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Old Fashion JusticeThe Korea Institute for National Unification published the “White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2014”. In it, the KINU describes the results of their investigation with regards to several issues including the right to life, liberty and security, the right to due process, the right to equality and so on. It compares the situation in North Korea in 2014 against international standards or processes. We know that North Korea is terrible joke with their Dear Leader at the head and we would not expect otherwise from such a report. However, what interests us is the application of the death penalty. According to the report, about 1400 North Koreans have been executed between 2000 and 2013. And the question is why?

IN TYRANNY

The death penalty is applied in tyrannical situations with very defined purposes. The first purpose is to instill fear. Fear is a tool for control and as such the more dire the consequences the less incline people will be to break the tyrannical rules and regulations. The second purpose is to get rid of opponents. In tyranny it is not a matter of political opposition but a matter of practical power. It is essentially a power grab and those in power seek to retain it and those without it to obtain it. There is nothing as definitive as death to get rid of potential “people-problems”.

IN DEMOCRACY

There are very few so-called democratic countries that still actively apply the death penalty. There have been innumerable arguments for it. Most of them can be summarized as follows:

  • It is so horrific that will deter people from doing horrific acts
  • It removes a highly undesirable individual from society
  • It punishes well deserving infractors
  • It is ethically acceptable within a political or religious environment

All these arguments have been discussed and debated to no end. The problem lies in the fact that they are all arbitrary when it comes down to define what merits the death penalty. This decision is unavoidably subjective and as such controversial. Thus, most democracies have decided to get rid of such punishment because in the end it is ineffectual and politically highly controversial (i.e. it does not increase votes).

IN LIBERTARIANISM

In Libertarianism the death penalty is viewed with horror because of the principle of non-aggression. The basic idea is that one is only allowed to produce harm in self-defense and the initiation of aggression is never condoned. There are some forms of Libertarianism out there that condone the death penalty, but they are a tiny minority. As is to be expected, Libertarianism is a political current of individuals and as such it is perennially changeable and modifiable. Yet, a general consensus does exist. The death penalty is an insult to the principles of Libertarianism.

Yet, there is another angle from which we may study the death penalty that does not deal in political points of view but in cold, hard facts.

The key principle of Justice in the Austro Libertarian System is that any damage to other peoples’ properties without their agreement must be compensated to the full amount. In other words, the objective of “Justice” is not the fulfillment of some foggy ethical or moral or religious code, but to turn back the clock to the conditions before damages occurred. In other words, rebuilding if possible, compensation if not possible.

From this point of view it is crystal clear that the death penalty is not, repeat not just. The problem is that the victim cannot be compensated. The state takes away the victim’s capacity to receive compensation by…well… killing the person who produced the damage in the first place!

Think of it in this manner. Let’s say that you have a cow. A thief stills your cow. You go to the judge and the judge decides to kill the cow as punishment for the thief. Happy now? Of course not! Ridiculous! Preposterous! Yet, this is exactly what the death penalty produces. No compensation and thus no justice.

Even in the event of egregious so-called “crimes” the correct answer is always to do the best to revert to previous conditions and never to punish for punishment’s sake. As a matter of fact, reversion to previous conditions would usually be so economically crippling that this very fact would act as a deterrent against so-called “crimes”. In this sense, the death penalty is senseless.

Yet, there are people “out there” who believe that the death penalty is merited in certain occasions. They are convinced of their rightfulness of taking a life. Fair enough. Question for those people, are they willing to provide reparations to the victims? Because, you know, they are removing the means to get reparations and as such they become responsible for all compensations. And if they won’t do it, then who? Who will balance the scales of justice? Their moral code? Fair enough, we have another question for them to ponder: how many loafs of bread can a moral code buy?

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

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