Rebirth of Reason


The Paradox Of Choice
by Marcus Bachler

George Bush in his typical Texan drawl refers to the UK Prime Minister as what sounds like Tony “Blur”. I like this pronunciation of “Blair” because it is quite accurately describes his accompanying political philosophy. The central “Blur” of course being his famous “third way” politics that is supposed to advocate a blurring between right and left-wing choices. Take for example Blur’s changes in the funding of tertiary education. He has allowed different universities to charge varying fees for different courses (pro-choice), but has also severely restricted how much they can maximally charge (anti- choice), creating a shortfall  in University income. Not surprisingly University staff and students have recently been protesting and striking about the lack of money. He says it would be unfair for a dustman to have to pay for a students university fees (pro-choice), but pays the course fees and living costs of students from “poor” families and interest-free student loans from general taxation (anti-choice). This is just one of many examples whereby “Blur” pretends that he is offering “free market” choices to voters when in fact he is limiting them. Nevertheless, according to an article in “the independent”, he is working hard at a solution whereby he can effectively get away with further limiting choices and keeping his voters happy. He has found his new academic “single-choice” Knight in Shining “one size fits all” armour. Barry Schwartz, the author of The Paradox of Choice, was invited to offer his advice to the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit. Schwartz is a typical modern academic playing at being a psychologist and professor of social theory and social action at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. He argues against the benefit of unlimited consumer choice and claims that it is a major cause of depression in the western world. The article says:
The myth we seem to have bought into is that if choice is good, more choice is better. But no, Schwartz says: this mantra of the 21st century - applied to all manner of choices - gives rise to anxiety, unhappiness and even clinical depression.
The cause of the problem, according to Schwartz, is that too much choice has turned consumers into “maximisers”. Maximisers are those consumers that “...never buy anything without checking out all the options and researching all the available material, but they still feel dissatisfied.”

So his solution is that consumers learn to become “satisficers”. A satisficer is one that can “...set themselves a choice, but within limits, and mostly they end up with something they are happy with”. According to Schwartz, this is much easier for consumers to do when there are far few fewer choices available. His research claims to show that when shoppers are confronted with a display of 30 different varieties of a food product (for e.g. Jam) they are less likely to buy any of them than when they encounter a display of only six. Therefore, when maximisers go shopping for big or small items, when presented with too many choices, they spend more time looking, have a harder time deciding, look around more at what others are buying, and are therefore less satisfied if they do decide to buy something. This inevitably leads to depression and anxiety.
  This interpretation of this study could be flawed for many reasons. In addition, Schwartz has never contemplated whether consumer’s unhappiness could also derive from a too limited range of products available in “state regulated” western countries to meet demands, and whether in a true free market they could have been better satiated. 
I think that these type of psychological choice paradox theories are dangerous in the hands of choice limiting western Governments like that of Tony Blur. The articles goes on to imagine Tony Blair's Strategy Unit meeting going something like this.
All the Whitehall suits say: "We gave the people a choice of healthcare services, railways, electricity services, pension plans, education, etc - so why aren't they happy? And the professor of social theory and social action replies: "Well, maybe the problem is that they're just spoilt for choice.
Tony Blur, with a big blurry grin, looks at a map of the UK and starts to cross out the names of universities. “That’ll teach the Bastards to be happy about restricted choices!” he gleefully exclaims.
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