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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Freedom - It's Good for Women, Too!

chris dillow wrote a post endorsing compulsory abortions for young women who cannot prove they have the means, both economically and socially, to bring the children up right. He cited a famous study by Steve Levitt that showed that legalizing abortions in the U.S. in 1970 lead to a sharp decrease in crime in the 1990's. He then quoted a long exert from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty that said, in part, "To undertake this responsibility - to bestow a life which may be either a curse or a blessing - unless the being on whom it is to be bestowed will have at least the ordinary chances of a desirable existence, is a crime against that being." I wrote the following in the comments:

The above said, I still disagree with this post. The quote from Mill is in a sense technically correct - restrictions on reproduction are not violations of individual liberty because there are other individuals directly (the children) and indirectly (the society that must share the earth with the new person) affected.
However, Mill is here forgetting everything else in On Liberty about the benefits of diversity of lifestyles and distributing decision-making to the individuals with most direct knowledge of the particular situation.
Levitt's work makes no argument at all for compulsory abortions. Levitt's work shows that the abortion policy of the U.S. in the 70's and on lead to less crime than the abotion policy of the U.S. prior to the seventies. What was the old policy? Restrictions on abortion by most states. What is the new policy? Individual choice about abortion by the woman having the abortion. Levitt's work shows that when women are given a choice about abortion, they make better choices than when abortion is restricted.
AT MOST, this would support experimenting with compulsory abortions in limited jurisdictions as an emprical study to determin if compulsory abortions produce better outcomes than individual choice. But for someone who regularly complains (usually correctly) about "managerialism" in economic policy to describe a study showing individual choice produces better outcomes than government regulation as "a respectable utilitarian case" for government regulation in the opposite direction is bizzare. Maybe, just maybe, what the study indicates is that the belief that individuals tend, as a general rule, to make better decisions than central planners applies to the social realm as well as the economic.

Update: chris write in comments that he opposes utilitariansim and agrees with me about compulsory abortion. He goes on to state, "If we had a sensible welfare state - a basic income with no extra support for parents - the problem of teen mothers would diminish, as I suspect would the numbers of them." Well, I support a basic income, and the parent thing I will not go into for now, so good for him. Presumably then, his post was meant, in part, to impune utilitarianism. I am not a utilitarian, so that's okay by me, but I think even the utilitarian case for compulsory abortion is weaker than he suggests.

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