The Origin of Singaporean Crime Policy
By Bryan Caplan
When I was filling out my customs form for Singapore, I was chilled to see the all-capital letters, “DEATH FOR DRUGS IN SINGAPORE.” Philosophically, I have nothing against the death penalty, but of course I have everything against drug prohibition.* Still, I was intrigued to discover the origin of Singapore’s draconian approach. From Mauzy and Milne, Singapore Politics Under the People’s Action Party:
The death penalty is mandatory for murder, drug trafficking, treason, and certain firearms offenses. Lee Kuan Yew was impressed that there was no crime in Singapore during the Japanese occupation because punishment was severe. “As a result, I have never believed those who advocate a soft approach to crime and punishment, claiming that punishment does not reduce crime.”
Not only does Singapore execute a lot of people; by being strident in the face of international criticism (and using all-capital letters!), it also takes advantage of availability bias to amplify the death penalty’s deterrent effect.
Question: Suppose you were Milton Friedman trying to convince Lee Kuan Yew to legalize drugs. What would you tell him?
Update: I think the best answer in the comments comes from Renato Drumond:
I would say that he could, at the same time, legalize drugs and
penalize people who commit crimes under the influence of drugs with
death penalty. If he really believes in the deterrent effect of death
penalty, I don’t see any reason that he could give to oppose this new
* Indeed, I think that execution is a morally appropriate punishment for those who murder drug dealers.