The slippery slope

I’ve detested the “slippery slope” argument for as long as I can remember. And, I’m not just talking about disliking the argument when it is inconvenient. I don’t, for example, selectively dislike it in the case of the constitutionality of the individual mandate. I have always and in all cases disliked claims of a slippery slope.* But, I confess, it has been hard for me to put a finger on why.

Andrew Sabl helps me out. Of course he is talking about the individual mandate, but I’m just using it to make a point about slippery slopes.

Congress has had the constitutional power to make us buy broccoli for a very, very long time now, and it hasn’t—for the obvious reason that, unlike the Affordable Care Act, the broccoli mandate would be contrary to the public welfare, unenforceable, and wildly unpopular.  We don’t need to wonder whether politics is a sufficient check on dunderheaded mandates. The contrary proposition has already been tested and falsified.

That’s it! Slippery slope arguments rely on an extreme out of sample extrapolation. They suggest that if we allow A to occur then A’ is not far behind, never mind all conditions to allow A to occur must also be satisfied for A’ to occur. Obviously A doesn’t necessarily cause A’ any more than the individual insurance mandate would cause a broccoli mandate.

I can already hear the objection, “Precedent, what about precedent?” But that’s my point. Precedent is just one hurdle. It’s a valid element to an argument, I grant that. But it does not mean that all other hurdles are overcome. Again, just because A is possible/legal/permitted and occurs does not mean A’ follows. In fact, the harder it was to get A to occur, the far less worried I am about A’, precisely if A’ is somewhat like A. (Mandates = hard, for example.)

You can claim a slippery slope, nay a vertical drop off, and I just don’t buy it. The argument goes nowhere with me, and never has.

*I’ve just searched this blog. In well over 1,000 posts, I have never argued by appeal to slick, inclined planes.

Hidden information below


Email Address*