Richard Thaler responds again to Glen Whitman

The debate over at Cato Unbound keeps going.

I must say that I find Professor Whitman’s debating style reminds me quite a bit of arguing with John Cleese in the famous Monty Python argument clinic sketch. Whitman employs two strategies. 1. Mis-stating the arguments and goals of the other side. 2. Repeating unsubstantiated claims. This is tiresome and unconvincing. Let me recapitulate.

First, Whitman says that I do not take the slippery slope arguments seriously. That is correct, and for good reason. He has never presented a shred of empirical evidence to suggest that this risk is real. Firms have been using Save More Tomorrow and automatic enrollment for over a decade. Some countries have adopted similar provisions in state-sponsored savings plans. Where is the evidence that this has led to requirements that everyone become marathon runners or vegans? In the absence of such empirical evidence, the claim is just fear mongering, and, as I stressed in my earlier essay, no different from the unsubstantiated claim that privatizing some sector of the economy will inevitably lead to some catastrophic outcome. Why is the paternalistic part of libertarian paternalism so much riskier than the libertarian part? Put another way, what is the evidence that small change tolerance is asymmetric? If the frog example were true, would frogs be less likely to jump if we were gradually cooling the water instead of warming it?

  • Art Thomas

    With regard to your comment on The New Yorker's anorexic cartoon depiction of Libertarianism, what else would you expect from them? However libertarians can be so ruggedly independent, they could have the homeowner saying something like, “thanks but no thanks, my sprinkler system has got the fire just about out. And the enlightened, libertarian-minded local government deducts the cost of this system from the real estate taxes they extort from me each year.”

  • Art Thomas

    With regard to your comment on The New Yorker’s anorexic cartoon depiction of Libertarianism, what else would you expect from them? However libertarians can be so ruggedly independent, they could have the homeowner saying something like, “thanks but no thanks, my sprinkler system has got the fire just about out. And the enlightened, libertarian-minded local government deducts the cost of this system from the real estate taxes they extort from me each year.”

  • rorysutherland

    My own belief. Persuasion or Nudging is not a first step towards compulsion. On the contrary, Persuasion is the Opposite of Compulsion. There was very little advertising in the Eastern Bloc.

  • Anonymous

    My own belief. Persuasion or Nudging is not a first step towards compulsion. On the contrary, Persuasion is the Opposite of Compulsion. There was very little advertising in the Eastern Bloc.

  • Anonymous

    My own belief. Persuasion or Nudging is not a first step towards compulsion. On the contrary, Persuasion is the Opposite of Compulsion. There was very little advertising in the Eastern Bloc.