Sampson`s Silly Theory On Immigrants And Crime

Ill-informed and innumerate theorizing about crime
trends is a popular pastime among America`s ambitious
academics and pundits. The latest example:

Open Doors Don`t Invite Criminals
, a March 11th
New York Times op-ed by Harvard sociologist

Robert J. Sampson
claiming that massive Hispanic
immigration has reduced America`s crime rate in
recent years.

easy to see why this silly theorizing happens. There are
vast and highly un-PC differences in criminal tendencies
among the different races—for example, African-Americans
wind up in prison an incredible

33 times
more often per capita than

So the Mainstream Media almost
never dole out enough information on

crime trends
to foster understanding.

favorite example up to now: the

popular theory
put forward by celebrity economist
Steven D. Levitt in his massive 2005 bestseller

that the legalization of abortion
from 1970-1973 caused the late-1990s crime drop by pre-natally
culling future criminals.

as I pointed out to Levitt when we debated his theory in in 1999
, he forgot to look at crime rates
by the proper age groups. In reality, the crime decline
began among those born before the legalization of
abortion. Those born in the years after

Roe v. Wade

went on the

worst youth violence binge
in recorded American
history. Murder rates tripled compared to the cohort
born just before legalization. The peak years for murder

other serious violent crimes
committed by youths
under 18 were 1993 and 1994—more than two decades
after Roe.

Additionally, the Freakonomics Factor should have driven
the murder rate down fastest among black youth, because
according to

Levitt and his co-author John J. Donohue
in 2001:

"Fertility declines for
black women

[due to the legalization of abortion] are three times
greater than for whites (12 percent compared to 4
percent). Given that homicide rates of black youths are
roughly nine times higher than those of white youths,
racial differences in the fertility effects of abortion
are likely to translate into greater homicide

instead, the

black male age 14-17 homicide rate
was more than 4
times higher among the first cohort born after Roe.
Not surprisingly, last year, two economists at the
Boston Fed,

Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz
, redid
Levitt`s complex state-by-state statistical analysis and
found that he had made two fatal errors. When corrected,
his abortion effect vanished.

Another example of silly theorizing: In his bestseller

The Tipping Point
, Malcolm Gladwell offered his
theory of why

New York City crime
had declined in the 1990s, based
on his insight into the marketing concept of tipping

see, and follow me closely here, rising trends, such as
crime rates or sneaker sales, tend to go up until
they reach a "tipping point," and then they go
. Or vice-versa. Or sometimes they reach a
tipping point and then they go up even faster. Or down
even faster. It`s hard to predict.

that explanation of tipping points isn`t totally clear,
you can

pay Gladwell $40,000
to come out and explain it at
your annual sales conference. (Gladwell
and Levitt`s co-author

Stephen J. Dubner
are currently debating each other
on their respective blogs. For once, the normally
lucratively vague Gladwell may have more specifics on
his side.)

along comes Robert J. Sampson`s theory in the NYT:

[E]vidence points to increased immigration as a major factor
associated with the lower crime rate of the 1990`s (and
its recent leveling off)."

Levitt`s abortion theory look like Einstein`s General
Theory of Relativity. I mean, Levitt`s theory at least
sounds semi-plausible, if you don`t actually know the
historical facts. But Sampson`s is self-evident
flapdoodle. It has to be one of the sillier theories
ever seen in the New York Times—and that`s saying

a lot!

the headline is hilariously self-refuting: "Open
Doors Don`t Invite Criminals.

actually, they do.

NYT editors should try an experiment—leave the

to their


open and

see what happens.

do we see such knuckleheaded arguments in favor of
immigration in the prestige press? Because incisive
thinking about the subject has been ruled off-limits. If
you criticized this op-ed by pointing out that the
Hispanic imprisonment rate is

2.9 times the white rate
, as reported in The
Color of Crime 2005
, recently published by

Jared Taylor`s
New Century Foundation, then you are
an evil racist and nobody should listen to you. The
Establishment`s most effective ploy in eliminating

debate over immigration
has been to insinuate that

only shallow (or sick) people think deeply

Sampson presents the following graph to show that
immigration flows were negatively correlated with
homicides in the 1990s.


  • First, even if all immigrants were utterly
    law-abiding, only the homicide rate would fall—not the total number
    of homicides, as shown on this graph.

  • Second, immigration wasn`t sizable enough to
    even theoretically account for much of the decline
    in the crime rate. According to Sampson, net
    immigration per year was running at about a half
    percent of the American population in the mid 1990s.
    So, if every single immigrant were a crime-free
    saint, then the homicide rate would fall a half
    percent per year. But the total number of homicides
    was falling more than an order of magnitude faster.
    (In fact, of course, immigrants aren`t all saints,
    as the vicious Salvadoran

    Mara Salvatrucha
    gang shows.)

  • Third, Sampson`s contention that the slight
    decline in the rate of immigration in this decade
    has contributed to the rise in homicides is even
    more irrational. He`s confusing the rate of new immigrants entering the
    country with the stock of immigrants already in
    the country, which is the only number that might even
    theoretically impact the murder rate. Sampson`s theory
    would only work if every time a new immigrant

    disembarks from his plane at JFK airport,
    in America a murderer stays his hand.

That`s just magical thinking,


further confuse his readers, Sampson then offers his
"Hispanic Paradox:"

"Hispanic Americans do
better on a range of various social indicators—including

propensity to violence
—than one would expect given
their socioeconomic disadvantages."

may or may not be true. But the bottom line is that

Hispanic socioeconomic disadvantages
are so

—for example,

Robert J. Samuelson
wrote in an excellent

Washington Post op-ed

last week: "The

median net worth
of Hispanic households is about 9
percent of that of non-Hispanic whites"
—that the
Latino imprisonment rate is 2.9 times the white average.

