The Unsinkable John Lott vs. “Freaky” Economics

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The world of economics is predictably unpredictable; we know that markets will ebb and flow, but not when or often why. So too it goes with John Lott, the undefatigable conservative economist who is guaranteed to pop up in some new controversy of his own creation every so often. What keeps him going—and why places like AEI embrace him—remains a mystery. Lott is most infamous for his claims that crime rates are inversely proportional to rates of gun ownership; or as his book title put it, More Guns, Less Crime. Small problem: His research is far from bulletproof, and he’s been repeatedly exposed and denounced for what could be charitably called sloppy research. In his defense, Lott has blamed “coding errors,” claimed that some of his data have been destroyed, and in his finest moment, created a fictitious online identity to take on his critics. But none of this has slowed him down. For a good rundown of Lott’s sins, see Chris Mooney’s 2003 piece on our website, which shot some more holes into his work. More recently, Lott sued the Freakonomics guys for defamation after they wrote that he had “falsified his results.” A judge threw part of his case out. Now Lott’s firing back with a new book, Freedomnomics, a defense of the free market against “freaky theories,” printed by renowned academic publisher Regnery. Fact checkers, statisticians, and economists, start your BS detectors…

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

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