Too many choices my ass

So I went food shopping and lo and behold, my favorite brand of natural peanut butter is gone. Natty PB is one of the great, healthy foods of our time: a low amount of carbs, decent amount of protein, and a large amount of healthy unsaturated fats. Very filling too.

My favorite brand is Valencia because it has a sweeter flavor than the rest. Yet on the shelf they only had the bland Smuckers and some other brand with a cartoon on the side. I reluctantly went with the Smuckers.

Barry Schwartz, bite me.

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401k and Medicare versus supermarket

The two examples offered in that article are 401k and Medicare, both of them state programs embedded in a market sector which, even if we set those programs aside, is highly regulated by the state (finance and medicine). Too much choice only becomes a problem when effective information flow (i.e. sufficient information flow to make a decent if not absolutely optimal choice fairly easy to make) is hampered, as it surely is in these two market sectors.

(When I talk about information flow I don't just mean explicit information such as Consumer Reports. I mean that if you wander into a Circuit City and buy a random laptop for $800, then this laptop is probably not all that far off from the best that you can get at that price. The fierce competitiveness of the market makes it hard for the makers to stray too far from the pack. The very presence of the laptop in the store conveys important information about it.)

If I want to buy a computer today, I have thousands of choices - probably millions of choices if we count Dell customization and assembling the computer myself from parts. Everyone has these thousands or millions of choices. And these choices change every year. With each passing year, last year's models are long out of date and are not seriously in the running any more; the models from two years ago are ancient technology. And yet people are not paralyzed by the massive and continually changing choice. This falsifies, or at least renders deeply suspect the hypothesis that tremendous choice causes paralysis and a curtailment of choice would be an improvement. Rather, that hypothesis should be replaced by the hypothesis that the hampering of information flow can make it hard for people to make decisions, and that this problem is exacerbated when there are more choices.

Schwartz writes:

Participation dropped 2 percent for every 10 options offered.

We know he's not talking about computers, because there are so many that a 2 percent drop for every 10 options would be a massive drop - computer owners would be vastly outnumbered by people who can afford a computer and are interested in getting one but who don't have one because there are too many options. That is simply not the case.

And even if we accept (for argument's sake) that this is a serious problem (outside of market sectors such as finance and medicine which have been nuked by government meddling), the last thing the supermarket wants is for its customers to be paralyzed by too much choice. If the supermarket could un-paralyze its customers by offering fewer choices, it would. (I am not, by the way, arguing that this is what happened with that peanut butter - there are many reasons an item is pulled.)

Here's Barry Schmartz on exercise:

Exercise is bad for you. The best thing for you is to sit on a couch all afternoon. This has been proven scientifically. In my rigorous experiments, I sealed people into a room with a limited amount of oxygen. Invariably, those who exercised lost consciousness long before those who sat on couches, and the more people exercised the sooner they lost consciousness, and it is clear that were the experiment not stopped they would have died sooner as well.

We now know, unequivocally I think, that the simple belief that a bit of exercise is good for you and that sitting motionless on the couch all afternoon is unhealthy is far off the mark; we have proven that it is most healthy to stay as motionless as possible, and that even the smallest amount of exercise is deadly poison that will significantly reduce your lifespan.

Ridiculous

I sealed people into a room with a limited amount of oxygen. Invariably, those who exercised lost consciousness long before those who sat on couches, and the more people exercised the sooner they lost consciousness, and it is clear that were the experiment not stopped they would have died sooner as well.

That’s absurd. Barry Schmartz would never do such a thing; he has too much respect for Conan O’Brien.

On the 2006 Emmy Awards, hosted by Conan O'Brien, [Bob] Newhart was placed in an airtight glass prison that contained three hours of air. If the Emmys went over the time of three hours, he would die. This gag was an acknowledgment of the common frustration that award shows usually run on past their allotted time (which is usually three hours). Newhart "survived" his containment to help O'Brien present the Emmy Award for Best Comedy Series (which went to The Office.)

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