Barry Schwartz: Analysis paralysis and the ‘paradox of choice’ justify wealth redistribution

February 4, 2013

I’ve heard it said before that too much choice can be harmful for people. I’m thinking primarily of Sheena Iyengar’s TEDTalk of July, 2010, The Art of Choosing, in which she said at about 10:38:

But for Eastern Europeans [who were acclimating to freer markets after the fall of communism], the sudden availability of all these consumer products on the marketplace was a deluge. They were flooded with choice before they could protest that they didn’t know how to swim. When asked, “What words and images do you associate with choice?” Gregors from Warsaw said, “Ah. For me it is fear. There are some dilemmas, you see. I am used to no choice.” Bodin, from Kiev, said in response to how he felt about the new consumer marketplace, “It is too much. We do not need everything that is there.” …

When someone can’t see how one choice is unlike another, or when there are too many choices to compare and contrast, the process of choosing can be confusing and frustrating. Instead of making better choices, we become overwhelmed by choice, sometimes even afraid of it. Choice no longer offers opportunities, but imposes constraints. It’s not a marker of liberation, but of suffocation by meaningless minutia. In other words, choice can develop into the very opposite of everything it represents in America, when it is thrust up on those who are insufficiently prepared for it.

Her point is well taken that a sudden overabundance of choice can be confusing and frustrating to those whose decision-making faculties have been stunted by years of repression, but her attitude is convoluted. Choice is not the villain here. Choice was not “thrust upon those who were insufficiently prepared for it”. Rather, a cadre of communist despots thrust the absence of choice on those people by force, thereby causing their impreparation for what, in freer countries, is simply the state of nature.  Read the rest of this entry »

On my ambivalence toward unions

September 24, 2012

One of many nail “bombs”, allegedly left by Philadelphia Construction Union workers to sabotage deliveries to a non-union Post Brothers construction site.

My support for unions ends where their anti-competitive activities begin.

I often claim to champion the rights of the individual against leviathan aggregations of power. So a friend of mine was taken aback when I expressed an ambivalence, if not an aversion, to labor unions. Our first conversation on the matter ended abruptly, but we have recently revisited the issue. Here are my thoughts.

For this blog’s purpose, I won’t challenge the workers’ claimed right to keep their jobs while forming unions, even though I do consider that technically to be a violation of free association. Technically, employment at will should mean that either the manager or the worker can break off the work arrangement at any time for any reason. Technically, contracts containing anti-union “yellow dog” provisions ought to be enforced when signed by informed, consenting adults. However, I do recognize, and I’m sympathetic to, the disparity in bargaining power between workers and managers. Therefore, I’ll tolerate this minor deviation from principle and avoid balancing the fate of the great masses of working people on mere moral-philosophical technicalities. After all, the existence of unions is not what concerns me most. I’m more concerned with what unions do after they’ve formed.  Read the rest of this entry »

A Case Study in Organ Markets: District Court Judge Finds No ‘Ill Result’; Organ Broker Gets 2½ Years

July 15, 2012 reports:

Brooklyn man sentenced to 2 1/2 years for role in black-market kidney trafficking scheme

The man in question is New York Rabbi Levy Izhak Rosenbaum.

I advocated legalizing the sale of organs a couple months ago on facebook, and the objections I received have been fairly irrational and uninspiring. Perhaps if people considered a real-life case of organ trade, they’ll begin to think about organ markets more clearly. Let’s take a look at the report, which first introduces the kidney donor/vendor:  Read the rest of this entry »

Links for November 21, 2011: Story of Broke; MoJo mangles the market (again); Unpaid interns want money (Who doesn’t?); others….

November 19, 2011
  1. For all of its flaws, this is actually not an awful video, considering the source. Annie mostly correctly identifies government boondoggles and waste as reducing the quality of our economy. She unfortunately does not identify the correct solution. He clings to the myth of good government. If only we vote the bums out, we’ll get good government, she seems to believe. I don’t think that’s ever happened, and I don’t think it ever will. As I’ve been saying ever since the Occupy movement has been making some of its demands known: Handouts to the politically connected are not a bug, they are a feature, of government. The free market will solve these problems better than the ballot box will.

  2. Lee Doren critiques “The Story of Broke” more fully.

  3. What Sexton should worry about is the very institution the Freakonomics crew worships: the market.

    First fallacy: Misrepresent the market. The market is where people go to exchange goods and services peacefully and voluntarily. People should worry not about peaceful, voluntary exchange, but rather about forceful interference into peaceful, voluntary exchange. Read the rest of this entry »

links for 2010-02-06

February 7, 2010
  1. | Aggressive Progressive: Fix the Budget, Fix America

    I agree here with Drew Hudson that we should cut the defense budget, as we should cut the budget everywhere else. By "restarting the economy", I hope he means returning that money to the American taxpayers.

  2. Link TV | Dean's Beans Blog: Lords of the Ring: Who Determines the Price of Coffee?

    If nobody is willing to pay the farmers their production costs, then what does that say about the market's need for coffee? What will happen—what should happen—is that is that farmers will and should give up making coffee and find something else to do to provide for themselves. It's not easy to say to a large swath of South Americans: "Well, look, your coffee culture is obsolete. International traders are no longer willing to pay for what you do." But if that's the reality, then so be it. Part of the equation is: who is selling coffee at below the cost of production, and why? If big international coffee corporations are making a killing selling coffee, and if they actually want to survive, then they will do well not to bankrupt their suppliers. They should consider offering the farmers enough for the crop so that the farmers can keep their businesses going. The farmers should consider another line of work if nobody is willing to offer them enough to keep their business going. Read the rest of this entry »