Another response to the Thaler-Whitman debate

Following Glen Whitman fear of slippery slopes and Richard Thaler’s response, Shane Frederick weighs in over at Cato Unbound.

Slippery slopes and other metaphors are evocative and sometimes instructive. But they don’t always provide the best description of the world. We’ve all heard (and many believe) that if you place a frog in a pot of water that is gradually heated, it will cook without ever attempting to get out. The putative logic is that the frog displays small-change tolerance, which makes it relatively easy, through a series of small thermal increments, to induce the unsuspecting frog to remain passive until it succumbs to the heat.

That is a good story. And it is false. Dr. Victor Hutchison summarized experiments testing this claim thusly: “As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will become more and more active in attempts to escape…If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.”

We invite readers to share their comments about this debate.

  • Nosybear_Demon_at_Large

    “Slippery Slope” arguments are intellectually lazy. They assume that people will behave in ways they do not, for example, calling the Health Care bill a “slippery slope into (demonization of choice)” implies that next, we will vote in a European-style retirement system, expand health care into Government provision, take away peoples' guns and change Labor Day to May 1st. While we may tolerate small changes, we do have the foresight to know they can become big ones over time and we do make allowances. The only way to create a slippery slope is through competition, the rush to war or to offer more junk investment products for example.

  • Anonymous

    “Slippery Slope” arguments are intellectually lazy. They assume that people will behave in ways they do not, for example, calling the Health Care bill a “slippery slope into (demonization of choice)” implies that next, we will vote in a European-style retirement system, expand health care into Government provision, take away peoples’ guns and change Labor Day to May 1st. While we may tolerate small changes, we do have the foresight to know they can become big ones over time and we do make allowances. The only way to create a slippery slope is through competition, the rush to war or to offer more junk investment products for example.

  • Anonymous

    “Slippery Slope” arguments are intellectually lazy. They assume that people will behave in ways they do not, for example, calling the Health Care bill a “slippery slope into (demonization of choice)” implies that next, we will vote in a European-style retirement system, expand health care into Government provision, take away peoples’ guns and change Labor Day to May 1st. While we may tolerate small changes, we do have the foresight to know they can become big ones over time and we do make allowances. The only way to create a slippery slope is through competition, the rush to war or to offer more junk investment products for example.