January 08, 2004

A Well Deserved Prize

Steve Levitt wins the John Bates Clark medal. A very well-deserved award. The Economist writes about it:

Economist.com | Economics focus: If you browse through the working papers circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research (at www.nber.org) you will find that in 2003 alone Mr Levitt wrote or co-wrote seven. His topics included the effect of school choice on educational results; the causes and consequences of distinctively black names; the effect of legalised abortion on crime; how to test theories of discrimination using evidence from the television programme, "The Weakest Link"; the gap in test results between blacks and whites in the first two years of schooling; gambling and the National Football League; and teachers who cheat in appraisals of their students' performance. Among the work he has published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals are a series of papers on crime and punishment, drug-gang finance, penalty kicks in soccer, money and elections, drunken driving, and the effect of ideology as opposed to voter preferences on the policies supported by politicians. In 2002 the impeccably sober American Economic Review published a paper co-written by Mr Levitt on corruption and sumo wrestling. You get the idea....

Imaginative prospecting for data, together with great ingenuity in drawing warranted inferences from them--the Levitt hallmarks--can reveal far more than you might suppose. Mr Levitt's research on crime has earned him occasional spells of petty notoriety in the wider world.... Mr Levitt, along with co-author John Donahue, boldly surmised that legalised abortion might have reduced the number of unwanted children born to parents likely to raise criminal offspring. The evidence, as it turned out, strongly supported that guess. The states that first allowed legal abortion in 1970 (three years before Roe v Wade) were the first to experience the subsequent downturn in crime; states with high abortion rates experienced bigger reductions.... The authors reckon that legalised abortion may account for half of the fall in crime of the 1990s.

Mr Levitt has also ruffled some feathers with his work on imprisonment. A chief finding is that prison works... a big challenge in this area of research was to deal with a classic instance of the so-called simultaneity problem: incarceration rates affect crime rates, but the converse is also true. Disentangling the two relationships is impossible [without] a third variable with the right statistical properties... Mr Levitt used prison-overcrowding litigation--an improbable but statistically effective instrument--to do the job... reducing the prison population by one... increases the number of crimes committed by 15 a year.... Despite such provocative and uncomfortable findings, few if any of Mr Levitt's peers will deny he deserves the Clark medal. That may say as much as the award itself.

Indeed, the only people I know of who are seriously down on Steve Levitt are... John Lott and Glenn Reynolds.

Posted by DeLong at January 8, 2004 07:36 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Easily explained.

Reynolds: He doesn't understand empirical results that do accord to his priors.
Lott: He doesn't understand instrumental variables.

Posted by: SavageView on January 8, 2004 08:49 PM

____

I believe Mary Rosh and "Washingtonian" also have problems with the choice of Steve Levitt.

Posted by: space on January 8, 2004 09:54 PM

____

Steve Levitt's great and all, but... well... why are you posting about this now? I don't have anything against it, but I'm a tad baffled.

Posted by: Julian Elson on January 8, 2004 10:28 PM

____

If Steve Levitt is indeed awarded a prize, his views and findings would become more widely known and discussed -- and I think that would be good for the country at this point in time. I don't know Steve Levitt, but Brad's introduction tells me enough to favor that S Levitt gets more exposure.

Posted by: bulent on January 9, 2004 12:06 AM

____

Not just Reynolds and Lott. If you click on my name you can read comments by ThinkTank, who believes that the Olin foundation is setting up Levitt to replace Lott as their main guy now that Lott has been discredited.

Posted by: Tim Lambert on January 9, 2004 05:26 AM

____

Not just Reynolds and Lott. If you click on my name you can read comments by ThinkTank, who believes that the Olin foundation is setting up Levitt to replace Lott as their main guy now that Lott has been discredited.

Posted by: Tim Lambert on January 9, 2004 05:29 AM

____

Of course, the news is old but The Economist is just getting to it. There's a nice writeup on the
Clark award and Levitt at
www.economicprincipals.com for May 3, 2003.
By the way, Levitt's writing an intermediate theory text which should raise his profile a bit.

