On Tuesday night, Fox News's Bill O'Reilly revealed that he might be cool with hanging drug traffickers.
Seriously. Here is the exchange, from a segment posted by Media Matters about the release of 6,000 federal drug offenders:
Bill O'Reilly: I'll remind you, in Singapore they have no [drug] problem. Why? They hang them. They hang them.
Jessica Tarlov: Okay, but we're obviously not suggesting that as the answer to—
Bill O'Reilly: I don't know. I mean, look, Singapore at one time had the most pernicious opium problem you could possibly have, it destroyed their entire society. So they said, you know what, we're not going to have this anymore. And that's what they did. Bingo, no drug problem.
It's the "I don't know" that really sets this apart. O'Reilly had a chance to clarify that he doesn't want the US to hang drug offenders. Instead, he seemed unsure — even supportive — of the idea.
Beyond the civil rights implications of having the government execute nonviolent offenders, there's no evidence that a tougher approach to drugs would work in the US.
Tough anti-drug policies have already failed
Over the past several decades, the US has been fighting an international war on drugs with the explicit goal of going after drug manufacturers and traffickers to eliminate the world's supply of illegal drugs. The idea was that if you eliminate the supply, and bring up drug prices as a result, drugs will become inaccessible to would-be users and abusers. So the country imposed very stringent penalties for drug traffickers, which can sometimes add up to decades in prison.
Yet in all that time, the price of illicit drugs has plummeted — with the exception of marijuana, which was never very expensive. That suggests stringent anti-drug efforts aren't working: If they worked at reducing the supply of drugs, we would expect to see an increase in drug prices — but we've actually seen the opposite.
Moreover, the death penalty doesn't appear to reduce crime. A February 2015 review of the research by the Brennan Center for Justice found no evidence that the death penalty had an impact on crime in the 1990s and 2000s, and it concluded that the studies that suggested there was a deterrent effect were methodologically weak. And most criminologists said in a 2009 survey that the death penalty doesn't deter murder.
So O'Reilly's comment is not just morally questionable; it's also not backed by the evidence we have on the death penalty and war on drugs.