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June 29, 2014

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Jon, thanks for illuminating this issue. You made some keen observations that I had not considered in my post (or in my response in the comments to my critics).

Here's the insight that I find most striking: "The state is giving him the choice of picking his own punishment. "

I have no moral qualms whatsoever about giving Mr. Herald that choice, although I concede you do raise the valid issue of liability -- what happens if something goes wrong with the surgery? I have no ready answer for that question.

"The state is giving him the choice of picking his own punishment."

I also find this a compelling insight. I wonder, though, if it could be taken to an extreme. What if the choice is "permanent physical castration" versus "five years in jail?" In other words, is it still properly called a "choice" if one of the choices is abhorrent?

Yet more: What if both of the choices are abhorrent? "Permanent physical castration" versus "drawn and quartered." Still a "choice?"

Maybe the dual-abhorrent scenario is silly. But in the single-abhorrent scenario, the prisoner is given a choice of a "normal" punishment and an abhorrent one. "OK," one may say, "he can just choose the 'normal' one." What if the prisoner's mother has end-stage cancer? He can go away for five years and likely never see his mother again, or he can simply have a (permanent, maiming) procedure, and spend some more time with mom.

The point of this thought experiment is to illustrate that choice is not an unambiguous good. I think this is a noncontroversial statement in behavioral economics, but, to some people, it isn't.

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