Man Without Qualities

Monday, August 04, 2003

Steven Levitt

Steven Levitt is a 36-year old University of Chicago economist who has done path breaking work arguing that as much as 50 percent of the huge drop in crime since the early 1990's can be traced to Roe v. Wade (with John Donohue of Stanford Law School) and that more police do translate into less crime, and devising a set of algorithms that identify teachers who cheat in classroom testing (and identifying good teachers). His coming ''Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990's: Four Factors That Explain the Decline and Seven That Do Not" argues that the entire drop in crime was due to more police officers, more prisoners, the waning crack epidemic and Roe v. Wade - but not the innovative policing strategy trumpeted in New York by Rudolph Giuliani and William Bratton.

He has won the John Bates Clark Medal, given biennially to the country's best economist under 40. Perhaps the American Economic Association is trying to make up for previously giving that Medal to the embarrassingly bad economist and current Princeton Professor Paul Krugman.

The New York Times carries a surprisingly good article about Professor Levitt - who, not surprisingly, is linked to fellow University of Chicago Professor and Nobel winner, Gary Becker.

The New York Times has recently shown an interest in a broader range of Op-Ed columnists. If the paper really wants some quality, Mr. Keller should sign up Steven Levitt for periodic contributions. A twice-a-week stint is out of the question. No serious economist would be able to carry that constant load well without devolving into a Krugmanesque caricature. But twice monthly (maybe even once a week) might be nice. Becker did it.

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