Bill Bennett: A Victim of Idiotic Interpretations

Bill Bennett, former secretary of education and drug czar, now host of the "Morning in America" talk radio show, caused quite a stir and hand-wringing in his response to a caller. The caller hypothesized that had there not been so many abortions in America, Social Security wouldn’t be facing its deficit problems. Why? Because there would be more workers per retiree.

Bennett dismissed what he called "far-reaching, extensive extrapolations," giving the following conditional statement: " . . . I do know that it’s true 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. That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."

So what does that comment make Bennett? Permit me to make some statements of the same genre: If a 100 square-mile meteor strikes the Earth, millions of people will be killed. If a person falls off the Empire State Building, he will die. Here’s another: If a person goes 30 days without water, he will die. All of these statements, as well as that made by Bennett, are what are known as conditional statements. A conditional statement is an "if-then" statement of the form: "if P, then Q." P is the antecedent, the "if" part of the statement, and "Q" is the consequent, the "then" part of the statement. Going back to my first example, "If a 100 square-mile meteor strikes the Earth," is the antecedent; "billions of people will be killed" is the consequent.

To test the truth of a conditional statement, one need only examine the evidence. That is, will going without water for 30 days or falling off the Empire State Building cause death? Is making a conditional statement advocacy? In other words, do you interpret my conditional statements as calling for a 100 square-mile meteor to strike the Earth, or calling for people to fall off the Empire State Building or go 30 days without water? One would have to be an idiot to make such an interpretation.

Let’s examine Bill Bennett’s conditional "if black babies were aborted the crime rate would go down." According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reports for 2003, blacks, who are 13 percent of the population, were 49 percent of murder arrests, 33 percent of arrests for rape, and 54 percent of arrests for robberies. That means Bennett’s statement was true.

One could make another conditional statement: If male babies were aborted, there would be an even larger reduction in crime. While males are slightly less than 50 percent of the population, according to FBI reports, they constitute 90 percent of the arrests for murder, 99 percent of the arrests for rape and 90 percent of the arrests for robberies. What the crime statistics unambiguously demonstrate is that males, as a group, and blacks, as a group, are disproportionately represented in criminal activity. If making the true statement that males are disproportionately represented in criminal activity doesn’t make one a sexist, at least I haven’t heard such an accusation, why then would making the true statement that blacks are disproportionately represented in criminal activity make one a racist as Bennett has been charged?

Actually, there’s little originality behind Bennett’s comment. Economists Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner argue in their best-selling book, "Freakonomics," that the legalization of abortion has reduced crime because babies who have been aborted were more likely to have grown up poor and in single-parent or teenage-parent households and therefore more likely to commit crimes. Their hypothesis has encountered criticism within the profession, but so far, no one has charged them with racism, sexism or making inappropriate comments.