A question of choice

It is widely accepted that a key benefit of modern society is that people have choices. It is also assumed by most people that more choice is always better than less. I would like to question the universal validity of this assumption.

There are definitely contexts in which an increased choice is very desirable. For example, getting a good education widens your career options and that is undoubtedly beneficial in terms of quality of life. However, there are big and little examples of wide choice that really do not contribute to one’s happiness.

A very mundane example is buying bread. Although I would not advocate limiting choice to just white-brown, sliced-unsliced, do we need the dozens of options presented by even a modest size supermarket? Really? I find myself staring at the stacked shelves for many minutes trying to figure out what to buy; I find myself blinded by the choice. [Actually, I have just realized that this might be a benefit of Brexit - the first one that I have observed. The shelves are getting emptier, which means our choice is being limited.]

A more serious choice scenario is healthcare in the US. Many Americans abhor the idea of social healthcare; they want to choose their healthcare provider, not have one forced upon them. On the surface, this seems to be a valid perspective. However, the realities of healthcare economics means that they get a choice of which company will bankrupt them in the event of serious illness. Give me the NHS every day!

Making choices is tiring. It uses brainpower [energy] that could be expended more productively. I have heard it suggested that we have, in effect, a certain allocation of choices that we can make in a given day. The advice is to not squander them early. This makes me question my habit of going shopping in the early morning …