Schizophrenic Trust in the Government

Matt Curran has spot-on comments about the death penalty in a letter to the Tampa Bay Times

Robyn Blumner's column highlighting the wrongful executions of Carlos DeLuna and Cameron Todd Willingham was a very compelling argument against the death penalty. I am a Republican who rarely agrees with Blumner, but in this case she was spot on. While I believe that there are individuals who certainly deserve to lose their lives for the crimes they commit (John Couey comes to mind), I simply do not trust the government to administer such a process fairly or accurately. This is because the government is run by human beings, who like the rest of us are motivated by narrow self-interest and restrained by limited knowledge. Because those in government rarely face the consequences of their decisions, they often make the wrong ones, even if their intent is pure.

What I find puzzling is how Blumner can so effectively articulate these failings of government when it comes to civil liberties in one column, and in the next champion its abilities and competence in economic matters. A criminal trial is a grueling and exacting process that seeks to administer justice in a very narrow, specific instance. If government doesn't deserve our faith in doing that correctly, how can we trust it to control and coordinate the countless decisions that hundreds of millions of Americans make each day in our economic lives?

For more from Matt, his blog is here.


  1. Frankenstein Government:

    I concur.

    I am an uber conservative with 25 years in the law enforcement field. I never under estimate the ability of government to screw anything up. The weirdest part... is that mostly...I think government actions are well intentioned. The harsh truth is that government fails in so many ways that the only way to keep the damage to a minimum is to reduce the scope of government to the bare essentials. Trusting that they will screw up those responsibilities as well.

    I don't see the death penalty thing as a political issue. I see it as a human issue and doing what is spiritually right. Killing people can never be spiritually correct. Killing one innocent person is not a satisfactory sacrifice or trade off. Not one. But the death penalty proponents- the angry hate crowd, will surely disagree. As always.

  2. George O'Har:

    I have reservations about the death penalty myself. I have only briefly looked at the specifics of one of the executions here, so I do not know if a mistake has been made. If so, a strong claim can be made the death penalty ought to be abolished. There was an article in the New Yorker not so long ago about an execution in Texas that the article claimed might be the FIRST proven case of an innocent man being executed (arson expert testimony prosecution relied on for most of its argument was shown to be wrong; there was other evidence, but the expert witness was key).

    Now, the New Yorker is against the death penalty. Thus, it seems to me if hundreds or thousands of men had been wrongly executed, the magazine would have made such a claim. But the New Yorker only said, and not definitively, that this Texas case would have been the first such case of a mistake in the use of the death penalty. That gives me pause, and makes me hesitate before I agree with some uber-liberal reporter, and a group of student researchers at Columbia, who, of course, think everyone in prison is innocent, and all are victims of evil capitalism.

    Have innocent men been executed? I don't know. Is it possible? Certainly. But I do recall the Newsweek cover that had over a hundred (200? Can't recall) photos of people Newsweek claimed had been wrongly executed. Not one single case proved to be what Newsweek claimed.

    I can certainly go along with the abolition of the death penalty, as long as it is replaced with life imprisonment without chance of parole.

  3. George O'Har:

    Stupid me. The Willingham case is mentioned on the linked blog. That was the Texas case in the New Yorker. The article is well worth reading.

  4. ErisGuy:

    I can't figure out how people can effectively (at least in their own judgment) criticize the ability of the government to implement the death penalty then go on to believe the government can tax or imprison competently. It's no more acceptable to wrong about economic policy or imprisonment than about serious crime.

  5. Mark:

    Because the government does not implement the death penalty. We don't live in a totalitarian government that simply does what it wants. The Constitution provides for due process, that includes a trial by a jury of your peers. It is The People themselves that make the death sentence determination.

    Frankly, I do not agree with the story that these individuals were innocent. For death penalty cases there is so much due process that if it was so obvious that the "state relied on faulty science" or whatever, then at some level of appeal the case would be sent back to trial. Usually, most of these claims are complete exaggerations by anti-death penalty advocates. These are the type of people that believe Mumia Abu-Jamal is an innocent man, when any objective view of the evidence can make no other conclusion but his absolute guilt.

  6. bob sykes:

    Another reason for eliminating the death penalty is the growing propensity of prosecutors to stage political show trials and to railroad political opponents. Libbey Scooter went to prison for something Armitage did. Even in the Zimmerman case, it looks like the process is being manipulated politically.

    I do not know if life imprisonment is any better than death. The rampant violence in all prisons is certainly unacceptable, especially as nearly all of the violence is committed with the knowledge and tacit approval of the guards. A program to eliminate prison violence actually should also have a high priority.

  7. Dale:

    Frankenstein government: Killing one innocent person is not a satisfactory sacrifice or trade off. Not one. But the death penalty proponents – the angry hate crowd, will surely disagree. As always.
    Really Frankenstein, not even one. Can you imagine fighting World War II with that motto. Innocent people are killed all the time. At least in criminal cases they have due process, even if it is flawed. Oh, one other thing, why must I be part of the angry hate crowd simply because I think there are times when one needs to forfeit their life as a consequence for what they did.

