New Paternalism on the Slippery Slopes, Part 6: Rent Seekers

by Glen Whitman

As discussed in the previous post, the “experts” in charge of implementing new paternalist policies will have a tendency to simplify their own theories to make them useful for crafting policy. That alone creates slippery-slope potential. But that potential is magnified by the existence of rent-seekers – that is, interest groups whose agenda is to change policy for their own interests. Such interests can be ideological, monetary, or simply personal. In the paper, we illustrate the power of rent-seekers to distort the facts and confuse the debate with two issues: environmental tobacco-smoke (ETS) and obesity. With respect to ETS, however, we have to run off a potential objection: that ETS is not really a paternalist cause at all, because smoke harms non-smokers (p. 714):

We should note that although policies addressing exposure to secondhand smoke (“environmental tobacco smoke” or ETS) are not strictly paternalistic, inasmuch as secondhand smoke can potentially harm bystanders, paternalist arguments have played an important supporting role. Most importantly, many actual and proposed anti-smoking regulations limit the ability of individuals who may not be bothered by smoke to expose themselves voluntarily to secondhand smoke as customers or employees of restaurants and bars. Furthermore, by creating a hostile environment for smokers, the ETS argument easily slides into the paternalistic. Thus, even some ETS arguments must be regarded as partially paternalistic either in intention or merely in effect. Continue reading