Bill Bennett On Black Babies

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Dumb Things Said By Smart People

Media Matters For America captured a conversation Bill Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues, had on his show Bill Bennett’s Morning in America. The program is said to reach an estimated 1.25 million listeners each week.

Are you ready?

Okay, here we go…

BENNETT: you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well –

CALLER: Well, I don’t think that statistic is accurate.

BENNETT: Well, I don’t think it is either, I don’t think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don’t know. But 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.

Tricky indeed.

Now let me break this down for you.

First, Bennett says he doesn’t agree that there’s a correlation between higher abortion rates and lower crime rates. Remember, he said “I don’t think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don’t know.” But what this sage of “virtues” DOES know to be true is “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.”

Excuse me…am I missing something?

Remember, the hypothesis in the book Freakonomics says that the lowered crime rates appear to have a strong correlation with higher abortion rates. And that’s higher abortion rates among ALL people. The authors don’t draw any correlations to race.

Of course, this doesn’t stop Bennett. See, he’s actually correlating high crime rates with being a member of a race, instead of correlating it to economic factors that actually fuel crime.

Personally, I think Bennett just got his hand caught in the racism jar, and it’s going to be hard to get it out without some serious backpedaling and apologizing. And even then, I hope this sticks with him for a long time to come because the type of mindset it takes to simply draw a very generalized conclusion like this and immediately propose it as truth deserves to be shunned.


This entry was posted on Thursday, September 29th, 2005 and is filed under Dumb Things Said By Smart People. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

24 Responses to “Bill Bennett On Black Babies”

  1. DeanT Says:

    Since the Asian-American crime rate is lower than the white crime rate, he could have said aborting both black and white (and all non-asian) babies would reduce the crime rate.

    Justin, why do you think it is wrong to correlate high crime rates with race? Economic factors are not the only factors that affect crime rates, or how do you explain the Asian-American crime rate being lower than the crime rate for whites?

    I think it is obvious that culture affects crime rates, and so we should allow people, even Bill Bennet, to talk about it.

  2. Kelly Says:

    And your must-not-be-questioned Truth that crime is “actually” fueled by economic factors and no others comes from where, again?

  3. kreiz Says:

    I glanced at “Freakonomics” on amazon- it appears that its analysis is that there’s a correlation. Are the “Freak” authors racist for reaching this conclusion?

  4. ford4x4 Says:

    So in today’s PC world…
    Using statistics in support of an argument is racism.

    Statistically speaking, if you are black, you have a higher chance of being poor. If you’re poor, you are more likely to resort to crime.
    Am I now a racist?

  5. Justin Gardner Says:

    First off, my biggest problem lies in the Bennett’s contradiction. He doesn’t believe Levitt’s theory in one case, but does when race is involved. Massive contradiction with racist overtones.

    Justin, why do you think it is wrong to correlate high crime rates with race? Economic factors are not the only factors that affect crime rates, or how do you explain the Asian-American crime rate being lower than the crime rate for whites?

    In short, yes I do think it’s wrong and misguided because there’s no way to fix “a race.” And I believe that if you look at Asian-American income, they have a higher per capita income than blacks and, on average, a higher education level than both blacks and whites, so they enjoy a much better “minority” status. They’re also a much, much smaller minority than blacks.

    However, if you were to go to China or Japan and look at what economic group the criminals come from, guess what you’d find. It wouldn’t be blacks. See what I’m saying here? It’s not race.

    And your must-not-be-questioned Truth that crime is “actually� fueled by economic factors and no others comes from where, again?

    Excuse me, did I say “no others”? No, I didn’t. But economic disparities are the main indicators when looking at violent crime rates. So for Bennett to poo-poo abortion rates among ALL people in one breath and then specifically mention black abortion rates is unfathomable.

    And kreiz, this is Freakonomics take on the crime rates, one that Bennett doesn’t agree with.

    Levitt traces the drop in violent crime rates to a drop in violent criminals and, digging further, to the Roe v. Wade decision that preempted the existence of some people who would be born to poverty and hardship.

    So exactly how is that not tied to economic factors? As my post clearly demonstrated, I think Bennett takes a leap that is both contradictory and racist.

    And by the way, I think the Freakonomics theory is novel, but probably not accurate in the long run. But the ties between economic desperation and higher crime rates are demonstratable time and time and time again.

    I’m sure I’ll have much more on this later.

  6. kreiz Says:

    Thanks, Justin. I’ll have to read “Freakonomics”.

