A Second Look at Abortion and Crime

Last week I read chapter four of Freakonomics, which explored the factors that affect crime. The authors looked into what can be done to deter crime. Their main point of the chapter was that the best to decrease crime in a region was to limit the population of future criminals. This is why the authors point to abortion as the leading variable against crime. If abortion is legal an easy to access then mothers who do not think they can raise a child well will receive abortions. Children that are born have a higher likelihood of being raised by parents who are able to care for them and therefore will be less likely to be criminals when they are older. Christopher L. Foote and Christopher F. Goetz examined the study regarding abortion and crime in more depth in their piece called The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime: Comment. They found some errors and inconsistencies in Donahue and Levitt’s paper on abortion and crime.

Foote and Goetz challenge the results found by Donahue and Levitt by explaining valid reasons. Some major problems they found in the data involves information that varies by state. A mother could get an abortion in one state but live in another. There is no guarantee that the women getting abortions in one state will live there their entire life or that they would have given birth in that same state if abortion was not an option. The tests that these authors run do not result in the same conclusions that Donahue and Levitt came to about the link between abortion and crime. Foote and Goetz believe the final tests they run are the best options, but the results do not agree with previous tests. In fact, one test they run actually shows a reverse relationship than expected. They saw that abortion exposure may raise criminality. The authors also mention how various waves of crime throughout time and throw off the data. For example, the crack epidemic of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s perhaps little could have been done to prevent crime from occurring during this period of time.

I do not think this study completely dismisses what was written in Freakonomics or what Donahue and Levitt found in their study. With these situations it is incredibly difficult to obtain the perfect data. Some studies are going to find certain results and others will find problems with that study. No one will be able to completely prove anything with the subject. Either way, both sets of authors make fair points about the relationship between abortion and crime.

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Where Have All the Criminals Gone?

Chapter four of Freakonomics explores different factors that reduce crime in a region. The authors give numerous possible factors, but explain the faults in each one. The main point of the chapter is the relationship between birth rates and crime. Moreover, they explore the relationship between abortion laws and how allowing abortion decreases crime rates. This relationship was very thoughtful and interesting because abortion has no direct impact on criminal activity. All the other factors, like the number of police in a city or the economic state of region, have more obvious relationships with criminal activity.

The point behind abortion is valuable because it helps prove that crime has a lot to do with children being born into situations that are not advantageous to them. The statistics show that when a mother has the right to choose whether to give birth or not, she makes the right decision. When a mother is forced to give birth despite maybe not having enough money or time to raise a child, that child has an immediate disadvantage in life that may cause criminal activity later on.

If allowing abortions is actually a strong factor that can reduce crime, then I would like to ask the authors what the best solution is to deterring criminal activity in a city. I am curious to know what their opinions are on the other factors discussed in the chapter. If they were in charge of a region would it be best to focus on allowing and encouraging abortions or is it still necessary to increase the police force and give more money to law enforcement and prisons. As we have seen in various studies this year there is never a situation where only one explanatory variable affects the dependent variable. These authors and criminology experts should be looking into what combinations of factors, including population control, have the greatest impact on crime. While they do not outright say that the other factors are worthless, they do believe abortion and population to be the most important ones.

I would not be willing to give up on other methods discussed in this chapter, such as gun control. The authors show evidence that guns do always lead to violence but I am a believer that if they were strongly limited or removed all together there would a large decrease in criminal activity and the murder rate. The United States has a gun culture like no other country. The authors cite Switzerland as a country where guns have not caused criminal activity to increase, but I disagree with this comparison because the United States and Switzerland are much different places.

 

A Look into Graduation Rates and No Child Left Behind

I will be testing how the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 has affected high school dropout rates in the United States. The act has been criticized since it was first enacted and has also been altered in the years since its existence. I wish to explore whether high school dropout rates are the best indicator of educational performance. I am using graduation rates because graduating from high school represents the end of the public school system. It is possible that this act has affected students differently by gender, race and socioeconomic status. So far my research has shown that NCLB has negatively affected the education of minority students. When students start school as young kids the purpose of the system is to progress through each grade and eventually graduate from high school. The United States is not the most highly educated country in the world but this act was put in place to improve our level of education. Whether or not it has had a positive impact is still to be determined.

Pak Sudarno’s Big Family

Chapter 5 of Poor Economics is about the usage of contraceptives. The authors discuss the various factors that impact whether or not contraceptives are used. Often times there are more significant factors than whether or not the contraceptives are easily accessible. Policy makers must take these factors into consideration when discussing methods of controlling population. A better strategy than contraceptives might be to convince people they do not need large families. Currently, social norms and family dynamics are greatly influencing whether or not people use contraception.

One statistic that I thought was important from the chapter involves the Metlab program. In 1996, women aged 30-35 had on average 1.2 fewer children in treatment areas than those in control areas. I would like to test the hypothesis of whether these treatment areas have an effect on lowering the birthrate. I could get number of children that each woman has had in this area in Bangladesh. Then using a dummy variable of whether each woman was in a treatment area or not in a treatment area I could test whether these places have an actual effect on the number of births.

Other variables that might impact this are whether the mother met with a female health worker or not. This could be included as well. Other variables that should be involved would be the fertility rate in the area for the last ten years to determine if the rates are falling everywhere for a different reason.

The dummy variable would be very important to this model because it would determine whether the mother went to a treatment area or not. If the mother was in a treatment area I would expect her to have given birth to less children than if she did not. I can test this by sorting the dummy variables and regressing this variable versus the number of children each mother has had.

