking relief from insomnia.

Such everyday riddles are fair game for the economist, Levitt contends, because their solution involves understanding how people react to incentives. In 2003, Levitt was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, bestowed every two years on the most accomplished American economist under 40."Freakonomics," written with the help of the journalist Stephen J. For one thing, it proudly boasts that it has no unifying theme.

For another, each chapter begins with a quotation from the under-author (Dubner) telling us how great the over-author (Levitt) is: a "master of the simple, clever solution," a "noetic butterfly" (! Yet a little self-indulgence can be tolerated in a book as instructive and entertaining as this one. He finds a parallel in the world of real estate, where brokers employ code words in advertisements to let potential buyers know that an apartment can be bought for less than its listing price.

Levitt is happiest grappling with questions that have the potential to overturn the "conventional wisdom." "Where did all the criminals go?

" proved to be the perfect instance of such a question.("Freakonomics" grew out of a profile Dubner wrote about Levitt in The New York Times Magazine, where I am also a contributor, but we've never met.)The trivia alone is worth the cover price. "Spacious" and "great neighborhood" are associated with a low closing price, whereas "state of the art" and "maple" are associated with a high price.Did you know that Ku Klux Klan members affixed a "kl" to many words (thus two Klansmen would hold a "klonversation" in the local "klavern") or that the secret Klan handshake was "a left-handed, limp-wristed fish wiggle"? Sometimes Levitt seeks out his raw material, and sometimes -- as with a stack of spiral notebooks kept by a Chicago crack gang -- it falls into his lap.In the mid-1940's, a Klan infiltrator began to feed such intelligence to writers for the radio show "The Adventures of Superman," who incorporated it into the plotline, thereby making the Klan look ridiculous in the eyes of the public and driving down its membership. These notebooks, obtained by a graduate student, Sudhir Venkatesh, who spent a scary period all but living with the gang, contained sales figures, wages, dues, even death benefits paid to families of murdered members over a four-year period, at the peak of the crack boom.By analyzing them, Levitt and Venkatesh were able to work out the organization of the crack business, which turned out to be rather like that of Mc Donald's.To insulate himself from the charge that he is advocating abortion as the cure for crime, Levitt does a little cost-benefit calculation.Suppose, for the sake of argument, we say a fetus is worth one one-hundredth of a person.Even then, he shows, the number of averted murders would not justify the number of abortions. Anti-abortion groups do not hesitate to cite undesirable consequences of abortion.Why shouldn't abortion rights advocates get to cite its desirable consequences, like a drop in crime resulting from fewer unwanted children? They have a set of techniques and habits of thought that they regard as more "rigorous" than those of other social scientists.FREAKONOMICS A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. What sort of contestants on the TV show "The Weakest Link" are most likely to be discriminated against by their fellow contestants? How do parents of different races and classes choose names for their children?


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