Man Without Qualities

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Another Roe Effect

One of the more controversial - one might say incendiary - propositions advanced by a noted economist recently is surely the proposition that Roe v. Wade has reduced the national crime rate substantially - simply by resulting in the abortion of a lot of fetuses that would otherwise grow up to be criminals.

Posited Roe effects don't end with the crime rate. James Taranto and others have advanced plausible arguments that Roe effects are causing the country to become more conservative (liberal fetuses go first) and may have undercut Howard Dean (not enough angry young leftists left now). Roe effects might also move the country away from support of abortion rights (pro-choice fetuses go first). Of course, some have noted that a disproportionate number of racial minority fetuses are aborted - raising the possibility of Roe effects on racial population mix.

The Man Without Qualities thinks that some Roe effects will turn out to be very important. Indeed, the significance of Roe effects that depend on the assumption that children's behavior strongly reflects family behavior and attitudes is consistent with the proposition that the most important wealth passed from generation to generation takes the form of attitudes and education and values, not money or goods or securities or property. This observation, of course, was advanced by Wally Blum in Uneasy Case for Progressive Taxation (despite the title, actually the most important set of arguments against progressive and inheritance taxation yet made). So one senses that Roe effects have even deeper and broader significance than yet understood.

But I think it is worth noting that some Roe effects cut against conservatives, as was recently driven home to me by two decisions made by two very different sets of friends. Both friends are married couples, both wives over forty. One is strongly pro-choice, one is strongly pro-life. Both dearly wanted another baby. Both couples were strongly averse to having a Downs child or other genetically defective child.

The pro-choice couple went ahead and conceived on the theory that they would have the fetus tested. If it showed obvious genetic defects, they would have it aborted. The child tested "normal" and was allowed to be born.

The pro-life couple did not conceive because they deemed the risk of creating a genetically defective child too great. Abortion was, as noted, not an option. The only option was not to conceive - so that's what they did.

The net effect of these two couples' decision processes is the existence of one more child in a liberal, pro-choice household. That's exactly opposite the consequences of the typical Roe effect.

I do not suggest that the contra-Roe effect example described above overwhelms the more often observed Roe effects. But the example above does show that Roe effects aren't completely partisan.

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