At the beginning of the story the banker and his guests are talking about capital punishment. The banker's guests mostly disapprove of the death penalty, but the banker defends it. The banker argues that the death penalty is "more moral and more humane than imprisonment for life." Initially this might seem like a strange opinion. The death penalty is, after all, often considered a very inhumane way to punish somebody. It is often considered inhumane because civilized humans should not respond to violence with violence. However, there is a compelling logic to the banker's argument.
The death penalty is arguably a "more moral and more humane" punishment than being imprisoned for life because it offers the criminal an immediate release. Life imprisonment, on the other hand, condemns the criminal to a life lived like an animal, locked in a cage. As the banker says, life imprisonment kills the prisoner "slowly" and is thus a form of torture. The banker asks,
Which executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out of you in the course of many years?
Put like this, it is perhaps difficult to disagree with the banker that the death penalty is a "more moral and more humane" form of punishment than life imprisonment.
One of the banker's guests, however, puts forward a strong counterargument. This guest, a young man, argues that "to live anyhow is better than not at all." In other words, according to the young man, to live a life, even if that life is restricted to a cell, is better than to not live at all.