    Also I don’t want to put words in Mark’s mouth but he has it right; juries bend over backwards trying to make sure that they are not convicting an innocent person. Often times acquitting a person that in their hearts they believe are guilty.

    One more thing, Bob Sykes said: “I do not know if life imprisonment is any better than death”; I’ve had the same thought.

  8. Mark:

    “I do not know if life imprisonment is any better than death"

    I don't know of any convicted prisoner that is appealing their life imprisonment sentence to have it "commuted" to the death penalty.

    Two of the biggest failures of the liberals/libertarians over the past fifty years has been their failure to develop effective drug rehabilitation and criminal rehabilitation programs. Why do I pin this as 'liberal/libertarian' failures? Because they have either explicitly or at least implicitly argued for the legalization of drugs and the softening of criminal punishment. We can talk all we want about prison and reform, but nothing really works, and the sad, sad, sad fact is that the only way to prevent crime is to lock away the criminals.

  9. Gil:

    So governments can't do fair trials? So who can? Free markets can because they have no authority to condemn someone to some sort of punishment or restitution. I guess the only alternative is for criminals to fear the private vengeance of their victims and their relatives.

  10. Mark:

    "Free markets can because they have no authority to condemn someone to some sort of punishment or restitution."

    The People themselves put on the trials, giving the defendants proper constitutional protection. The government only facilitates the process with a police/investigative role, a prosecutorial role, and a judge to control the proceedings. This is as fair of a proceeding as can exist.

  11. Smock Puppet, DHMO Prophet of Doom:

    Killing people can never be spiritually correct. Killing one innocent person is not a satisfactory sacrifice or trade off. Not one. But the death penalty proponents- the angry hate crowd, will surely disagree.

    This argument literally -- and I do mean LITERALLY -- sounds just like Kevin Drum's in the subsequent thread by Warren:
    If You Disagree With My Economic Policies, It Must Be Because You Are Trying to Wreck the Economy

    Because, CLEARLY, you HAVEto be a "angry hate type" to have any kind of disagreement as to appropriate public policy with regards to the Death Penalty.

    There's really just no other way...

    Shall I refer to you as a "namby-pamby liberal ass-kissing weenie with no testicles and feet that can't touch the ground", since that's CLEAAAAARLY the term that applies to you?

    On many "hot button issues", it rarely makes any rational sense to demonize those who disagree with you. Yes, there are always quacks and charlatans and demagogues -- on both sides of any argument who seek to abuse that issue for their own benefit, usually, if not always, with no principles or moral compunction against lies or misTruths, pushing that position on the issue. But the average person is rarely a Devil in their own eyes, and it does not promote rational discussion of any topic to paint them as that way automatically.

    I consider anyone who believes in AGW to be an idiot, but I suspect very few of them are actually deeply evil in their intent, regardless of the almost certain end-result if given their way. Gore & Co., yeah, they're perambulating paper containers of absolute bovine excreta... but most people THINK they're doing "the right thing".

    If you actually believe that most, much less all, of your opposition on ANY issue -- Gay Marriage, Abortion, Euthanasia, AGW, whatever -- is J.R. Ewing sitting there cackling at his own knowingly evil acts, then you're even stupider than you imagine they are for supporting the wrong side.

    In case it wasn't obvious, I would claim you're not just wrong, but woefully wrong, for most of the reasons Dale articulates, as well as others I'm not going to bother to articulate -- since clearly you're going to blow me off as an "angry hate type".

    But you're wrong. I don't feel any hate... none in the least -- but in your case, I'm willing to make an exception, if you insist.

    >>>> I don’t know of any convicted prisoner that is appealing their life imprisonment sentence to have it “commuted” to the death penalty.

    Yes, that's the ONLY option, "the government solution". WHAT blog did you think you were on, "DU"?

    Like it's not VASTLY easier to just make threats against the biggest badass already serving multiple life sentences in the prison that you're going to shank him (thereby making sure he goes around armed) and then attacking him barehanded.... or to tie some bedsheets together and hang yourself.

    Really? You figured that the only way to change your sentence from "life" was to appeal for HELP in that regard?

    Head {----} Rectum
    Much more separation is called for. Direct contact is no way to go through life.

  12. Mark:

    "Yes, that’s the ONLY option, “the government solution”. WHAT blog did you think you were on, “DU”?"

    What does that even mean? YOu clearly do not understand the context of what I was speaking of. I will explain it to you since you seem to be too stupid to understand (as evidenced by your rambling posts).

    A couple of poster stated that they though that life imprisonment would be worse than getting the death penalty. But, this is just a claim, supported by the fact that there is no one that is seeking to have their life imprisonment changed to the death penalty, or even fights for the death penalty over life imprisonment. While the fight to overturn the death sentence is universal.

  13. Gil:

    * facepalm! *

    That should read "the free market can't because they don't have any authority . . ."

    Especially considering that disbanding the government is about disbanding authority. If a PDA can kidnap and hold someone because they're accused of a crime then who's to tell whether it's a genuine Libertarian crime or a vice crime? Indeed one of accusation against Zimmerman is that he had no formal authority to play cop.