This post’s title is also the title of this newspaper commentary, which is–not surprising–a response to the Madoff mess. Here are snippets:

We rationalize capital punishment by claiming that the fear of death is an excellent deterrent and a fitting punishment for cases of extreme harm to an individual (murder) or a community (sex offenders). Rarely has the fear of the death penalty deterred a single crime of passion or the flawed anti-social criminal. To be a deterrent, potential criminals need time to weigh the crime against the penalty and some level of native intelligence to understand that death by lethal injection or the electric chair is very likely if they commit the crime.

Ethical and religious considerations aside, perhaps the death penalty should not be reserved only for violent physical crime but as punishment for extreme economic harm, to white-collar crime such as embezzlement, fraud, or the conspiracies of silence that made so many accessories to Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and the corporate collapses that have cost us nearly a trillion dollars so far. I tend to think that Madoff would never have stolen so much money from so many people if the penalty was death.

As internationally minded readers likely know, the Chinese use the death penalty this way. Though I doubt the US will be following China’s lead here anytime soon, this commentary provides a useful reminder of how easy and common it is for persons to want to respond to one extreme crime with a proposal for more extreme punishment schemes.

Joseph H. Spring, Esq.
MARK E. GODBEY & ASSOCIATES
708 Walnut Street, Suite 600
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
(513) 241 – 6650 phone
(513) 241 – 6649 fax