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Posted at 6:36 PM ET, 03/ 1/2011


By Ezra Klein

Recap: The unions are polling well and Scott Walker is polling poorly; here are the programs the Government Accountability Office thinks we could do without; and what you need to know about state pension shortfalls.


1) A tumblr devoted to offering a curated list of interesting economics papers.

2) The problem with slippery-slope arguments.

3) There's nothing free market about the business model that's making the Koch brothers so rich.

4) Lord, make us thrifty -- but not quite yet.

5) I'll be talking health-care reform with Rachel Maddow tonight.

Recipe of the day: spaghetti with lemon and olive oil.

By Ezra Klein  | March 1, 2011; 6:36 PM ET
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Next: Wonkbook: Whatever happened to uncertainty?


I had a post on this in 2008, "Slipperyslopeaphobia".

My reasoning for why these arguments are absurd was not complex; it was just that empirically the vast majority are not complete idiots and/or insane. Quoting:

...what I would call, "Slipperyslopeaphobia", an irrational or just highly exaggerated fear of slippery-slopes, like if we have any social programs, even ones which are clearly shown to be tremendously high return and sensible, there's a great risk that we'll fall down the slope and go to stifling socialism. But history shows with very rare exception that people are able to do a relatively moderate amount of things without then falling to a koo-koo extreme (and when they do it's usually relatively temporary if not enforced by a brutal undemocratic regime). We've had public schooling for about 200 years, and we haven't gone communist. We've had the New Deal more or less for 70 years, again no communist dictatorship. We've had some restrictions on free speech and expression always, and we didn't go down the slope to Stalinism. In fact, we've with ups and downs over the long run gone up the "slope" to greater free speech and expression. People aren't complete idiots; if we go too extreme, the costs start to become ridiculously obviously greater than the benefits, and people vote to pull back. But a lot of people still have Slipperyslopeaphobia.


Posted by: RichardHSerlin | March 1, 2011 8:10 PM | Report abuse

--*2) The problem with slippery-slope arguments.*--

Austin Frakt appears to be confused, not withstanding his end * note admitting his confusion.

Further, the only "problem" with "Slippery Slope" arguments that Frakt identifies is that they may be "overused", which I take to mean "invalidly applied", which is true of many types of arguments. If an argument is valid, it is ridiculous to think of it as "overused," unless, I suppose, it's one's own statements continually refuted with it.

Koppelman, whom Frakt cites, likewise appears confused, bloviating that the government has no "incentive" (a completely subjective and vague term for such discussions) to "tax incomes at 100%," apparently not realizing that incomes were taxed at 90% within the span of my short life. I heard recently that the federal government largely made due with approximately 3% of GDP for the first 130 years of its existence, a modest figure that was soon forgotten with the passage of the 16th Amendment. Slippery Slope arguments were undoubtedly made in 1913, and I daresay, some would think them validated today. The compromise of principle that permitted the federal government a minuscule cut of one's earnings was the same compromise of principle that falsely bestowed legitimacy on tax rates of 35%, 70%, and greater. "Tax income at 35%? Are you crazy? No one would ever do that."

Nowhere in any of Frakt or Koppelman do I see where Slippery Slope arguments are invalid as a class.

Posted by: msoja | March 1, 2011 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Challenge ...

Other than your desire for the taxpayer to fund involuntarily the Democratic Party, which is the bottom line, what reason would you have for not having state workers work under the same terms as federal workers, i.e., essentially without unionization? Are not federal workers very well paid and managed? It can logically only be an overwhelming positive for public school children; I challenge anyone to think public education would get worse given that no private schools are unionized and they are statistically overwhelingly better than public schools if you look at the college admissions numbers per student.

Please step up government spending and public union activists ...

Posted by: Commenting1 | March 1, 2011 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Those are polls that combine public and private unions, right? You are sad, Mr. Klein. The difference is obvious.

Posted by: Commenting1 | March 1, 2011 9:23 PM | Report abuse

tons of kudoes to ed schultz for his passionate show on teachers and education, this evening.
he has taken on christie and walker, and has done a magnificent job tonight.
the recent events in wisconsin are mobilizing democrats....we are growing stronger and more united and determined each day, and just in time for the election.
this is very heartening.
and thank you to ed schultz, for the beautiful program this evening.

Posted by: jkaren | March 1, 2011 10:29 PM | Report abuse

and after huckabee's nonsensical comments today, he has joined the other guests, with a permanent seat at the mad hatter's table.

"This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Dormouse fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her: the last time she saw them, they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot."

Posted by: jkaren | March 1, 2011 10:39 PM | Report abuse


Your connection of the Tea Party (and Huckabee's pandering to the birthers) to Lewis Carroll's writing is brilliant.

Your posts are always heartfelt, thought-provoking, and life-affirming, and a welcome anecdote to the bitter invective of many others.

Thanks so much for consistently elevating the level of thought and dialog at Ezra's blog!

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 1, 2011 11:29 PM | Report abuse


thank you for the kind words:-)

Posted by: jkaren | March 2, 2011 12:51 AM | Report abuse

I have a theory that the Republicans give President Obama so little respect partly because the left often doesn't show him the respect that he deserves. So, in that respect, I would like to encourage you to address the President as President Obama as opposed to Obama or Barack Obama. I just think that this does make a difference. Remember when GW Bush was President and ALL of the Republicans kept the meme going about what a 'strong' leader he was when he, in my opinion, was not a strong leader at all? They really worked at trying to get others to respect him and we, the left, can't even refer to our President as President.
Other than that, I enjoyed your segment on Rachel tonight, as usual!

Posted by: Truth12 | March 2, 2011 2:04 AM | Report abuse

You've lost Margaret Carlson, you've lost, Regressive Democrats. Great headline: Johnny Can't Read Teacher's Plush Contract.

The bell tolls for thee(s). But this is good for the USA; you are what is wrong with the USA, not misdistribution of income. If the poor become better educated, they'll earn incomes that cause the lifetime distribution of income to be more balanced.

Posted by: Commenting1 | March 2, 2011 11:41 AM | Report abuse

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