  7. Justin Gardner Says:

    Statistically speaking, if you are black, you have a higher chance of being poor. If you’re poor, you are more likely to resort to crime.
    Am I now a racist?

    Absolutely not ford 4×4, but before you accuse me of being the PC police, appreciate what Bennett actually said.

    1) Bennett said he doesn’t believe abortion rates have a correlation to crime rates.
    2) Bennett said he does believe it’s TRUE that aborting all black babies would make crime rates drop.

    So what changed between the first statement and the second? Race. That’s it.

    And sure, blacks are more likely to be poor, but that’s a societal issue in our country, not a matter of race. Blacks are not, as a race, more likely to committ crime. You take an impoverished baby and place him/her in the privileged circumstances, they will flourish. It’s been shown time and time again, regardless of race. Again, it’s economics people, not race.

    And not to put too fine a point on it, but Bennett’s comments betray that he believes blacks are criminals from birth. Seriously. I didn’t believe it either, but there it is in real audio. He wasn’t misquoted.

    Is that honestly a position any of you are willing to defend?

  8. kreiz Says:

    I’m missing your point, Justin, and want you to clarify. You appear to be arguing that criminal behavior results from learned influences rather than inate ones. But what difference does this make in terms of the purported correlation between abortion and crime?

    What am I missing?

  9. kreiz Says:

    Statistically, is a black child more likely to be born into poverty? If so, why is the nature/nurture distinction material?

  10. rufel Says:

    I get what Justin is getting at: “a black child more likely to be born into poverty” is a statement of his/her socioeconomic environment (i.e., “nurture”) rather than his biologic DNA that gives him curly hair and dark skin (i.e., “nature”).

    The identity of “black” with “poverty” is purely societal, seemingly made permanent by decades of artificial, socio-economic unjustices that many people — of all races and socio-economic classes — have now accepted as “natural.”

    Yes, statistically, a black child is more likely to be born ito poverty, but the circumstances of that poverty is beyond his/her control, a consequence of a long chain of societal injustices committed against and was perhaps accepted by his/her family before he/she was even born. A child born into those circumstances therefore *learns* to accept those circumstances as “the way things just are,” thereby perpetuating the cycle of poverty and all of the awful effects thereof in his/her life and his/her children’s life, ad nauseum.

    The key is to break this cycle, by teaching this child that the cycle is *unnatural* — i,.e., artificial, and that he/she has the power not to accept it. That’s where the “nurture” comes in.

  11. rufel Says:

    The key is not, as Bennett suggested, aborting every black child because he/she will just end up becoming a criminal anyways when he/she grows up. He discounts the societal influences that would allow such a change to happen,

  12. Lonely Federalist Says:

    Absolutely not ford 4×4, but before you accuse me of being the PC police, appreciate what Bennett actually said.

    1) Bennett said he doesn’t believe abortion rates have a correlation to crime rates.
    2) Bennett said he does believe it’s TRUE that aborting all black babies would make crime rates drop.

    So what changed between the first statement and the second? Race. That’s it.

    Don’t have the facts at my fingertips (well, being at my browser, I actually do, but I’m at work and don’t have the time), but what is the segment (read: race) of American society that is most likely to have a child out-of-wedlock, raise them lacking a father in the home, and do so in an economically-depressed area, most likely with poor schools?

    I think even Bill Cosby knows the answer to that one, that racist.

    I’m not a fan of Bill Bennett…but no, I don’t think Bill Bennett is a racist. He just said something that could be construed that way without qualification and some clever parsing. When you live in the public and speak for a living, you’re bound to do that ever now and then. And when you assume the mantle of Guardian of Virtue, you more than set yourself up for it.

  13. Lonely Federalist Says:

    Apparently I am tag-impaired.

    Absolutely not ford 4×4, but before you accuse me of being the PC police, appreciate what Bennett actually said.

    1) Bennett said he doesn’t believe abortion rates have a correlation to crime rates.
    2) Bennett said he does believe it’s TRUE that aborting all black babies would make crime rates drop.

    So what changed between the first statement and the second? Race. That’s it.

  14. kreiz Says:

    Rufel: I understand everything you’ve said and I agree- black babies aren’t born criminals- that’s ludicrous. Bennett says “it’s TRUE that aborting all black babies would make crime rates drop” (Justin’s paraphrase above). As a matter of logical reasoning (not of politics, culture, government policy, etc), what difference does causation make in terms of this statement? I recognize that I’m being a pedantic here- that I’m addressing logic as opposed to many important societal/political/ethical issues. But couldn’t Bennett’s statement be logically true even if he conceded that causation was Nurture and not Nurture? It’s a minor point really.