Sampson`s logic is similar to saying, "Adjusted for

Congo Pygmies
are better
basketball players
than North Carolinians."

Well, that`s … interesting, but

college basketball coaches
would still be better off
recruiting in the Tidewater than in the

Mbuti rainforest

it`s mathematically possible that an influx of Mexicans,
with their high crime rates, can marginally lower the
overall crime rate in a city, such as New York, by
"economically cleansing"
blacks, with their

extremely high crime
. If blacks flee New York because

Mexicans are taking their jobs
and causing rents to
go up, that could make the New York crime rate go down.

course, on the national level, Mexican immigration just
raises the crime rate because African-Americans have to

somewhere else
in our country. (But you can see why

driving blacks from New York to other
cities would appeal to the self-interest of the

editors of the New York Times.

Sampson does tell us one useful thing: all else being
equal, propensity toward violence increases as
immigrants assimilate:

"Indeed, the
first-generation immigrants (those born outside the
United States) in our study were 45 percent less likely
to commit violence than were third-generation Americans,
adjusting for family and neighborhood background.

Second-generation immigrants
were 22 percent less
likely to commit violence than the third generation."

other words, Hispanic immigrants

tend to assimilate

African-American norms of violence
unless they soar
upwards economically and educationally. Many do. But
many don`t.

isn`t surprising. New immigrants often arrive too old to
join youth gangs and they are scared of deportation. But
their American-born sons grow up on the streets feeling
much more confident, and much more territorial about
their native neighborhoods. The gangs, like the

18th Street Gang
in LA, get the American-born ones
young. As "Color
of Crime 2005
reports, "Hispanics are 19
times more likely than whites to be members of youth

by importing vast numbers of Hispanic immigrants now,
according to Sampson`s data, we`re just making an
unholy mess for ourselves
in the future.

Finally, Sampson [send him

] is wrong about Hispanic immigrants being
the cause of lower violent crime rates because we
which ethnic group contributed primarily to the
recent decline in homicides—and it wasn`t Latinos.

it was the same group that also contributed the most to
the previous rapid rise in murders from 1984 to
1991: African-Americans. They commit a little over half
the murders in America.

Here`s a graph of the homicide offending rates from the

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Please note that in order to minimize public
awareness of Hispanic
the federal government, which is

otherwise so careful
to break Hispanics out
separately in its statistics, counts all Hispanic
murderers as "Whites." So we can`t learn anything
from federal statistics about Hispanic murder rates. All
we know is that the actual non-Hispanic white rate is
even lower than shown in the graph. (Ask
the federal government why it does this.)

What you can see is that the black murder rate
rises and falls much faster than the white/Hispanic
rate. This is probably due to convulsions in the drug
markets. The worst year of the powder cocaine dealers`
wars was 1980. It was followed by a sharp decline in the
black murder rate that reversed when the

crack cocaine
wars began. They peaked in 1990-1994
and then were followed by a sizable decline, which,
unfortunately, has bottomed out in this decade.

In terms of number of murders, the low in recent
decades was 1984, at 20,337 homicides across all races.
From 1984 up through the

peak year for murders
in 1991 (at 28,268), blacks
accounted for 84 percent of the rise in homicides

Then, from 1991 until the low year in 1999 (at 17,402
murders), blacks, who make up only 13 percent of the
population, contributed 65 percent of the decline in

So, what did actually cause violent crime to
drop—especially in New York City?

An overlooked explanation was brought up by Newhouse
News reporter

Jonathan Tilove
recently: there are today in New
York City, 36 percent more black women alive than black
men. Nationally, there are now 26 percent more black
women than men. In contrast, among the total population,
there are just 8 percent more women than men alive.

Tilove wrote:

"In the March/April issue

Health Affairs,

Dr. David Satcher, surgeon general under former
President Bill Clinton, … exposes the core of the
problem: Between 1960 and 2000, the disparity between
mortality rates for black and white women narrowed while
the disparity between the rates for black and white men
grew wider. Exponentially higher homicide and AIDS rates
play their part, especially among younger black men." [
have all the black men gone?
  May 08, 2005]

Obviously, this gigantic black male shortage in NYC
wasn`t caused by abortion or by immigration—there was
virtually no

sex selective abortion
at the time. No, it was
mostly caused by an enormous increase in imprisonment
by the most dangerous black men murdering

each other
in large quantities in the late 1980s and
early 1990s. (AIDS played a role too in killing off drug

Freakonomics` Levitt has never written, as far
as I know, about the impact of these

"selective post-natal abortions,"
as it were, on
the crime rate. But it`s clearly a substantial factor in
a number of big cities that were hit hard by crack.


as I pointed out
to Levitt in 1999—and as his

deservedly famous
chapter in Freakonomics on
how dealing crack pays so badly confirmed—a lot of the
next cohort of urban youths, those born more than a half
decade after abortion was legalized in their state,
figured out that

dealing crack
was a stupid career choice. Seeing how
their older brothers and cousins wind up in


, and cemeteries, they became less likely
to commit murder.

Participating in the crack wars turned out to be, for
the vast majority of the gangstas, extremely bad life
choices. It`s hardly surprising that the later cohort,
born in the early 1980s, did a better job of figuring
this out.

So, the good news is that poor teens in the ghetto
can eventually figure out the difference between smart
and stupid.

The bad news, as exemplified by Professor Sampson`s
op-ed, is that the Harvard faculty and the New York

[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic

The American Conservative
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