The fallacy of the slippery slope fallacy

3 10 2011

If you’ve ever engaged in debate over the merits of limited government, you’ve no doubt encountered the dreaded slippery slope logical fallacy.

A radical individualist like yourself might argue, for example, that enabling the government to act in the interest of “public health” might lead at first to severe restrictions on “vices” (like cigarettes and alcohol), but then gradually morph into a crusade to other perceived “evils” (like sugar and butter).

That sort of thinking is clearly ridiculous, a prime example of that foolish slippery slope logic. Except in Denmark, where butter is now taxed to somehow combat obesity. Or (a bit ironically) Hungary, where similar anti-overeating measures are in place. Or the United States, where the idea of a federal soda tax has been raised as a way to fund health care costs.

To be sure, the slippery slope argument can be fallacious. One action does not logically or inevitably imply an extreme outcome. But it seems that classifying an opponent’s argument as a slippery slope fallacy in an effort to end debate has itself become a fallacy – a sort of “slippery slope fallacy fallacy.”

This new Danish butter tax, which amounts to a little under $0.40/pack, reveals a quite a bit about the regulatory mentality and ably demonstrates why the slope can indeed be quite slippery.

First, the new tax addresses a compelling, popular, but largely illusory issue. Lest you think desperate pols are trying to pare down the number herring-bloated Danes, it must be noted that the obesity rate in Denmark is low at less than 10 percent of the population. Compare that to an estimated 34 percent of American adults. Instead, the tax is in effect because it satisfied government’s dual cravings for revenue and control. Note that supposedly hazardous substances are rarely ever banned, merely taxed at ever-increasing rates.

Second, even if a drummed-up War on Obesity was grounds for taxing fattening foods, it is not clear whether taxation has a weight-reducing effect – or even whether fats, rather than sugars or carbohydrates, are the real cause of obesity (hint: lack of personal responsibility, which is awfully unpopular to tax, is the real culprit). No matter. It could be butter in Denmark, salt in New York, or trans fats everywhere else; science is more useful to a control freak as tool of rationalization than as a basis for justification.

Most disturbingly, we have no reason to believe that regulators will ever stop. A butter tax would have seemed ludicrous a generation ago. Today, it is the new normal in a modern Western democracy. Slippery slope fallacy be damned, it is readily apparent that bureaucrats and legislators will take a mile every time we give them an inch.

The willingness of bureaucrats and legislators to continually expand their sphere of influence has at this point been so well documented that proponents of control, not freedom, ought to be defending their position.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: