Monday, June 15, 2015

Good Times After High Crimes

The two murderous lifers who escaped from a maximum security upstate New York prison have expended massive resources towards their recapture. But even if this hadn't happened taxpayers spend up to $60,000 per high risk prisoner per year. Our sense of justice not to speak of our physical and economic well being would have been better served if these two had been executed for their crimes long ago. And since their guilt was never in doubt there was no chance of imposing the ultimate penalty on an innocent.

As of now 19 states have no capital punishment and it is very sparingly used in the rest. We are very easy on our most violent criminals in other ways as well. The worst offenders can lead pretty nice lives, have regular sex (one even impregnated four guards) and get good healthcare. I wrote about "Crime and (Low) Punishment" back in May 2007 and "Arming and Coddling Our Criminals" in July 2012.

According to Gallup Americans favor the death penalty 63% to 33% and yet more and more states are abolishing it. The reason elected political leaders are collectively going against popular will has something to do with the packaged set of political choices that voters face. I like the Democratic platform favoring choice on abortions, universal healthcare, legalizing marijuana, easing up on victim-less crimes like drug use and prostitution, environmental conservation, gay rights, gun control and more public spending on infrastructure and R&D. Yet the Democratic package comes with things a majority including me don't like: favoring strong unions that extract wages and benefits far above free market levels; ethnic quotas over meritocracy in the name of diversity and affirmative action; litigious malpractice and tort system; and yes, coddling vicious and violent criminals.

The same can be said on the flip side for Republicans. The primaries process makes it worse, since the more extreme elements have a bigger role in choosing and influencing candidates in each party than in the general election. Look what happened to the moderate Mitt Romney in 2012 - his forced rightward shift in the primaries made him unwinnable in the general election. To his credit Obama in the 2008 primaries came across as more liberal than he actually turned out to be, helping him topple Hillary. This time the centrist candidates like Hillary and Jeb Bush have a much better shot at winning their primaries, especially if partisan voters place more emphasis on who is winnable in the  general election.

But I digress. Is there a way to have popular preferences better reflected in laws and their implementation on the ground? I'd like more issues like capital punishment, gun control, legalizing marijuana and assisted suicide decided at the state level through referendums. This way voter intent is less likely to be hijacked by minority views bundled into each party's platform.