Monday, June 11, 2007

The Death Penalty Saves Lives

A friend sent me this MSNBC story discussing new studies that show the deterrent effect of capital punishment. The studies conclude that as many as 18 murders are deterred for each execution. The basic premise comes straight from economics 101: if something costs more people will do it less.

In his excellent book Freedomnomics, John R. Lott, Jr. argues that the supposed mystery of the crime decrease in the 1990s can be largely attributed to an increased imposition of the death penalty. He also found that capital punishment has a deterrent effect on rape, robbery and aggravated assault as well, since these crimes may lead to the death penalty if the victim dies. Lott adds that increased law enforcement and right-to-carry laws also reduced crime in a statistically meaningful way.

I have always heard the argument, "At least the execution will deter that guy from killing again." This, it now seems, gives far too much credit to the opposition. The simple truth is that capital punishment makes murder a far riskier proposition for criminals, and its increased use would save the lives of potential victims.

3 comments:

Travis said...

I agree with your analysis, Philip, and I am always amazed that many pro-choice folks are also anti-capital punishment.

Mdubarry said...

One thing is for sure: That particular murderer who receives the execution will never kill again. The chances of them ever killing another person is effectively reduced to ZERO.

Philip said...

But that's exactly the point--we don't have to resort to this lesser argument. The death penalty actually deters future murders!

BTW - The author of Freedomnomics, John R. Lott, put my mini-review right on his blog! We had several hits from people coming from his site. I left a comment thanking him for the link, and he thanked me for my kind words about the book! Pretty cool experience!