Will Wilkinson lays out a case against the death penalty. Wilkinson doesn’t believe the state can morally kill anyone, bear in mind. The post is good, however, because he brings in some dramatic graphical evidence of just how morally sophisticated modernity has seemed to make people — which has led to precipitous declines in countries using the death penalty and in crime as well.

I think the evidence is compelling on its merits. I don’t think that it makes for a great argument against the death penalty — as such stats, even if they gel with my sense of justice, do not in themselves justify anything.

And maybe here’s a reason why:

This graphs Gallups’s polling (right to left) of attitudes toward the death penalty from mid-1991 through October of 2010. The gap has closed to about 35% from about 55% 20 years ago, but still well over a majority of Americans are supportive of empowering the state to kill people.

So kudos to people for killing less people themselves, and hurray for states sending less people to death. But it isn’t clear we are making headway in convincing people that it is categorically a bad idea for the state to have this power. So at the end of the day, how much moral credit do we give people?

This seems like terribly slow progress to me. And while some governments have seen the light, American attitudes have remained stubbornly puritanical with respect to capital punishment, even while other attitudes (gay marriage) have changed dramatically.

So we just keep on keeping on.


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