I always thought “Libertarian Paternalism” was an oxymoron. So, I was happy to see that this month’s Cato Unbound is about “Slippery Slopes and the New Paternalism“. I think Glen Whitman did a great job with his lead essay, and his follow-up to Richard Thaler’s disappointing, dismissive reply.
The other replies were at least a bit more responsive to Glen’s concerns, and I hope there’s even better debate to come.
I think the issue is important, because it seems superficially attractive to “architect” choices so that people will be more likely to get what they really want. But, other than trivial examples, what’s more likely is for regulations to be based on political pull, bias, and popular nannyism. And, even paternalistic rules that do improve things when enacted are likely to remain in place (or worsened) long after the facts on the ground change so that they will inhibit people from making their best choices.
And, the slippery slope is a serious danger, and Thaler’s lack of concern about it should make the rest of us even more concerned about it.
(By the way…Comments are working again. Thanks Dale!)
UPDATE: Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy had an excellent post on the subject today; pointing out that it isn’t just the objects of “libertarian paternalism” who have cognitive biases, but so do regulators and voters!
Also, I probably shouldn’t have even mentioned slippery slopes without directing people to Eugene Volokh’s great The Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope law review article.