Richard Thaler on “Slippery Slopes”

Paul H. Rubin —  13 May 2012

In today’s New York Times, Richard Thaler argues that the Constitutional “slippery slope” argument in the Obamacare case (“Today health care, tomorrow broccoli”) is misguided.  This is a strange argument in this particular case.  We must remember that all of today’s commerce clause jurisprudence (which everyone agrees has greatly expanded the power of the Federal government to regulate economic activity) rests on Wickard v. Filburn, a 1942 case involving a small wheat and chicken farmer in Ohio.  If ever there was a slippery slope, this is it, and it seems rational to fear another in the same Constitutional line.

Paul H. Rubin

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PAUL H. RUBIN is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Economics at Emory University in Atlanta and editor in chief of Managerial and Decision Economics. He blogs at Truth on the Market. He is a Fellow of the Public Choice Society and former Vice President of the Southern Economics Association, and is associated with the Technology Policy Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Independent Institute. Dr. Rubin has been a Senior Economist at President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, Chief Economist at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Director of Advertising Economics at the Federal Trade Commission, and vice-president of Glassman-Oliver Economic Consultants, Inc., a litigation consulting firm in Washington. He has taught economics at the University of Georgia, City University of New York, VPI, and George Washington University Law School. Dr. Rubin has written or edited eleven books, and published over two hundred and fifty articles and chapters on economics, law, regulation, and evolution in journals including the American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Legal Studies, and the Journal of Law and Economics, and he frequently contributes to the Wall Street Journal and other leading newspapers. His work has been cited in the professional literature over 5500 times. Books include Managing Business Transactions, Free Press, 1990, Tort Reform by Contract, AEI, 1993, Privacy and the Commercial Use of Personal Information, Kluwer, 2001, (with Thomas Lenard), Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom, Rutgers University Press, 2002, and Economics, Law and Individual Rights, Routledge, 2008 (edited, with Hugo Mialon). He has consulted widely on litigation related matters and has been an advisor to the Congressional Budget Office on tort reform. He has addressed numerous business, professional, policy, government and academic audiences. Dr. Rubin received his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1963 and his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1970.

One response to Richard Thaler on “Slippery Slopes”

  1. 

    Leaving aside the premises/merits, I’m not sure I understand your point in your last sentence. Are you saying that there’s something especially notable about the fact that Wickard involved a specific case or controversy and that its holding then was applied to other situations?

    Isn’t that kind of the same thing as saying “Wickard is an Article III precedent”? If that’s the force of your argument, then isn’t the common law system of respect for precedent just one giant slippery slope that we should avoid….somehow?

    (Or have I just meta-illustrated the general silliness of slippery slope arguments?)