Death Penalty

Die, Death Penalty, Die! The Libertarian Case Against Capital Punishment


Another week, another botched killing under the legal euphemism of capital punishment. After macabre screw-ups in Oklahoma and Ohio, it was Arizona's turn last week, when double-murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood III took about two hours to die. The specific problem this time around was an apparently unreliable "cocktail" of the drugs used in the lethal injection process.

But let's face it: There's no good way to kill a person, even one as completely unsympathetic as Wood (he killed his ex-girlfriend and her father, shooting them at point-blank range). As a libertarian, I'm not surprised that the state is so incompetent that it can't even kill people efficiently. But I'm far more outraged by the idea that anyone anywhere seriously thinks the death penalty passes for good politics or sane policy. It's expensive, ineffective, and most of all, deeply offensive to ideals of truly limited government.

That's the start of my latest Daily Beast column. I run through arguments about how expensive capital punishment is, its ineffectiveness on murder rates, and the reality that innocent people are on death row before offering up this:

The state's first role—and arguably its only one—is protecting the lives and property of its citizens. In everything it does – from collecting taxes to seizing property for public works to incentivizing "good" behaviors and habits—it should use the least violence or coercion possible. No matter how despicable murderers can be, the state can make sure we're safe by locking them up behind bars for the rest of their—and our—lives. That's not only a cheaper answer than state-sanctioned murder, it's a more moral one, too.

Read the whole thing.

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  1. But let’s face it: There’s no good way to kill a person…

    Put him in a pitbull costume and send him around the corner of a donut shop.

      1. Why was he running?

        1. I never could figure that part out

          1. Well, Graham Chapman was a notoriously flaming gay man, so maybe it wasn’t really his preferred method of exit?

      2. Nice, but NSFW.

      3. even though i cant view this video im assuming its the naked gladiator women chasing the guy off the cliff from Monty Pythons the meaning of life

  2. The state’s first role?and arguably its only one?is protecting the lives and property of its citizens.

    Ideals are all well and good, but as a coercively enforced monopoly, the incentives aren’t there for the government to limit itself to what it supposedly does best.

    That’s not only a cheaper answer than state-sanctioned murder, it’s a more moral one, too.

    Consistently opposing taxation would be the more moral choice. Market based institutions of polycentric law would deliver the protection of life, liberty and property better than the current monopoly that ‘owns’ those services.

    1. Better that justice be doled out by a dictator than elected representation.

      Hey, FS, ya know what else competition for the monopoly of force is called?


      1. Hey, you have to give us a chance to answer. I was going to say “an election.”

      2. A war is generally violent conflict between two territorial monopolies of taxation or between groups vying for the ability to hold that monopoly, which is only possible when most people accept the fallacious assumption that such an institution should legitimately exist.

        1. So’s an election.

        2. Or two different groups of people vying to be the monopoly of force.

          1. its not really a monopoly unless you’re talking about the UN and they rarely use force… for anything… what do they do again and why do we pay 22% of the tab?

  3. There’s no good way to kill a person

    guess it depends on your definition of good. If the point is quick and efficient, everything from firing squad to hanging to guillotine to the chair fit the bill. Problems only began to surface, at least to the extent that they’ve been made public, when folks began to meddle with the process and develop theoretically more humane means of execution. Unless I missed something, haven’t all the problems been with injectables?

    1. That’s because that’s all they use anymore. The chair had its share of problems before, hence the current preference for poison.

      1. Same with hanging. It’s tricky to get right.

        1. a 12 gauge buckshot mouthwashing is a pretty quick, cheap, and humane way to shove someone off this mortal coil i mean just *blam* head gone nothin left to see here no 2 hours of dying from a botched lethal injection, no risk of failure, no pain, no sitting around waiting and watching just bing bang done

      2. and even with the drugs, the problems are recent. It’s everything you ever wanted to know about govt efficiency – it can’t even kill someone correctly.

