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Steven E. Landsburg argues in Slate that we should execute computer hackers–or at least the hackers who are writing computer worms.

One of Landsburg’s many errors is his assertion that the death penalty is a deterrent against other murders. “A high-end estimate is that each execution deters about 10 murders,” Landsburg writes.

Sadly, Landsburg doesn’t justify this claim–probably because he can’t. Most research that I’ve seen concludes that the death penality doesn’t deter murder, but instead is justified on some sort of retribution or revenge argument. (It makes the victim’s family feel better.) There’s also the cost–it costs far more to kill somebody, it turns out, than to imprison them for life. In part, that’s because we’re justifiably afraid of executing the wrong person.

At first blush, Landsburg’s argument might have a certain appeal. On the other hand, one of the truly bright minds in the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is Robert T. Morris. An expert in distribution systems, Professor Morris was once best known for being the author of the The Morris Worm, the first worm to ride the Internet. (It infected UNIX systems.)

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