Otherwise, we'd have to say Aaron Swartz was not entirely rational when he killed himself.
If I had to guess, he wasn't weighing it against the plea bargain, he had already decided not to take the plea bargain on principle and was weighing it against the cost of taking charity and bankrupting all his friends and family to fight it and even after all that still possibly losing and going to prison for multiple years. In other words, taking the plea would have had the additional cost to his integrity, which even in this day and age still means a lot to some people.
I don't know if I would go so far as to say that the decision was rational (and I know the suicide prevention people hate it when people talk about stuff like this), but I can see the road he took to get there. Being human isn't always rational and we have to make policies under the understanding that people will have feelings and principles rather than making all decisions as rational automatons.
>Would that it were--we'd save a fortune on federal prisoners by executing them all!
No we wouldn't. It costs more to execute someone than imprison them because of the cost of all the appeals and safeguards we have for death penalty cases.
But even though you're kidding, I think it raises a pretty reasonable point: Why do we even have prisons at all, other than as detention facilities for pending death penalty cases? If someone commits a sufficiently serious crime (or re-offends sufficiently many times), put them to death. If their crime was less serious than that, make them pay back their ill gotten gains, subject them to a fine or make them do community service 20 hours a week for however many hours or years. What good does it do to imprison someone if you ever intend to let them back out again? Prison costs the state money, it takes the convicts out of the economy and makes them parasites, and when they get out they have no skills and no job history which is one of the many reasons the recidivism rate is so high. Prison is a profoundly broken institution. I think there is a very strong argument for just getting rid of it as a method of punishment.
That's a great insight.
I would point out that prison is still an acceptable in-between for community service and death. E.g. what happens if the convict simply doesn't show up for their community service?
Depriving someone of their own free use of their time is a powerful motivational tool (just ask anyone who's ever had to "hurry up and wait" in the military).
However any possible positive effect you would get from prison, either for rehabilitation or non-recurrence, would be had within the first year, two at the most.
Any prison sentence beyond that and you have to wonder what the marginal additional value is (I would think none).
I'm not sure if you're entirely serious about the death penalty for sufficiently serious crimes, but the normal argument is that even if that were acceptable in theory, that it's been proven not implementable in practice, and we'd rather optimize for not accidentally putting something to death who is innocent.
This itself could be fleshed out further though... governments all the times do things (or don't do things) that may indirectly lead to fatalities later on. Things as simple as redirecting a road away from a cliff face to prevent people from driving over the edge at night can save lives, but we as a population generally accept that there is an economic reality that government can't pay to completely prevent all foreseeable accidents. So could you argue from there that if we already let people drive off of cliffs because it's cheaper, that we could let government accidentally execute innocents if it had a net positive outcome?
I don't know... even I'm pretty leery of that logic. Personally if I were to be fradulently convicted I'd rather a lifetime of prison than to be put to death (assuming I could still read, program, etc.)
It's possible he rejected the plea bargain out of hand, though Thoreau, Gandhi, King, and Mandela would all question the assumption that going to prison diminishes the integrity of someone with a noble cause. If he thinks his integrity was better preserved by hanging himself in his apartment and leaving his body there for his girlfriend to discover, he wasn't really thinking clearly at all, was he?