        1. hahaha socialists would have a sand shortage in a desert

    2. There’s no good way to kill a person

      guess it depends on your definition of good.

      I agree, the problem isn’t that there’s no good way to kill someone. The problem is that there’s no good way to kill someone in a moral democracy.

      1. There’s no moral way to kill a person who is no longer threatening life or liberty of another, the only moral justification that exists for killing someone is to stop them from causing grave bodily harm you or another

    3. Why, yes, you did miss something which has been covered repeatedly here. That large steaming pile of elephant dung called “actual innocence”, of course.

      No sympathy for actual murderers (etc), but still not trusting the state to competently determine guilt beyond the shadow of a doubt, and still not trusting the state with the authority to murder people because that will inevitably be misused.

  4. Privatize the death penalty. Problem solved!

  5. That’s a rather chilling pic.

  6. “its ineffectiveness on murder rates”

    How do we know this? Have those sentenced to life ever carried out murders in prison that they would not have been able to carry out if they had been executed?

    1. I think he was referring to the supposed deterrent effect of the death penalty.

      1. I think there was a deterrent effect back when executions were more public. Now, not so much.

        1. I think there was a deterrent effect back when executions were more public. Now, not so much.

          Crime rates have dropped since that time. IMO, the wide(r)-spread threat of death from firearms at the hands of private citizens has a far greater deterrent effect.

          If people were more generally free to pursue justice individually, the gov’t would only be required in fewer and more extreme circumstances where more concensus about our social behavior can be more easily identified.

          1. Crime rates have dropped since that time.

            That is highly arguable. Perhaps violent crime has dropped, but the War on Some Drugs has cause the crime rates to skyrocket. Duly noted that most libertarians don’t consider victimless crimes to be actual crimes.

            1. “Duly noted that most libertarians don’t consider victimless crimes to be actual crimes.”

              No, but the act of imprisoning someone for a victimless crime is an actual crime, so either way…

    2. Murder in a prison is a result of a poorly managed prison. It is not a justification for the death penalty.

      1. Or sometimes the result of somebody wanting to silence a potential witness or snitch.

        1. Snitches get stitches!

    3. Gillespie is unaware that is not how deterrence is measured.

      a) Regarding violence – Detailed country by country review: “Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let’s be clear”…..rates.html


  7. That dude seems to know what is gfoing on dude.

  8. One simple reason favoring the death penalty…

    …revenge. And I have no problem with it, PROVIDED you have the right guy.

    1. PROVIDED you have the right guy.

      This is the only reason I oppose the death penalty. I don’t trust the government to get it right. Now if we raised the standard for it,to say, proof beyond all doubt, I think that would be much better.

      1. Even if they do get the right guy, I still don’t trust the state with that power.

      2. Now if we raised the standard for it,to say, proof beyond all doubt

        How would you ensure that this, and only this, happened? Especially since the same people who would be defining the term “proof beyond all doubt” are the ones currently defining legal terms and botching executions.

      3. There is always some doubt if you take the reasonable part away. Maybe aliens did it and then implanted false memories in everyone’s mind. You can’t prove that didn’t happen.

        1. A higher standard of doubt should apply to the death penalty.

          Following a conviction and sentence of death, I’d support an immediate review of all evidence and a special trial to determine if this higher standard can be met. A complete and impartial review focused on looking at all circumstances and other possible explanations; including prosecutorial and police malfeasance/incompetence.

          Prosecutors might be less likely to pursue death penalties under the threat of being made to look the ass.

        2. Do you have any doubt that Hasan shot all those people at Ft Hood?

      4. “This is the only reason I oppose the death penalty. I don’t trust the government to get it right.”

        Then, logically, you should oppose ALL government punishments.

        1. Not true. The death penalty is the only punishment you cannot rectify if wrong.

          1. I’m pretty sure there’s no known way of giving an incarcerated prisoner several years of his life back.

            Perhaps you know something I don’t; perhaps you’ve invented a TARDIS or something.

