Eric has pointed me to the discussion that happened at Cato Unbound over libertarian/new paternalism. It went a bit like this:
New paternalist policies, and indeed the intellectual framework of new paternalism itself, create a serious risk of slippery slopes toward ever more intrusive paternalism.
[The] risk of the slippery slope appears to be a figment of Professor Whitman’s imagination… Slope-mongering is a well-worn political tool used by all sides in the political debate to debunk any idea they oppose. For example, when the proposal was made to replace the draft with an all-volunteer army, the opponents said this would inevitably lead to all kinds of disastrous consequences because we were turning our military into a band of mercenaries… Instead of slope-mongering we should evaluate proposals on their merits.
My favourite commentary on the debate was Robin Hanson’s:
As far as I’m concerned, all of these authors avoid the core hard problem. Yes paternalism can be a matter of degree, but even so we need principles by which to choose what degree of paternalism is appropriate in what context. Just repeating ‘More’ and ‘Less’ quickly gets tiresome. Such principles need to explicitly take into account the fact that organizations can give folks advice instead of limiting their choices.
It highlights how the argument often ignores the key normative question: how paternalistic should governments be? I’m constantly surrounded by people arguing from a fairly libertarian, utilitarian perspective so I’m curious about how the other half thinks. For instance, what’s the justification for trying to stamp out smoking? Which modern philosophers have supported positions that economists would refer to as hard paternalism, and why?