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January 8, 2009

"Death penalty for white-collar criminals?"

The title of this post is the title of this newspaper commentary, which is an (unsurprising?) 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.

January 8, 2009 at 12:16 PM | Permalink


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Interesting thought experiment, but Mr. Carlisle doesn't have Justice Kennedy's permission to do anything more than think about it, so best to stop there.

Posted by: | Jan 8, 2009 7:15:46 PM

In America, only the poor end up getting executed, the rich do not, so what's the point of threatening rich people with the death penalty?

Obviously I'm against expanding the death penalty since I believe most crimes, including murder, should be capped at 20 years in prison and the death penalty should be used only a few times a year, across the whole country, for extreme cases of serial killing, mass killings (inlcluding terrorism), wartime treason, and genocide. Anything less than that does not justify killing, let alone giving the state the power to kill.

An "eye for an eye" is not justice, and we should not be letting victims decide what punishments are proper. The whole point of a justice system is to have something neutral and unemotional between the victim and the criminal, which represents society as a whole, to determine what the proper punishment is for a given act.

Unfortunately we're too caught up in "victim's rights" and placating victims in the misguided hope that to do so will make them feel better. If restitution is possible, so be it. If the theif can give back the stolen property or something of equivalent value, then so be it. Otherwise, the victim's interests should play no part in determining punishment - no moreso than drunks and sociopaths should get to decide what the penalty should be for DWI and murder (one month probation!).

Executing white collar criminals is grossly disproportionate, especially since the "victims" to some degree (out of greed, negligence or both) contributed to their financial loss.

I used to represent a mid-sized broker-dealer firm. After seeing how that industry works and withdrawing in disgust, I am absolutely certain that anyone who gets screwed by the financial services industry got exactly what they deserved - and they should be flogged on top of it for good measure. They are all stupid, they are all acting on blind greed, and they are all grossly negligent in terms of ignoring blatant red flags waving in their faces. And yes, this goes for the "elderly" people, too, who hand over all their money to people like Made-off in return for a free 3pm dinner buffet and a few scare stories about their medicine and the insolvency of the FDIC.

If anyone is going to get the death penalty, assuming the point of punishment is to improve the world in which we live, the people who got screwed by Made-off are the ones who should be on death row. Made-off should get probation (assuming he's convicted of anything). I despise people like Made-off and his whole industry, but they would not exist but for the highly stupid, insanely greedy, grossly negligent, exceedingly ignorant fools and morons who hand over their life savings expecting huge returns.

Posted by: BruceM | Jan 9, 2009 4:24:56 AM

"Mr. Carlisle doesn't have Justice Kennedy's permission"

Kennedy still left open the death penalty for espionage and treason, so why not extreme financial crimes?

Posted by: | Jan 11, 2009 11:03:39 AM

i am for the death penalty bro man

Posted by: killvard arndfes | Jan 14, 2009 4:36:06 PM

im secretly gay

Posted by: ben aflack | Jan 14, 2009 4:37:53 PM

The reason why death penalty is not a deterant in this country is because of our endless appeal process, even in obvious cases where the guilty admits of his or her crimes.
There should be a middle ground though in punishing white collar crimes.
Those persons found guilty of white collar crimes should serve the same type of penalty than bank robbers and should not have the right to serve in Golf course prison (Like Bosky and company....)
If you are smart, with sociopathic tendencies (i.e no guilt to worry about) then you can easily commit white collar crimes, (up fronting in the stock market for instance.....) only go to prison for 4 to 7 years on a prison (since you can afford expensive layermeters), and then live off the wealth you gained with the moneys stached away for the rest of your life.

The penalty for white collar crimes should be more severe in my opinion


Posted by: david | Jan 29, 2009 1:24:04 PM

I am for the death penalty, especially for White Collar crimes that ruin a life and cause extreme economic unnecessary hardship. We only live once.

Posted by: Barbara | Aug 27, 2015 4:24:15 PM

Best to live a life uninterrupted by White Collar criminals.

Posted by: Barbara | Aug 27, 2015 4:24:37 PM

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