Sunday, November 18, 2007

Take a life to Save a Life?

“Capital punishment may well save lives. Those who object to capital punishment, and who do so in the name of protecting life, must come to terms with the possibility that the failure to inflict capital punishment will fail to protect life.”

So say Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule in their 2005 Stanford Law Review article, as quoted in today's NY Times on the new consensus about the deterrent effect of the death penalty.

I am not comfortable with instrumental arguments in favor of the death penalty, and while several researchers cited say they are against the death penalty but..., others do seem to be making exactly such an argument (eg Sustein and Vermeule). There are a LOT of things we as a society could do to deter crime (public shaming, putting people in stocks, flogging) that we do not do that are far less extreme than execution. Giving a government the power to kill its own citizens is not something I favor no matter how lovely one particular side effect may be.

ps. as an example of why we economists are not really welcome in polite circles, consider Justin Wolfers' answer to the question of whether or not it is conceptually possible to determine if the death penalty has a deterrent effect (Wolfers is skeptical of the existing studies due to limitations of the data):

Professor Wolfers said the answer to the question of whether the death penalty deterred was “not unknowable in the abstract,” given enough data.

“If I was allowed 1,000 executions and 1,000 exonerations, and I was allowed to do it in a random, focused way,” he said, “I could probably give you an answer.”

ummm, ok Justin, thanks. We'll have to get back to you on that. In the meantime, why not write it up as an NSF proposal?

6 comments:

BR said...

In a better system, criminals (aka property rights violators) would be forced to pay FULL reparations for their crime, as well as the FULL costs of prosecution, incarceration, and administration, plus interest. If criminals didn't stamp out enough license plates in a day to cover the cost of food, shelter and lights... This would “right wrongs” and possibly rehabilitate criminals by teaching them respect for property. A murderer would most likely be unable to cover the interest and incarceration costs. These are similar to variable costs in economics. If you can't cover your variable costs, you cut losses (or jugulars in this instance).

Dirty Davey said...

"In a better system, criminals (aka property rights violators) would be forced to pay FULL reparations... (or jugulars...)"

Wow. Here I thought we as a society had moved past things like debt slavery, and this yahoo thinks we should execute those who cannot pay off their debts.

I am ashamed that "BR" is a member of my species.

br said...

Dirty,
If I were in the process of robbing you're house, would you serve me a glass of lemonade? Help me carry your stereo to my car? Put me up in a hotel for the night? Buy me dinner?

"I am ashamed that 'BR' is a member of my species." Lucky for you I'm not a dandelion.

Dirty Davey said...

(1) I would call the police and have you arrested. I would not kill you, and I would not suggest that the death penalty would be an appropriate punishment.

(2) "...robbing you're house..." I would be even more ashamed had I been a teacher responsible for your education.

Angus said...

LOL, you done BR or you want what's left of your lunch eaten up as well??

br said...

I think Dirty makes my point. He would guarantee me a 'free to me' cab ride downtown, a free place to stay for a while, a free meal, time with atleast 3 Juris Drs... All on the taxpayer dime.

Meanwhile, if I'd broken Dirty's stereo for instance. Dirty couldn't even sue me in civil court b/c I'm broke. This isn't justice, but it happens thousands of times a day.

I'll tell Chao Zhang, my ESL teacher, that she should be ashamed about my grammar.