The Magazine

Death in Europe, Metro riders, and more.

Jun 25, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 39
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In America, conservative critics of campaign finance reform argue that limiting the amount that candidates can spend will shift power to the media to set the campaign agenda. The experience here suggests they are right. Since the British parties have such limited capacity to reach voters themselves—and so little campaign time to do it—the media have much more power to set the terms of debate than in America. That means issues rise and fall largely at the whim of the press, whose attention span is as fleeting here as in the U.S.

Case in point: Just a week before election day, associations representing British school principals and surgeons released dire warnings about the state of the schools and hospitals. Blair was duly questioned about it the next morning, but the reports effectively vanished by the next day’s news cycle, before most voters probably ever heard of them. In America, it’s easy to imagine the opposition party pounding home those grim reports through weeks of television ads. Here, to a large extent, the parties can keep campaign arguments before the voters only as long as the press lets them.

We couldn’t have put it better.

CRIME AND ABORTION

TWO ACADEMICS caused a big stir a couple of years ago with a study claiming to show that roughly half the large drop in crime during the 1990s was due to legalized abortion. By lowering the number of unwanted children, argued Stanford’s John Donohue and the University of Chicago’s Steven Levitt, Roe v. Wade brought a wave of peace to America’s streets.

Few were happy with the study. Liberals didn’t like it because it suggested a hidden eugenic agenda for supporting abortion. Conservatives didn’t like it because it implied that mass abortion had an upside. But the argument received more headlines than rebuttals.

No longer. A new study by economist Ted Joyce of Baruch College and the National Bureau of Economic Research calls the abortion/crime link into serious doubt. The link is also questioned in a second new study by John Lott of Yale Law School and John Whitley of Australia’s University of Adelaide.

The crucial flaw of Donohue and Levitt’s analysis, says Joyce, is that it doesn’t account for crack cocaine, which seems to explain the big rise in crime starting in the mid ’80s. The drop in crime they credit to abortion probably came from a decline in crack and the violence that went with it.

Donohue and Levitt’s analysis also suffers a more subtle flaw, Joyce says. It assumes that states with high rates of abortion have far fewer unwanted children than states with low abortion rates. But easy access to abortion probably causes people to be less careful with contraceptives and more sexually active. "Take New York," Joyce says. "New York is a very liberal state. We finance abortions for Medicaid-eligible women. We have no parental-consent laws. We have abortion providers all over the place. So abortion may be a more readily available substitute for contraception in a place like New York than it would be in Mississippi."

Donohue and Levitt don’t account for this. When Joyce does—and when he parses the crime statistics to account for crack—what does he find? No link between abortion and crime.