Anders Breivik

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.