Steve Meyer: “I wanted to write to get your thoughts on what I like to think is a novel approach to capital punishment. Personally, I don’t have any problem with the idea that some acts are so heinous that the perpetrator deserves to die, but I do think it is an imperfect instrument for a number of well discussed reasons. I oppose capital punishment on the practical grounds that, after all of the appeals, protests, etc., it costs more to put someone to death than to incarcerate them for life. (And I think ‘life without possibility of parole’ does give closure to the families of the victims.)
“One of the pernicious problems that makes the death penalty in the US so imperfect is that it certainly looks racist. Here’s my proposal to solve that problem and, I’m willing to bet, wipe out white collar crime at the same time; I propose a system in which the death penalty is a possibility for white collar crime. The way it would work is this; after a conviction for a white collar crime, the judge would spin a big wheel (I like to call it the ‘Wheel of Misfortune’ — not too imaginative, but quite accurate) on which there are 99 slots which say ‘regular sentencing’ and one which says ‘death penalty.’ In the event that ‘death penalty’ comes up, the defendant has the right to all the normal appeals, but if the conviction sticks they must face the death penalty.
“The reason I think this would end white collar crime is exactly the reason that I don’t think the death penalty deters; murder is quintessentially a crime of passion, so the perpetrator doesn’t stop to think of the consequences. White collar crime, on the other hand, is a crime of calculation: the embezzler (for example) figures that the chances of being caught are low enough that the immediate gratification outweigh the risks of punishment (the punishment may be something like 6 months in Allenwood since it is presumably a first offense and non-violent.) If, however, the punishment included the possibility of electrocution the calculation changes quite considerably!
“As I’m sure you know, there is an entire branch of economics which deals with the calculus of questions such as ‘if you had a 99.99% chance of successfully embezzling a million dollars and a 0.01% chance of being put to death for trying, would you try it.’ I have not conducted the studies required under this discipline to prove my claim that my idea would eliminate white collar crime, but I feel confident that it would and (here’s the kicker) if it failed to do so, it would bring a more representative demographic to death row!
“I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. If you want to propose this as a belated plank in the Democratic ‘get tough on crime’ platform, please be my guest.”
☞ Thanks, Steve. I think all would agree (including you) that this is a fascinating, exceptionally creative, terrible idea.
Tomorrow (as we build to the de-seeding): Recipe #6