Monday, June 13, 2005

I'm pro-choice

Responding to an Asymmetrical Information piece, Half Sigma suggests that too much choice in the market place is a net negative.
If one toothpaste company decided to go with only one type of toothpaste, it would surely suffer a loss of shelf space and a corresponding loss of sales. So every toothpaste company is forced to compete in the marketing game, to the overall detriment of the consumer who is faced with too many choices and higher prices for toothpaste. (Prices are higher because marketing costs are passed on to the consumer.)
Well, no, competition does not cause higher consumer prices, unless elementary economic principles have completely changed recently. Economics aside, the concept of choice is foundational to individual liberty. The freedom to choose from among various subjective options is the stuff of individual identity.

The alternative is not the elimination of choice, but rather ceding choice to another entity. The question is: who will make decisions for those that refuse to choose? Typically, the grand deciders tend to be those that crave power over others. Such authority manifests itself in government, religion, political parties and trade unions, to name the worst offenders. In such hierarchical organizations, individualism suffers, ostensibly so that the group may thrive. This, of course, purports to benefit all members in equal measure. The reality, however, is that those who exercise choice on behalf of others do so in accordance with their own self interest in mind, irrespective of how the intended beneficiaries are affected. Therefore, those that ‘outsource’ the power of choice do so to their detriment.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

--C.S. Lewis