January 23, 2004

The Citizen's Burden of Choice

The New York Times has a particularly dumb op-ed by Barry Schwartz complaining about choice. The effect he describes is real. I've seen cases where US choice over toilet paper provoked physical illness in people direct from Ceausescu's Romania. They got over it but there is something to the idea of too much choice.

Of course, you could always go to a store that stocked fewer choices. Gate keeping is a value added service and you could live your life blithely ignorant of the 80% of excluded brands and merely choose among the top three or five for any particular need as decided by the gatekeeper you... choose.

But this fairly obvious (to me) observation that there can be too much choice is being bent to unnatural ends in a condemnation of government program reform as championed by the Bush administration. The threat to the left (and a right-wing professor at Swarthmore published in the NYT is about as plausible as a pink elephant) is that choice implies judging performance and judging performance on these programs is deadly to their continued political survivability.

The political class has failed. They should have chosen wisely and pruned back programs that did not work. Now citizens have to take up that burden of choice that our representative have demonstrated for decades that they are incapable of properly exercising. Those who choose wisely, quickly, will reap the greatest gains. But even those who make initial mistakes will take the feedback of other people's choices and move out of the old, failed, counterproductive choices.

Posted by TMLutas at January 23, 2004 12:56 AM