Thursday, 25 December 2014

Should governments be involved in the construction of our preferences?

‘Libertarian paternalism' is Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's big idea for improving individual choice-making while respecting our autonomy. It has inspired fierce and sustained academic criticism from philosophers and economists from both the left and the right - as well as from less distinguished commentators like Glen Beck. Ultimately though most of these critiques seem to be complaining more about the depressing findings of behavioural economics research than Thaler and Sunstein's positive proposals to nudge us to choose better.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Why Prison is Unfit for Civilised Society

What comparison can there really be, in point of severity, between consigning a man to the short pang of a rapid death, and immuring him in a living tomb, there to linger out what may be a long life in the hardest and most monotonous toil, without any of its alleviations or rewards—debarred from all pleasant sights and sounds, and cut off from all earthly hope, except a slight mitigation of bodily restraint, or a small improvement of diet? (John Stuart Mill, 1868 Speech to Parliament on Capital Punishment)

Prison time is a very severe punishment. Any society that employs it should do so with care and restraint. Yet we do not. 

Because we think that prison is a humane punishment, it is drastically over-used in many countries - to the point of cruelty. Aside from failing in humanity, prison does not even perform well at the specific functions generally asked of a criminal justice system, namely, deterrence, retribution, security, and rehabilitation. 

We need to reconsider our over-reliance on prison, and whether other types of punishment - even corporal and capital punishment - may sometimes be more effective and more humane.