Friday, May 16, 2008

Yet again, we are superior

Britain and Europe, as we know, are superior to the United States. If we do not know it then many a deranged, furiously spitting commentator and letter writer both in the MSM and on the internet will tell us. At length.

One of the main reasons for that superiority is that a higher proportion of the American population is supposed to be in prison than that of any European country. Whether the figures are true is, for once, irrelevant. It is the attitude that matters. I thought of it as I read about the latest London stabbing, on Oxford Street this time, and about its victim.

The 22 year old man was out on bail and was coming up for two separate trials, one for a fight in a club that involved knives and one for a horrific rape of a sixteen-year old girl. Isn’t it wonderful, I thought, that this country is not like that ghastly oppressive one on the other side of the Pond and people of this kind are given bail because we have no more space in prisons.

The EU is, of course, never backward about coming forward on the subject of European superiority. On May 14 the Presidency issued a declaration "on behalf of the EU concerning the resumption of executions in the USA".

The statement, rather an impertinent one, is a response to the fact that the State of Georgia (for these matters are the states' competence) had ended the seven-month, voluntarily imposed moratorium on executions by carrying one out on William Lynd, who had been found guilty of murdering his girl-friend.

The moratorium, as this article in The Australian, which refers to executions, rather tendentiously, as "legal killings", was caused by several legal challenges to the notion of lethal injections. The Supreme Court has ruled 7 – 2 that the method did not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment". The latter is barred under the US Constitution, a document, as our readers know, we respect a good deal more than the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty that is being imposed on the various peoples and states of the European Union.

Almost certainly, there will be other legal challenges and debates in the country and the various states will carry on. That is as it should be. Where does the European Union come into this picture?

As ever, it sets itself up as a kind of a moral arbiter of what is right and what is wrong with the world, though, given the numbers involved, it would be interesting to know whether there have been more protests and statements about executions in China than those in the United States and by what factor? If not, then why not?
The EU again reiterates its longstanding position against the death penalty in all circumstances and accordingly strives to achieve its universal abolition, seeking a global moratorium on the death penalty as the first step. We believe that the elimination of the death penalty is fundamental to the protection of human dignity, and to the progressive development of human rights.

The EU recalls that on 18 December 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on a Moratorium on the use of the death penalty, which explicitly calls upon all States that still maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
This sort of waffle does not answer the question especially as we have seen no rush among members of the UN General Assembly to abolish the death penalty, often carried out in far more brutal conditions and after a considerably less free and fair a trial. Remember those teenagers hanged from a crane in Iran?

The first thing to be noted, as I am sure Americans will, is that the United States of America is an independent country and those states are no longer colonies of European countries.

The second point is the one mentioned above and that is the questionable moral standing in this, as in other matters, of the UN and its General Assembly.

The third point is a little more intriguing. Via Chicagoboyz we find an article in the New York Times (not the Grey Lady herself, the Bible of leftism and hatred of all obscurantism such as criminals must be punished?) that writes about a study on the subject.

The results of the study ought to be read by the Presidency of the European Union because they are rather shocking.
According to roughly a dozen recent studies, executions save lives. For each inmate put to death, the studies say, 3 to 18 murders are prevented.

The effect is most pronounced, according to some studies, in Texas and other states that execute condemned inmates relatively often and relatively quickly.

The studies, performed by economists in the past decade, compare the number of executions in different jurisdictions with homicide rates over time — while trying to eliminate the effects of crime rates, conviction rates and other factors — and say that murder rates tend to fall as executions rise. One influential study looked at 3,054 counties over two decades.
At least one of the studies was carried out by an opponent of capital punishment but he found the figures hard to argue with. Naturally enough, the studies have evoked sharp responses, not least from lawyers, who argue that purely economic arguments do not apply to complicated matters such as capital punishment which is, in any case, a rare occurrence in the United States.

But if the figures about deterrence are close to accurate – and here we come to a difficult problem – then the "moral" argument against "legal killing" becomes hard to sustain. Is it really moral to oppose the taking of one life if that means supporting the taking of several other lives? What about the human rights and human dignity of the victims who might not be that if there were capital punishment? Could the EU Presidency answer, please?

Professor Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, a law professor at Harvard, wrote in their own Stanford Law Review article that "the recent evidence of a deterrent effect from capital punishment seems impressive, especially in light of its 'apparent power and unanimity,'" quoting a conclusion of a separate overview of the evidence in 2005 by Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford, in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science.

"Capital punishment may well save lives," the two professors continued. "Those who object to capital punishment, and who do so in the name of protecting life, must come to terms with the possibility that the failure to inflict capital punishment will fail to protect life."
There is an additional problem for the anti-capital punishment or, at least, anti-American anti-capital punishment brigade. There is a common enough argument that the whole legal system in the United States is racist because proportionately more Afro-Americans are in prison than others and more are executed on the few occasions this happens.

The paper by Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule raises an issue that is closely related:

A study by Joanna Shepherd, based on data from all states from 1997 to 1999, finds that each death sentence deters 4.5 murders and that an execution deters 3 additional murders.

Her study also investigates the contested question whether executions deter crimes of passion and murders by intimates. Although intuition might suggest that such crimes cannot be deterred, her own finding is clear: all categories of murder are deterred by capital punishment.

The deterrent effect of the death penalty is also found to be a function of the length of waits on death row, with a murder deterred for every 2.75 years of reduction in the period before execution. Importantly, this study finds that the deterrent effect of capital punishment protects African-American victims even more than whites.
In other words, the study shows that capital punishment actually helps African-Americans though not the ones who decide to go down the route of murder.

The trouble is, as Shannon Love, of Chicagoboyz points out, that it is almost impossible to measure deterrence accurately.

I personally believe that the death penalty protects the innocent and punishes the guilty. However, I don't think we can accurately measure that effect directly. Instead, I think the death penalty merely serves as a marker to distinguish jurisdictions that have an effective anti-homicide political culture. The various studies, all using different standards and different assumptions, all converge on the same rough answers because many different ineptly-measured factors point in the same general direction. Metaphorically, I don’t think they can make an ordinance map of the landscape but they can determine which general direction is downhill.
At the very least, such studies and debates should be taken into consideration when the European Union, whose members' legal and punitive structures are variable, to say the least, makes another grand pronouncement of superiority to those dam' Yanks.

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