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Four Cheers for Choice

My colleague and co-blogger Russ Roberts said much of what I would say about the notion that too much choice can be bad for you. Russ chose his arguments well.

But let me add just a bit more.

It’s high time that clever people stop parading possibilities before the general public without first winnowing out the merely possible from those possibilities that are likely enough to matter. Almost anything is possible. In consequence, the proportion of All That’s Possible that is also likely enough to matter in reality is quite small.

Identifying mere possibilities is child’s play, especially for clever folk. It’s also dangerous for society. After all, when the array of identifiable possibilities is increased and displayed to the general public, how does the typical citizen know how to choose which of these possibilities are most likely and hence most relevant for policy-making purposes, and which are mere idle curiosities? Democratic choice made in the teeth of this overwhelmingly large number of choices of theories and policy options is sure to stupefy and mislead ordinary voters.

We have here — in the argument of Steve Pearlstein that “choice is overrated” — not only the seeds of a policy that would restrict consumer choice among goods and services, but also the seeds of an argument to restrict freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press.