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The Morality of Capital Punishment

The US is often criticized for its refusal to abolish capital punishment. Many now claim that abolition of capital punishment is a precondition of a civilized criminal-law system. Nobel laureate Gary Becker disagrees.

European governments are adamantly opposed to capital punishment – the European Union bans it outright – and some Europeans consider its use in the United States barbaric. Indeed, many European intellectuals argue that not just capital punishment, but punishment in general, does not deter criminals.

But, whereas Europeans, with crime rates well below American rates for the past half-century, could long afford to be relatively “soft” on most crimes, they have seen their crime rates increase sharply during the past twenty years. By contrast, American rates have fallen, in part because of greater use of punishment.

This includes capital punishment. I support executing some people convicted of murder because – and only because – I believe that it deters other murders. If I did not believe that, I would oppose capital punishment, because revenge and other possible motives should not be a basis for public policy.