The Economics of Capital Punishment - Posner

The Economics of Capital Punishment - Posner - The...

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-±- Economists’ Voice March, 2006 Richard A. Posner is a Regular Columnist for the Economists’ Voice, and is a founder of Law and Economics. Since 1981, he has served as a Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and is one of the most influential judges in America. In addition, he is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago, the author of numerous leading academic articles and books, including Economic Analysis of Law—now in its 5th edition. J.D., Harvard, 1962, B.A. Yale, 1959. The Berkeley Electronic Press The Economics of Capital Punishment RICHARD A. POSNER T he recent execution by the State of California of the multiple murder- er Stanley “Tookie” Williams has brought renewed controversy to the practice of capital punishment, a practice which has been abolished in about a third of the states and in most of the nations that the United States considers its peers; the European Union will not admit to membership a nation that retains capital punishment. From an economic standpoint, the principal considerations in evaluating the issue of retaining capital punishment are the incremental deterrent effect of executing murderers, the rate of false positives (that is, execution of the innocent), the cost of capital punishment relative to life imprisonment without parole (the usual alternative nowadays), the utility that retributivists and the friends and family members of the murderer’s victim (or in Williams’s case victims) derive from execution, and the disutility that fervent opponents of capital punishment, along with relatives and friends of the defendant, experience. The utility comparison seems a standoff, and I will ignore it, although the fact that almost two-thirds of the U.S. population supports the death penalty is some, albeit weak (because it does not measure intensity of preference), evidence bearing on the comparison.
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