Posts Tagged ‘libertarian paternalism’

New Paternalism: Odds & Ends

May 5, 2010

by Glen Whitman

The Cato Unbound discussion on new paternalism has come to a close, but I want to address a few loose ends that came up during the exchange.

The Demand for Evidence

Richard Thaler has demanded empirical evidence that the new paternalism has led to slippery slopes. Given that the new paternalism is a relatively new phenomenon, I certainly don’t claim that the slope has already occurred.

I do claim that slippery slopes are real, that slopes are most likely when certain features are present, and the new paternalism has many of those dangerous features.

Historically, there can be little doubt as to the existence of slippery slopes. Examples that came up during the Cato Unbound forum included the run-up to Prohibition, the escalation of the drug war, and the gradual encroachment of smoking restrictions. I believe an honest examination of other, non-paternalist domains yields similar conclusions. For instance, after passage of the 16th Amendment, the vast majority of people paid no income tax at all, and the top marginal tax rate was only 7%. We all know how that turned out. A much more complex story could be told about early interventions in healthcare that laid the groundwork for more extensive intervention later. Read the rest of this entry »

New Paternalism on the Slippery Slopes, Part 10: Rejoinder to Objections

February 28, 2010

by Glen Whitman

Some new paternalists have recognized the slippery-slope objections to their approach, and they have made some effort to respond. But we find the responses insufficient (p. 735-737):

In their book Nudge, Sunstein and Thaler recognize the slippery-slope objections to their policies, and offer three responses. We reply to their responses here.Sunstein and Thaler’s first response is that the slippery-slope argument “ducks the question of whether our proposals have merit in and of themselves.” They say if the initial interventions are worthwhile, then we should “make progress on those, and do whatever it takes to pour sand on the slope.”

Our claim is not that slippery slopes are the only objection to the new paternalism. Various other objections have also been made (and referenced in the introduction to this Article). The slippery slope is an additional argument against the new paternalism.

The idea that we should “make progress” on the initial interventions, and then do what we can to “pour sand” on the slope, is a variant of the usual (and, we think, hackneyed) response to all slippery-slope arguments: that we can simply “do the right thing now, and resist doing the wrong thing later.” But if the slope argument is correct, there is a causal (albeit probabilistic) connection between initial interventions and later ones. Saying we should move forward on those initial interventions is akin to saying we should do something because it promises present benefits, while ignoring the potential costs in the future. Ironically, it is just this sort of error in private decision-making that most new paternalists think cries out for correction. The slope risk must be counted among the costs of the initial intervention.

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