If the premise that the government ought to save people from themselves is admitted, then I have no objections to Frank’s proposal to tax alcohol, tobacco, riding bikes without a helmet, even one of “the most controversial proposals,” namely, to tax soft drinks.

When apprised of the slippery slope here, and our author quotes economist Greg Mankiw, “Taxing soda may encourage better nutrition and benefit our future selves. But so could taxing candy, ice cream, and fried foods. Subsidizing broccoli, gym memberships, and dental floss comes next. Taxing mindless television shows and subsidizing serious literature cannot be far behind,” Frank counters that it’s a “concern we can set to one side until we have traveled further down this particular slope.” (193)

I’m afraid this won’t do at all. The meaning of “slippery slope” is that once you start sliding, it is difficult to stop actually, because it is impossible to stop intellectually. But Frank is an intellectual. He of all people should have an especially deep appreciation of the danger.

Now once we have slid down to an extent, presumably, we’ll need to open a discussion whether to keep at it. But this will be worth doing only if in addition to the general argument that the people are ignorant and stupid, always hurting themselves, there is a particular argument stating the reasons for going this far and no farther. If it turns out that there is no such argument, then we must either slide down all the way or go back up. But going down is generally much easier than stopping in midstream, condemning the previous direction, and reversing course and going back up. It is more efficient to decide whether to slide and if so, then how far, and to record the exact reasons for both decisions beforehand.


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