by Noni Mausa
The Mordant Litmus of Texas?
The other day I was listening to a fascinating interview on US executions.
"So far this year, 5 convicted criminals felt the executioner's
needle. Michael Graczyk watched as they took their last breath. The
reporter from the Associated Press has witnessed more than 300
executions. It's believed he's seen more men and women put to death
than anyone else in the United States."
(Link is here. Audio is here)
But what caught my ear was the moment in the interview when Graczyk
remarked that in 1982, Texas resumed executions. I thought, there's
another entry for my file "It all started in 1980."
From 1964 to 1982, eighteen years, Texas executed nobody.
In 1964 the US Supreme Court negated all death penalties nationwide in
"Furman v. Georgia" due to unacceptable trial-and-sentencing
procedures. (details here, in case you care.)
States revised their trial procedures and by 1976 the Supremes allowed
that under these new procedures states could resume executions. Yet
Texas didn't use this until 1982 (a single execution), and then things
However, this post has nothing to do with capital punishment, but with
the economy. And I noticed something interesting.
See, all this led me to look at the number of Texas executions over
time. In this very rough (don't laugh) graph,
there were three peaks in Texas executions -- in the late 1800s, in the 30s,
and today's. Each peak has outdone the previous, and the 2000-2010
numbers were the highest ever.
For those who don't notice it, these eras equate to the Long Depression, the Great Depression, and our current depression.
Now, I realize that an element of the growth in executions is tied to
population growth, and if I had time I could chart that out. However,
Texas population growth can be seen in this chart (http://www.lsjunction.com/texians/charta.gif), and is shown to be a
long smooth exponential rise since 1800. Taking that into account,
there would still be three big bumps in the distribution of
executions. In my second laughable graph, you can see executions
really take off in the late 90s, leading into the biggest decade ever
-- 2000-2010, 248 executions.
It certainly looks to me like America's deepest recession /
depressions, are linked to Texas executions in some way. But
laughable graph #2
shows that the link is probablypredictive rather than resultant -- something is happening in the society which causes a buildup of personal disasters and/or punitive overreaction, before the bubble bursts.
If this is the case, then laughable graph #2 seems to show a dismally
hopeful trend, as execution rates have dropped since the housing and
finance bubbles burst in 2007-2008.