Sunday, November 18, 2007

Efficiency considerations do not justify judicial murder

I am opposed to capital punishment in all situations. Terrorists who kill civilians make me feel close to ambivalent - if Bin Laden or his associates died I would not mourn - but still, on balance, I don't believe the state should kill people. My belief is moral - it is not based on a cost-benefit analysis of the death costs versus deterrance effects. To the contrary I think that potential killers might be deterred by the prospect of judical killings so that capital punishment is probably efficient even if it isn't just.

This New York Times discussion looks at some recent work on the issue.


Sinclair Davidson said...

Tim and I have a paper that shows Australians become less ambivalent about the death penalty when terrorism is involved. A lay-person description is here. The paper itself needs some polishing before being sent off.

conrad said...

I was under the impression that at least in rich countries, capital punishment makes esssentially no difference to the murder rate (I'd be willing to believe real evidence if newer stuff exists -- but I'm in your boat about whether we want the state to kill people under any circumstances). What's more interesting would be to what extent it works in poor countries like China where it is used for many things, including non-impulsive (or perhaps non-insane when talking about terrorism) crimes.

hc said...

Sounds right Sinclair - its hard to feel sympathy for terrorists.

Conrad the evidence is mixed, Canada vs. US there seems no effect of capital punishment on murder rates but seems to have an effect in Texas.

The NYT article surveys recent findings.

My point was for me that the outcome of this debate does not matter.

Bring Back CL's blog said...

Capital punishment for people who murder in cold blodd for where there is no douby is the ONLY punshment fitting the crime.

please note it is not a deterrent. that is an evil thought. As when the first person commits a same crime you have killed someone for nought.

robert merkel said...

I remain unconvinced, to say the least. Homo Economicus would almost certainly never commit murder, regardless of whether life imprisonment or the death penalty were the likely result.

Furthermore, while they might not be legally insane, I think the record shows that most murderers aren't applying any kind of rational thought process to the decision (as Conrad noted, terrorists, are probably amongst the more rational killers).

Your point about the essential irrelevance of the question is quite correct.

derrida derider said...

I'm with you on this, Harry - it's not so much about what capital punishment does to *them* as what it does to *us*.

BTW I must congratulate you on the post title. It's a very neat and accurate formulation of the argument.