"Deterrence — it’s the vaunted idea behind “tough on crime” sentences for violent offenses. Lock the door, throw away the key, and the theory says that heinous acts will be prevented. However, things haven’t worked out that way because the toughest “tough on crime” policies are most focused on crimes of passion, derangement and destitution — crimes that are often not calculated and therefore not deterrable. This is probably one of the reasons why the murder rate has been higher in death penalty states than in non-death penalty states, leading most criminologists to conclude that capital punishment does not hinder conventional homicide.
But what about crimes of economic homicide? These are the opposite of crimes of passion. When, say, a speculator securitizes bad mortgages and peddles them to pension funds as safe investments, that fraud involves exactly the kind of calculation that might be deterred via the prospect of harsh punishment.
“What if a bank CEO was given life without parole?” I asked Taibbi. “What if instead of country club jail, one of these guys was shown experiencing prison like a regular convict? That would have to stop some of the worst stuff, right?”
“Right, and go a step further,” Taibbi countered. “How about putting a few of them in the electric chair? Are you telling me Goldman Sachs execs aren’t then going to change?”