This might seem off topic for a business blog but I am deeply concerned about our declining ability to reason through difficult decisions. I offer this as a mold for seeing points of view from differing angles.

The Death Penalty

For the moment, can we put aside the usual arguments proffered by the left and the right for and against the death penalty? The primary reason we have a death penalty in the U.S. is to administer the ultimate punishment for the most hideous crimes. The argument that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to potential crime has never been proved. This point has some merit, however, in that the executed are deterred undoubtedly from committing further crimes. True enough and indisputable.

I think we should consider the cases where the death penalty deters justice. Yes my friends on the left, the possibility certainly does exist for an innocent person to be executed. And my friends on the right can easily, and rightly, counter that argument by saying that we ought to apply the death penalty in cases where there is absolute certainty of guilt. We all can think of classic cases where that criteria could apply. Charles Manson comes to my mind. Each generation has its poster case from Lizzie Borden to today’s Casey Anthony.

But it’s time to put the politics aside and revisit the old argument of deterrence. The Anthony case is a perfect example of why the death penalty should be abolished. The circumstantial evidence around the Anthony case drew a line, albeit crooked, to Ms. Anthony. Most of us were shocked at the jury’s “not guilty” finding. Shock aside, I would not have wanted to face that decision. Was the case sufficiently proven that Casey Anthony should be executed? No, certainly not by the standards of a civilized society. Certainly not by circumstantial evidence alone.

For those that immediately say, “yes”, allow me to add another question. Was Casey Anthony solely responsible for her child’s death? That isn’t so clear to me. The conduct of her father was as screwy as her mother’s. I couldn’t, based on what I saw of the case, place all the responsibility on Ms. Casey  without having some lingering doubts of my own about what actually was done by whom.

Returning to the point of this little piece, in my opinion having the death penalty hanging over this case deterred the jury from finding Ms.Casey guilty as charged. The jury’s choice came down to two completely opposite possible outcomes: the accused either walks free, never, ever, to face charges for the death of her daughter again. Or, the accused is killed by the state.

“Wait a minute”, you say, “the jury had other options!”  Not really. The duct tape meant that the act was clearly intentional. Lesser degrees of killing were not appropriate with so many intentional components of the act. Who did the search for chloroform? There was no accident here. The murder was planned, clearly. But by whom?

My point is that the death penalty, in many cases, deters a jury from finding guilt in fear of making an irreversible and morally repugnant mistake.

I suspect many more guilty perpetrators of heinous crimes would be behind bars if common citizens were not faced with bearing the emotional weight of imposing a death sentence. Faced with ordering someone’s death, there should nearly always be some lingering doubt even in the most apparently clear cases.

Chris Reich

How does this apply to business? Consider how many ‘clear’ policies you have imposed at your business and then evaluate the ‘real’ outcomes of those policies. Can you do that objectively? If so, you will find many apparently effective rules that actually deter production and move your business further from its goals.