Economics and the Death Penalty

I commented on an interesting post by Scott Lemieux reviewing Charles Lane’s article on the death penalty here. The post discusses the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik’s case and whether Norway’s lack of a death penalty and a relatively short sentence is a problem.

I am against the death penalty and my reasoning is based on the economic principle of “perfect information”. My comment on the blog was:

“I oppose the death penalty because we can’t always be sure the person did the crime or did it in a manner that led to the court’s sentencing. If we had perfect information of all crimes and motives then no problem; we could setup objective death penalty sentencing rules and carry them out confidently.

Since we don’t have perfect information, we let everyone live because prison is an experience of life. With death, all experience of life ends for the person and, morally, I can’t do that without perfect information and that will never be.”

In our normal economic daily lives we incur costs in our transactions due to imperfect information (among other things). A lack of perfect information is one reason why our markets don’t always produce the most efficient outcomes. Executing the wrong person or for the wrong reason as a cost of imperfect information (no matter how improbable) is unacceptable.


Freeman editor critique of Elizabeth Warren cheeky and short on logic

Bloggers get lazy in their writing sometimes—writing for affect rather than trying to get at the truth. That’s just the way things are, but when a blogger insults my intelligence I feel the need to respond….

You can find the post here. You can read the comment I posted on the blog but I had to apologize to Mr. Richman for attributing a statement to him that was Robert Murphy’s in his blog post Elizabeth Warren’s Blank Check. I would have deleted and reposted the comment but it didn’t appear to be an option. I correct that attribution in the following:

Mr. Sheldon Richman’s irrelevant notions, stipulations and yes, non sequiturs.

His subtitle: “You can’t get to higher taxes from here”. Richman doesn’t know where here is.

First of all Elizabeth Warren was addressing Eric Cantor’s assertion that raising taxes on the rich would amount to class warfare. She rejects Cantor’s assertion because his premise is false; that there is no other reason than class animosity (hatred, envy etc.) that would explain why the duly elected representatives of the citizens of the USA might alter the tax code to increase taxes on “the rich”.

In her rebuttal to Cantor’s assertion (during a short informal campaign talk in a private home), she explains that Cantor is ignoring a “social contract”.  Warren may be referring to an unwritten agreement that citizens of a republic share when building said republic through the collection of taxes to provide various public goods, education and institutions in attempts to create a fertile ground for fruitful enterprise and a flourishing society.

Mr. Richman says that Warren’s premise is that man is a social animal. Not so, that is an axiom, a given, a proposition Warren assumes is true to argue her premise that there exists a “social contract”. The conclusion she reaches is that there is no class warfare here, but rather there exists a “social contract” (a republic building agreement) where the rich may need to pay some amount more in taxes. She is arguing there needs to be more progressivity in our tax structure if you will.

After enduring the Bastiat cut and paste, Mr. Richman states that her argument is “nothing startling” and a “mundane observation in the service of a bad cause”. This appears to be a non sequitur if in fact we are talking about Warren’s rebuttal to Cantor’s assertions of class warfare. I don’t see what is mundane about this observation and the popularity of the video tells me others are don’t see it either.

Mr. Richman wants us to stipulate to an irrelevancy by his own admission, i.e. “that’s not what Warren means”. We happily stipulate that folks get rich through “political means”. This is clearly not relevant to Warren’s rebuttal of Cantor’s assertion. Mr. Richman then says that “she says nothing about corporate-state privilege or the long years of intervention that amount to the “subsidy of history”. Well, she also says nothing about price of tea in China. It was short talk in a private home, she probably didn’t want to get into the “Subsidy of History” nor, to be fair, the price of tea in China.

It gets worse from here. The rest of the post says that repealing state-granted privileges is a good way to do away with services such as roads, education and police because of the evils of Regulatory Capture. I don’t see the relevance here either.

Towards the end Mr. Richman denies the existence of the “contract” which gave me hope that he might attack Warren’s premise with new insights and logic. However he simply apologizes for not trusting unwritten open-ended so-called “contracts” while ignoring the possibility that there must be something, some meeting of the minds that allows us to live together in communities.

Then we get the cry of the John Galt supporters; “Moreover, why aren’t honest production and exchange of valuable goods counted as payment forward?” The answer to this is that “exchanges of valuable goods” implies compensation as being received for the goods. Payment for goods now and credit again going forward might be hard to do.  “Honest production and exchange of valuable goods” gives us businesspeople money as revenue and profit. It is not too much of a stretch to ask that we pay our taxes with money as well.

Finally Richman says that it doesn’t follow that the rich should pay more in taxes because they used services that they have always used. Of course it doesn’t follow because the argument is about balancing the budget to which Richman says finally; cut spending.

I’ve noticed that people who follow the Austrian school of economics are sometimes guilty of fanboyism—quoting Bastiat and Hayek etc regardless of the context or argument. My aim was to point out how poorly the man wrote about a wonderful argument put forth by Elizabeth Warren. I did not say I concurred with her but rather I felt it necessary to comment on the poor analysis and logic of Mr. Richman’s post. Warren’s premise is the “social contract” and I will be either coming forward with arguments supporting the social contract as a basis for a more progressive tax structure or not.

I never intended on commenting on the post on but I was researching for a post I am preparing to comment on George Will’s goofy Washington Post Op-Ed about the very same Elizabeth Warren argument. George Will’s piece is lacking logic and foundation and I will comment about it right here soon.

Hate Speech By Public Figures

Juan Cole is a brilliant educator at the University of Michigan and he said this today on his blog:

“Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other far right-wing demagogues have been quick to defend themselves from the charge of fostering a climate of poisonous political hatred in the United States, in the aftermath of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford and the killing of Federal Judge John Roll, along with the injuring or killing of 10 other victims.

Just so we are clear, Glenn Beck playfully spoke on his radio show of murdering Michael Moore with his own hands. Rush Limbaugh suggested that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were worse than Middle Eastern terrorists and that maybe our Pentagon has the wrong people in its sights. Ann Coulter expressed the wish that Timothy McVeigh had bombed the New York Times building rather than the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. These are major media personalities with millions of followers, who have been made multi-millionaires by corporations precisely because they routinely authorize the intimidation of workers, ordinary people, and thinkers who challenge the political status quo. So let us survey their hate speech, which in a civilized country would make responsible businesses ashamed to employ them and a conscientious public ashamed to listen to them. [bold and italics added]” – Juan Cole 1/11/11

Read the whole post here:

The Renaissance Human

I believe that we have a practically infinite capacity in our minds and brains for understanding, experience and storage. I also think that understanding is the glue that holds vast amounts of knowledge in our brains. Without understanding or at least some type of identification with the information, whether through pondering or use, we won’t feel or sense an infinite capacity.

I find myself constantly wanting to use more of myself so I acquire knowledge and I do things, not quickly however, but maybe consistently. For example, I read a little every day and I play music, study grammar, and build wonderful information systems every day. I contemplate and meditate several times a week and I work on an essay, studying and writing, just a little each week.

I have been criticized for being too knowledgeable as if I am sacrificing my understanding for knowledge. I am not. Understanding is paramount; without it knowledge is something memorized waiting to be inducted into the halls of understanding.

I ran across a quote that supports my quest and I wanted to share it. Its from one of my favorite authors, Robert Heinlein. I grew up reading his wonderful books including Glory Road, Stranger in a Strange Land, I will Fear no Evil and others.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” -Robert A. Heinlein