            “There’s no way to rectify the death penalty if wrong,” is one of the more incandescently stupid anti-death-penalty talking points, surpassed only by, “It’s too expensive.”

            1. Hey FYTW…FUCK YOU!

              A person can be compensated for their wrongful incarceration. Enough money to never need to work again and make the state think twice about putting people away with questionable evidence.

              How do you compensate the wrongfully executed?

              You are a fucking idiot!

              1. Revenge has not been a foundation for the death penalty since due process was created.

          2. 5000 detained folks die in the US, every year. Only about 33 of those are executed.

            So, there are, of course, many cases of innocents incarcerated, where it cannot be rectified.

            You also overlook that many more innocents die because we allow murderers to live.

      5. Innocents are much more at risk when we allow murderers to live, by a huge margin.

        The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives…..atter.html

    2. Revenge (justifiable homicide) can be carried out/sanctioned on an individual/private level, but it’s hard enough to keep ‘stand your ground’ laws on the books.

      Like I said above, the problem isn’t in the killing of people, it’s in the killing of people by committee.

      1. I guess a lot of people disagree with me, but I think that revenge should not be encouraged. NO good comes of it. It is the impulse for revenge that causes a lot of the atrocities and never-ending wars around the world.
        Self defense is great. I take some pleasure when some scumbag gets blown away when they are robbing or assaulting someone. But violence should only be used when no reasonable alternatives exist.

        1. I’d say the impulse for revenge prevents more atrocities than it creates. Fear of the backlash is a great moral motivator.

    3. Revenge is hardly a compelling reason to take a life, if you want revenge do it your damn self dont make the rest of us pay for it

  9. I’m OK with the death penalty if it is reserved for elected officials and judges.

    1. That’s been my proposal for a while. If it is going to exist, it should be specially reserved for agents of the state who use their power and privilege to harm people.

      1. A retirement plan for Illinois Govenors?

  10. It may perhaps be rather marginal compared to the other moral objections til capital punishment, but it is a well established fact that those Danish policemen who participated in the firing squads dealing with collaborators after the second world war had a very high frequency of mental problems later in life.
    That the state should turn some of its citizens into killers as executioners is rather unsavoury but it does not get any better when those people additonally have to live a life with mental disease.

    1. The people who seek out that kind of work might have some impact on that correlation.

      1. yeah like the same ones who seek out jobs in policing

  11. Lifetime lockup only works until someone in charge decides it’s “too cruel”.

    Dead men kill no one.

    1. because there’s no way a person could ever become repentant or change the way they conduct their lives, i mean thats the point of a correctional facility right?

      1. The supposed purpose of govt is to protect our rights, and that implies administering justice to those who take the rights of others (kidnapping, assault, murder, etc).

        The murderer deserves to die, not to be “rehabilitated”. Their “rehabilitation” doesn’t bring the accounting equation back into balance. One must ensure that the correct part of the equation is debited, yes.

        Justice cannot be done without “an eye for an eye” (not misunderstanding this adage as “an eye for an eye for an eye…” ad nauseam).

        A murderer deserves to die. A thief deserves to have what they stolen taken back (with “interest”). An assaulter deserves to have the crap beaten out of them. This is justice, if there is any. What we see today is humanistic “rehabilitation” that is nothing like justice at all.

  12. I dunno… my issue with the death penalty isn’t so much a moral one as it is a practical one.

    In practice, we cannot prove the guilt of a party 100%, and without that proven guilt there WILL be innocent people hurt and killed.

    But the underlying logic still seems sound to me. There ARE crimes committed that are so heinous that the perpetrator not only cannot be rehabilitated but also poses a threat to others even in prison. In cases like that, if there were (for the sake of argument) a way to prove guilt 100% I would completely support capital punishment and the death penalty.

    But until we are able to prove guilt like that, we need to protect the rights of the accused.

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