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. Continue reading