Posted by: malcolm on January 9, 2004 06:00 AM

____

malcolm said "Levitt's writing an intermediate theory text which should raise his profile a bit"
And get an anonymous one-star review or two.

Posted by: Tim Lambert on January 9, 2004 06:54 AM

____

The prize was actually awarded in San Diego last weekend.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 9, 2004 06:56 AM

____

I did say a bit...if the book gets used, he'll
be better known to the subset of text readers
who know the name of their books author. (How many Delong readers Know they arte reading Delong?)On the
Clark presentation in San Diego: it's like the Nobel announcement versus the Nobel pressentation.
The news coverage comes with the announcement.Who would watch the Oscars, for example, if the winners were announced 6 months earlier?

Posted by: malcolm on January 9, 2004 09:01 AM

____

"The prize was actually awarded in San Diego last weekend.."

How cum the earth was not shaken then?

Maybe Levitt kind of work should be encouraged via state-wide prizes or big city prizes? Like "New York City Post-Industrial Economics Award"? "City of Los Angeles Knowledge Society Economics Award"?

Posted by: bulent on January 9, 2004 09:31 AM

____

I can say, in at least the disciplines of computer science and law, students know who they're reading.

Posted by: BSD on January 9, 2004 12:44 PM

____

bulent:

Maybe it's the "Most of the Winners Come from the University of Chicago?" award? I don't know. You guys are the experts.

Well, congratulations to the winner. He must be very good at finding and mining out the data to get such award winning results.

That is the very first I have heard the theory that the drop in crime is from the extremely positive social value in certain people getting an abortion. I have heard other theories, but I guess it's never too late to be enlightened.

Posted by: northernLights on January 10, 2004 10:28 PM

____

"You guys are the experts."

Not me, I do the lone wolf act.

"...drop in crime is from the extremely positive social value in certain people getting an abortion..."

Chuckle chuckle

You are pretty good at spotting "local optima" not necessarily being "global optima".

Posted by: bulent on January 11, 2004 08:18 AM

____

bulent:

Not sure what you mean about "optima".

Anyway, I wrote that as the chicken's way of saying that I agreed with John Lott and Glenn Reynolds on this one.

What's this guy's next research going to be? Maybe he will shift over to the other end of the income spectrum and give us some more award winning research like "People who live in gated communities have less crime." Or how about "Kids whose parents own Lear Jets have higher SAT scores."

It seemed like he took social problems that everyone is aware of and assigned numbers to them. And while that may be useful to know, it's not something that I see as award winning material. There is a real overtone of negative social engineering in this type of research that focuses totally on the problem and not on prevention of the problem, and I would even go so far as to say it has some Nazi-like undertones that reflects very badly on the economics profession as a whole.

Posted by: northernLights on January 11, 2004 05:19 PM

____

"...There is a real overtone of negative social engineering in this type of research that

"focuses totally on the problem (BINGO: local optima)"

and not on

"prevention of the problem (BINGO:global optima)...,"

For example (and also), he puts forth that abortion in certain demographic group reduces crime (HOW) but he ignores how come offspring in that group tends to commit crimes and how come females in that group end up with abortion (WHY, sort of).

At the same time:

" It seemed like he took social problems that everyone is aware of ..."

...aware of, but sort of overlooked. But once you assign numbers to them, it is more difficult to overlook, because somebody can always say "such and such percent of .... this many million Americans...."

So, what this feller did is not Einstein work, but useful, and should be encouraged.

Methinks.

Posted by: bulent on January 11, 2004 09:05 PM

____

"...it has some Nazi-like undertones that reflects very badly on the economics profession as a whole...."

You mean for example his research might imply that females in certain demographic groups should be encouraged to have abortions? Like they had plans to sterilize the mentally retarded in Sweden around 1930s? Well, he also did research implying that prison population density / overcrowding should be reduced.

So I think Nazi-like undertones accusation should be made on a case by case basis.

Posted by: bulent on January 11, 2004 09:14 PM

____

Post a comment
















__