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June 11, 2007


Won Joon Choe

An excellent piece, Abiola.

It is rather evident--or should I say "self-evident"?--that not all murder emerge out of the "heat of passion" or other irrational states. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the majority of murderers perform at least a partial cost-benefit analysis.

I wonder, however, if a more powerful variable in deterring would-be-murderers is the likelihood of getting caught, rather than the likelihood of facing the firing squad. Of course, this would be harder to calculate with any sort of precision--even by the rather lax standards of the social sciences.

In any case, even on those rare times I disagree with you (which is not the case here, by the way), I can seldom fault you for fabricating or misrepresenting data or for employing logically incoherent arguments. I cannot say the same for many "liberal" intellectuals on law and order issues.


I think you're too uncharitable to the motivation for using non-deterrence arguments. The strategy is about trying to meet your opponents on their own ground, and show them that even if we were to concede many of the bigger philosophical issues, the opponent's arguments fail on their own terms. People are not in fact completely rational, and the deeper your philosophical challenge goes the less likely they are to give it a fair hearing.

Also, there are some of us for whom a belief in the lack of deterrent effect is actually a major factor in our opposition to the death penalty, so making deterrence-based arguments is perfectly honest for us. (Though honesty also requires giving serious consideration to evidence such as the studies you cite.)

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