Why not bring back corporal punishment? That's a question raised by Blair's macho talk about overhauling the criminal justice system.
Corporal punishment has obvious advantages. It's cheap. And it would satisfy the public's desire to see criminals punished.
Sure, it wouldn't take criminals off the streets, so it's an alternative to non-custodial sentences rather than to jail.
Would it be an effective deterrent? This is an empirical question which could be tested in pilot studies in different areas: how would the stocks, flogging or the pillory fare against tagging or community service? If the government is serious about evidence-based policy-making, it would want to find out.
There are two objections to corporal punishment that aren't good enough.
One is that it's illiberal. I just don't see this. Are a few public floggings really a lesser exercise of state power than a full therapeutic-managerialist approach to trying to change criminals' characters? And remember - corporal punishment is consistent with the due legal process that Blair is trying to undermine. Who's being anti-liberal?
Another misplaced objection is that corporal punishment is barbaric.
New Labour cannot use this objection - not when it wants to spend billions on the means of burning millions of innocent people to death.
What's more, good deterrents are necessarily barbaric. If criminals are over-confident of getting away with their crimes, and have high time-discount rates (so they attach little importance to future costs), only really nasty punishments will deter them.
I suspect the refusal to contemplate corporal punishment is based on not rational empirical considerations, but simply on the "yuk factor."
Or is there something else at work? Could it be that the refusal to countenance it is based on an Enlightenment prejudice, that only "modern" policies can possibly be acceptable? How else can you explain why we tolerate nuclear weapons but flinch at much smaller pains the state might inflict?