  15. kreiz Says:

    That last statement should’ve been “causation was Nurture, not Nature?” Gesh.

  16. kreiz Says:

    That being said, Bennett’s stupid, hurtful and ridiculous for making the statement. Memo to Bill: if you want to avoid derision- you might want to shy away from making statements about aborting whole classes or groups of people.

  17. Justin Gardner Says:

    But couldn’t Bennett’s statement be logically true even if he conceded that causation was Nurture and not Nurture?

    If we’re playing logic games, then Bennett is still wrong because he first says he disagrees with the Freakonomics hypothesis of “more abortion=less crime” and then says “more black abortion=less crime” a truth.

    Well, how could “more abortion=less crime” not be true, but “more black abortion= less crime”?Because remember, “more black abortion” is a subset of “more abortion”. See the inherent contradition there? It’s pretty strikingly racist if you ask me.

    And by the way, rufel’s argument nails the socio-economic side to the situation and how too many people view blacks as “naturally” impoverished people, when there’s is a case of circumstances, not DNA.

    And to the Lonely Federalist, do you want me to change your comment so it works? I’m more than willing to do that, but have been chided recently for doing it to another comment. Your call.

  18. Justin Gardner Says:

    By the way, this is what Steven Levitt said about this story in response to hearing about Bennett’s remarks

    7) There is one thing I would take Bennett to task for: first saying that he doesn’t believe our abortion-crime hypothesis but then revealing that he does believe it with his comments about black babies. You can’t have it both ways.

    I hope this puts this issue to rest. Levitt is very deferential to Bennett, excusing his remarks even though Bennett continues to defend himself.

  19. Lonely Federalist Says:

    And to the Lonely Federalist, do you want me to change your comment so it works? I’m more than willing to do that, but have been chided recently for doing it to another comment. Your call.

    Yes, please. =)

  20. kreiz Says:

    This discussion reminds me of the 1994 charges against Charles Murray’s “The Bell Curve”. What’s troubling to me is that we haven’t found a way to say Murray or Bennett are wrong without labeling them racists or nazis. We’ve all heard troubling public policy statistics like “1 in 3 African American men will go through the US penal system” or “2 out of every 3 black babies are born out of wedlock”. For most of us, rather than cite such stats, we shy away from them lest we be called a racist. I don’t see how this helps move or shape competent public policy. Are those statistics changing because we don’t discuss them? (As an aside, I agree with Levitt that “it would also be true that if we aborted every white, Asian, male, Republican, and Democratic baby in that world, crime would also fall. So Bennett’s wrong and oversimplistic- not necessarily a racist.)

  21. Justin Gardner Says:

    What’s troubling to me is that we haven’t found a way to say Murray or Bennett are wrong without labeling them racists or nazis.

    Well, I don’t think either are nazis, but if they believe that certain behavioral traits are naturally inherent to certain races, the spectre of eugenics haunts the proceedings. At that point it’s up to them to provide proof, instead of anecdotal evidence. So far I haven’t see any. This isn’t about being PC. It’s about being fair to an entire minority and not assigning them traits like “inherently stupid and criminal.”

    You’ll get no arguments from me that blacks are the most impoverished minority, have the lowest test scores and have a higher per capita arrest rate then any other race in this country. But then taking the leap and saying these things are inherent from birth is not a valid argument. What is valid is to then look at the societal factors and see how we can make changes to change the NUTURE part of the equation.

    In any event, get ready for another post on this about reactions around the blogosphere.

  22. Donklephant » Blog Archive » Bennett’s Black Babies Theory Blows Up The Blogosphere Says:

    [...] I blogged about the Bennett’s Black Babies Theory story yesterday. At that time I pointed out the inherent contradiction in Bennett’s logic, something that a former Secretary of EDUCATION should patently see. [...]

  23. beanhead Says:

    Pig pile on Bennett!!

    It’s no small wonder that the political left is in such a disarray. Spending so much time fretting over such petty non-issues is a hallmark of a party in obvious decline.

    If the Democratic Party spent just a quarter of the time trying to do things right, as they do trumpeting what the Conservatives are doing wrong, they might stand a chance at winning an election here and there.

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