Thomas Sowell

Squeamishness is not higher morality, even though the crusade against capital punishment attracts many who cannot resist anything that allows them to feel morally one-up on others. It is dogma on the political left that capital punishment does not deter. But it is indisputable that execution deters the murderer who is executed. Nor is this any less significant because it is obvious. There are people who would be alive today if the convicted murderers who killed them had been executed for their previous murders.

Glib phrases about instead having "life in prison without the possibility of parole" are just talk. Murderers kill again in prison. They escape from prison and kill. They are furloughed and kill while on furlough. And there is no such thing as life in prison without the possibility of a liberal governor coming along to pardon them or commute their sentence. That too has happened.

The great fear of people on both sides of the capital punishment debate is making an irretrievable mistake by executing an innocent person. Even the best legal system cannot eliminate human error 100 percent. If there were an option that would prevent any innocent person from dying as a result of our legal system, that option should be taken. But there is no such option.

Letting murderers live has cost, and will continue to cost, the lives of innocent people. The only real question is whether more innocent lives will be lost this way than by executing the murderers, even with the rare mistake -- which we should make as rare as possible -- of executing an innocent person.

As so often in life, there is no real "solution" with a happy ending. There is only a trade-off. Those who cannot bring themselves to face trade-offs in general are of course unable to face this most painful of all trade-offs. But they have no right to consider their hand-wringing as higher morality. People are being murdered while they are wringing their hands.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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