Eric Claeys’s post yesterday about Cass Sunstein’s critique of blogs brought to mind a column from last week’s Washington Post, brought to my attention by E. Frank Stephenson over at Division of Labour. The subject is a new book by Swarthmore University psychologist Barry Schwartz, in which the author claims that as the number of choices available to people increases, the less likely they are to be pleased with the choices they make.
A fair point, admits Stephenson. After all, wouldn’t shopping at Wal-Mart be a lot more pleasant for me if the shelves weren’t full of items I’m not interested in? But the problem emerges in determining what choices should be eliminated from the menu.
Even if by dumb luck the person or agency deciding on what products would no longer be available managed to correctly eliminate the infernal sweet potato from my choice set, some unlucky sweet potato lover would be worse off. Ultimately, we’re better off allowing consumers as wide an array of choices as their purchasing habits make it worthwhile for stores to provide.