Economist: Your Freedom is Dangerous Because You Might Set a Bad Example

by David Gordon

Last week I discussed a new argument against paternalism in the important book of Mario Rizzo and Glen Whitman, Escaping Paternalism. Today I’d like to give the other side a chance.

Robert H. Frank is an economist at Cornell University, well-regarded for his work on the emotions and usually anxious to stress the flaws of the free market. In his just-published Under the Influence, he offers, among many other things, a defense of high taxes on cigarettes, and this is what I’m going to talk about today. Frank’s argument, I hope to show, rests on some fundamental confusions.

Frank acknowledges that taxes on cigarettes, like other “sin taxes,” must overcome a powerful objection. Shouldn’t people be able to decide for themselves what goods they wish to consume?

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