Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Bride of Reductio Creep

There must be a (shorter) name for this phenomenon: every bad idea eventually comes to pass. This is related, of course, to the problem of reductio creep, but it’s somewhat different. The problem here is that slaying a demon once is never enough -- you have to keep slaying the same demon over and over again, and eventually you’ll have a bad day and lose.

Exhibit A. If you thought you’d heard the last of “universal healthcare” back in 1994, when Clintoncare met its demise, you were mistaken. According to this L.A. Times article, Democrats intend to pound that old drum loudly in the 2004 presidential race.

Exhibit B. Did you breathe a sigh of relief when a judge struck down the lawsuit launched by fat people against McDonald’s? Well, it’s time to inhale again. According to this Sacramento Bee article, the plaintiffs have modified and refiled the case. And even if this case ultimately fails, it won’t be the last; the lawyers leading the charge are considering a variety of legal strategies, including “suing school boards for entering contracts with fast food and soft drink manufacturers; suing the milk industry for milk mustache ads that don't disclose the benefits of skim milk; and suing the pork industry for portraying ‘The Other White Meat’ as healthy.”

And it’s worked before: “It took hundreds of cases, starting in the 1950s, before tobacco lawsuits brought by smokers finally went to trial, and another hundred cases to finally win, [tobacco-litigation veteran John] Banzhaf said. But by the end of the 1990s, with public opinion against them, the industry agreed to a massive settlement, paying billions of dollars to states that had sued to recover tobaccorelated [sic] health costs.”

Bad ideas just keep coming back, until eventually they win. This process needs a name. I’m thinking “Voorhees Syndrome” (after Jason Voorhees of “Friday the 13th” fame), or perhaps “Terminator Syndrome” (I’ll be back!). Or maybe somebody’s already come up with a better name -- Julian coined “reductio creep” months before I tried to name it.

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