Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Death Penalty as a Cost Saver

Over the years I have spoken to many people online about the death penalty. Luckily, most of them are in agreement with me and think that it's a bad idea. A few will agree that it's not a great idea, but are sometimes swayed by emotion; for example, if a particularly heinous crime is committed or they’re personally affected. Then there are those who are so in favour of the death penalty that they actively seek to defend their position with what I call Murder Apologetics.

The one reason in particular I wanted to talk about is the so called "cost saver". There are actually people who think that a good reason to kill people is saving the tax payer money. I am hoping to show that this is not only illogical, but that if we take the logical argument to its conclusion, we get situations that are morally repulsive.

When faced with the cost saver argument I always like to point out that killing people to save money is an absolutely disgusting proposition and I am not happy that the many old and infirm individuals who could be considered a burden on the state should be deemed expendable. Of course, the apologist is quick to say that they do not believe old people should be killed, just the criminals.

Next I ask them why criminals deserve to be killed because they are a burden on the state and yet old people who are a burden on the state do not? What is the difference between the two groups? I am then treated to a text-book example of circular reasoning. Apparently criminals deserve to be executed because they have committed a crime. However, the apologist is only telling me what the definition of a criminal is. I know what the definition of a criminal is, what I am asking is why criminals THEREFORE deserve to die. They can phrase it in different ways; for example, if they are talking about murderers they may say "because they took a life", but the logical fallacy is just the same. What most people don't realise is that criminals being deserving of punishment is a non sequitur. There is no way to argue from one fact to another.

You'll be surprised how many people can't explain to me why people who commit crimes deserve to be punished. They've been taught it from a young age. It has been drilled in to them. But nobody can rationally explain why they think it is the case. The only thing they can do is offer it as an opinion or say “just because”. Well, I don't know about you, but I don't think we should be deciding whether people should live or die simply because of a majority preference.

Once you understand this simple truth, your view of the justice system changes somewhat. You don’t suddenly believe we should stop punishing people or that the doors to the prisons should be opened. But you do start to understand that there are legitimate, utilitarian reasons for punishment such as deterrence and rehabilitation. However, saving the tax payer money is not one of them, unless you want to support the murder of the elderly too.