Bestselling Wonks Square Off
By Telis Demos FORTUNE Reporter

(FORTUNE Magazine) - Last year Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, blurbed economist Steven Levitt and co-writer Stephen Dubner's Freakonomics. Then the newbie blogger got one too many questions about whether Levitt's theory--that a rise in abortions led to the '90s crime drop--undercut Gladwell's "broken windows" theory from The Tipping Point: that careful police work was the answer. In early March a cyber-spat was born.

GLADWELL March 9: Gladwell's bile-infused invective hits his blog. "Levitt pretends he has refuted the Broken Windows explanation. He hasn't at all. In fact, to the extent that he concedes the huge role played by the expansion of police departments ... he tacitly supports the ... theory."

LEVITT March 9: It's on now! Levitt and Dubner respond. "As usual, Malcolm's writing is well considered and entertaining. One thing to consider, however: The theory put forth in Freakonomics examined why crime had fallen all over the country, not just in New York...."

GLADWELL March 11: Oh, snap! "Fair enough. But that still doesn't solve the puzzle that is New York City.... Something else clearly happened ... to cause crime to drop much further and much faster.... Freakonomics doesn't have an answer. I do: I say it's Broken Windows."

LEVITT March 16: Can't we all just get along? "[A] lot of the discussion about Freakonomics implies that legalized abortion alone has been responsible for the drop in crime, and that all other explanations are baloney. This, however, is not remotely the argument that our book puts forth." Top of page