The Death Penalty: It’s Conditional

User Jennifer Hor writes:

Last time I looked at the financial cost of capital punishment in the US was several years ago and already in the late 1990s – early 2000s, the cost of executing someone was US$8 million in Florida… There are costs involved like the various appeals processes which take up people’s time and hiring and paying juries for several trials that might take weeks or months. Economic austerity may be the one thing that gets cash-strapped states like California to abolish the death penalty.

My highlights. The death penalty is expensive in America only because it chooses to make it so. I’m not much against that because the US is also clearly rich enough to afford the process. The only problem of course is that it in effect nullifies the deterrent value of the DP. I read in Freakonomics that the average life expectancy of a man on death row is actually higher than of a bro selling drugs in the hood. So what kind of deterrent is that? Either go the Singapore/China route of a quick trial and execution – or you might as well cancel it altogether.

But it’s not really an issue I care about much either way. It’s not exactly going to make the US or California bankrupt. As long as the DP applies for appropriate crimes (e.g. premeditated murder, serial murder, national treason during wartime, etc) and not stupid shit like blasphemy or drugs possession then I’m basically fine with it. I’m not a bloodthirsty person but why the hell should I care about the life of some lowlife who derives entertainment from killing people or eating children or whatever?

I submit that in some places and circumstances however the DP would be highly useful. In low IQ / high testosterone countries where violent crime levels are extremely high – and where policing isn’t very effective. Visceral demonstrations are very good deterrents and this is in fact probably the reason why virtually all pre-industrial societies enforced the DP. I submit that the DP would still be highly desirable in places where violent crime is out of control like Venezuela or South Africa.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. georgesdelatour says

    I’m puzzled by the Chinese government’s approach to the death penalty. It’s estimated that China executes more people each year than all other countries combined. Yet the actual number of people executed each year is a state secret.

    Executing people in secret, and hiding the execution data, must surely reduce the deterrent effect of the executions, don’t you think?

    It’s the sort of thing governments do when they’re ashamed of what they’re doing, or fear public debate over what they’re doing.

  2. I think one of the main reasons societies are abolishing DP is that they are not prepared to take full responsibility of it. There are piles of conflicting arguments pro and contra DP and in such situation rational actors usually choose inaction over action – because in that case they cannot be accused of ACTIVELY pursuing the wrong path.

    • georgesdelatour says

      Interesting point.

      Most people I debate this with are absolutists. They either believe in retributive state execution, or they oppose it, under pretty much any circumstances.

      I’m conditionally opposed to the death penalty. I’d support it if there was clear evidence it would dramatically – repeat, dramatically – reduce the murder rate. So far all the evidence I’ve seen is too ambiguous, with too much noise in the data to establish a firm correlation between the death penalty and the murder rate, at least in the UK. But if the data showed clearly that reintroducing the death penalty would reduce the murder rate by more than 50%, how could I oppose it? In such a situation, not having a death penalty would cause far more avoidable deaths than having one.

  3. georgesdelatour says

    Can any American reader please help me with the following question:

    Suppose I’m a US citizen living in Texas, called up for jury service in a murder trial. In the pre-trial jury vetting, the judge asks me “do you agree with the death penalty?”. I reply, “Your honour, like over one third of my fellow American voters, I do not agree with it.” Is it pretty well certain I’ll be excused from the jury, and replaced with someone who supports the death penalty?

    The question may seem like a minor technicality, but it is not. The jury system is based on the idea that you have the right to be judged by your “peers” – your fellow citizens. We’re alert to the dangers of bias in a narrowly selected jury – an all-white or all-male jury, for instance. It’s very likely support for the death penalty correlates with specific social attitudes and even party allegiance. So an all-pro-death-penalty jury is arguably unfair.

    There may be a reasonable suspicion that anti-death-penalty jurors would rather acquit a guilty man than let him face a punishment they oppose; especially if their opposition to state killing is absolute (e.g. Quakers). But what about a potential juror who opposes it on the basis that current juries fail to carry out due diligence and wind up convicting people who may be innocent? Such people ought to make good jurors.

    • GDL,
      I’m afraid I simply do not know the answer to this question. I do not live in Texas.

      • georgesdelatour says

        Does Russia have trial by jury, or is it an Anglo-Saxon oddity?

        • Is it does but they are a relatively recent innovation and most cases do not fall under this. They are exceptional in that conviction rates are much lower than in trials that go by the traditional inquisitorial system.

          I’m sure Mercouris (the lawyer) will have a lot more details on this.

    • Jennifer Hor says

      @ Georges: Best forum to go to is Jury Experiences at and ask there. I presume that if the judge heard a reply like the one you gave above, they’d be more inclined NOT to excuse you. But I don’t live in the US, let alone Texas.

      Isn’t it the case in Texas that if someone was committed to death row, the governor there still has the power to commute the sentence to a lesser penalty? As Texas governor, George W Bush approved over 150 executions and commuted one.

      @ AK: If I’d known that a comment of mine would become a subject of a post, I’d have tried to prettify it!

  4. ironrailsironweights says

    In low IQ / high testosterone countries

    Which don’t exist, because testosterone levels differ very little from country to country or from race to race. On an individual level, some men do have more testosterone than others, but except in extreme cases it doesn’t matter much.