Moneyball

I recently viewed the film Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane. As a baseball fan I read the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis when it came out in 2003. I was curious as to what the film would be like, but I think they did a great job at making a quality movie. Billy Beane is a general manager of a team that is strapped for cash. He does not have the luxury to pay multiple players 10-20 million dollar contracts yearly. However, he still must compete with the wealthiest of the teams in his league like the Yankees and Red Sox. In order to compete successfully Beane needed to change the way his front office evaluated talent.

Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill, is the man that gets Beane’s attention early on because of his interesting and unique views of talent. Brand’s character is based on former assistant general manager of the A’s and current assistant general manager of the Mets, Paul DePodesta. Brand went to Yale and studied economics. He is a statistical expert who follows the teachings of Bill James. James is generally regarded as the first one to analyze baseball statistics in a different way than everyone else.

The focus of Peter Brand’s philosophy involves wins. Wins are the most important factor for a team. Players do not create wins, but runs do. The more runs and team scores the more wins. The less runs a team lets up the more wins. Brand urges Billy Beane to look past conventional scouting wisdom and instead look for runs. They determine that the players that get on base the most have the greatest likelihood of scoring runs. It does not matter if the player reaches base through a walk or hit, all that matters is on-base percentage (OBP).  By focusing on this statistic the front office for the Athletics had to look past other defects players had that might affect the team. In the film they sign David Justice, Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford. Justice and Hatteberg both reach base often and Chad Bradford is an undervalued pitcher who throws submarine-style. Justice is old and has had a career plagued by injuries and Hatteberg recently had elbow surgery and struggles throwing. Bradford does not throw nearly as hard as the average major league pitcher, but his pitching style is deceptive and effective. All three of these players are cheap and undervalued, and therefore were perfect for the Oakland A’s.

Statistics are a major part of the game of baseball. When you watch a game on television the channel producing the game is constantly putting different stats on the screen to view. Basic statistics for hitters are batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, homeruns and runs batted in (RBI). Batting average and homeruns are generally the two most discussed statistics. Most major league scouts no very little about statistics past what each stat means. Those people are paid to judge talent based on size, age, bat speed, arm strength, speed etc. Peter Brand used a formula that was focused around runs scored and on-base percentage that produced a number of wins each player could get you. The athletics tried to find the cheapest players who produced the most wins, and the result was a decently successful two-three year run in the American League as well as a 21 game win streak that was a MLB record.

One thing that helps baseball statistics in evaluating a player is the large sample size. The more at-bats a player has had the easier it is to trust their statistics. At the same time, many of the players being evaluated had only played in the Minor Leagues. While they might have had 1500 Minor League at-bats, that does not necessarily translate to Major League at-bats against much better pitching. This is one reason why the Oakland Athletics tried to avoid drafting players directly out of high school. College players had greater proof that they deserved to be drafted.

10 States Are Given Waivers From Education Law

The No Child Left Behind Act was put in place in 2001 and had a goal that by 2014 all American students would be proficient in math and reading. Over the years many have said that this goal is unrealistic. Recently, President Obama granted waivers to ten states, freeing each state of many of the provisions of the NCLBA. New Jersey, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma are the first ten to have received these waivers. These are states that have pledged to follow the president’s educational agenda that promotes teacher effectiveness.

Critics of the 2014 deadline believe it to be unrealistic especially for those students with disabilities. Other criticisms of the act are that it encourages teachers to teach based on the state examinations. While that may be the best may to perform well on the exams, it is not necessarily the best teaching methodology. President Obama understands that the motives behind the act were the right ones but also said, “we’ve got to do it in a way that doesn’t force teachers to teach to the test, or encourage schools to lower their standards to avoid being labeled as failures.” The purpose of the waivers is to allow the individual states time to devise their own educational goals for the future. Many have already taken the initiative such as Florida aiming to rank in the top five nationwide for state test scores and Massachusetts trying to reduce the number of underperforming students by half in the next six years.

These waivers and any adjustments made to the act will be pertinent to my research. I will be examining nationwide graduation rates, but I also need to look at things from the state level. The act requires each state to have its own series of examinations and that adequate yearly progress is achieved. Some states may be following the guidelines of the act more than others.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/education/10-states-given-waivers-from-no-child-left-behind-law.html?_r=1&ref=nochildleftbehindact

Chapter 4: Poor Economics

Chapter 4 of Poor Economics focuses on educational problems. The problem does not lie in children attending school, because kids are still being sent to school at young ages. However, in many impoverished areas the quality of education is extremely poor. The authors discuss whether the source of the problem is the government who fund the schools or that parents do not petition for better quality education because they do not see realistic benefits. Many parents believe an education is only worthwhile if it will eventually lead to a government job. Because they do not expect much from the schools the government does not feel the need to hire better teachers and improve the educational environment. The chapter debates whether the supply side or demand side of education is at fault.

I read an article from The New York times that relates to this issue, but focuses on the United States. The article, Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say explains the problems associated with such a gap. This relates to Poor Economics because when the poor on not performing well in school it could possibly be because the government is not aiding the kids enough or because their parents do not demand enough out of the schools.

The author uses a study from the University of Michigan that showed that the gap between the rich and poor kids who graduate college has grown by about 50% since the late 1980s. Graduating college is obviously a strong predictor of success in the workforce. The author later writes, “One reason for the growing gap in achievement, researchers say, could be that wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources.” Some parents are not finding the time and one possibility why is that they might not believe in the benefits. If the parents are educated and currently poor then they might be fed-up with the system that they believe failed them.

The authors of Poor Economics make a very good point in that schools need to realize who their students are. Not every student is going to be coming from an affluent family and some will need to be pushed harder than others in order to succeed. They write, “Recognizing that schools have to serve the students they do have, rather than the ones they perhaps would like to have, may be the first step to having a school system that gives a chance to every child,” (101). This applies to all schools where the students are from different social classes and should be recognized by all teachers around the world.