Thursday, May 03, 2007

Virtuous Slopes

When we talk about slippery slopes, we're usually talking about slopes toward bad outcomes. But the outcome regarded as bad by some may be regarded as good by others. Moreover, in some cases the direction of the slope could go either way. To take one example, I have sometimes (here, for instance) made the slippery-slope argument that expansion of the welfare state encourages greater restrictions on immigration. But Sourcreamus (commenting or posting, I'm not sure which, on the new Distributed Republic blog) sees the possibility for a slope in the opposite direction:
Support for income transfers is generally stronger if those receiving the transfers are like the voters. This is one explanation why support for wealth redistribution is higher in Europe which tends to be less diverse than the US (although they are getting more diverse recently). The surge in recent immigration from south america and mexico means that the face of poverty in America is changing. Although the idea of immigrants coming to America for the welfare payments seems to be largely a myth, myths can be very powerful things politically. I have heard several people who I consider to be solid Democrats complain about illegal immigrants getting benefits that should be reserved for Americans.

If the support for redistribution falls due to immigration, support for law and order may go up. A recent study claimed that people who live in diverse areas feel more unsafe than those who live in monocultural areas. If this is true it should translate into greater support for the Republicans who are seen to be the law and order party. If immigration undermines the Democrats call for more wealth redistribution and helps Republican calls for law and order, smaller government may be the result.
I don't know if Sourcreamus's prediction is correct. I'm inclined to think my prediction of a slope in the other direction is more plausible, but I hope it's not. In any case, I think we need a term for slippery slopes toward (what we consider) desirable outcomes.


Micha said...

David Friedman makes the same point here. I'm surprised we don't hear this argument made more often in the immigration debate.

Martin L. said...

I don't think there is any need for a "positive term" for the slippery slope. After all, the slope is not really called so because of its unfavourable outcome, but because it's an argument based on a causal chain of events that supposes that each event has only one possible outcome - that is, the next step in the chain.

That "slippery slope" feels like the wrong term for a positive-ending chain is because that kind of argument is so rare. We expect an unfavourable outcome whenever this particular mode of reasoning is used, and thus a "good slope" just feels wrong.

Anonymous said...

nota bene - Sourcreamus is posting on our community stream not the main page, ala dKos' diarists by mild analogy.

Brian Doss - TDR