Dynamist Blog

Too Many Choices?

jams.jpgMy latest Forbes column takes a look at the latest argument that markets make people miserable: too many choices.

In the early 20th century critics attacked product variety as being wasteful--a sign that markets were less efficient than central planning. Hence, the Chinese wore Mao suits, Americans got uniformly round automobile headlights and British authorities "rationalized" furniture designs.

A famous scene in the film Moscow on the Hudson has Robin Williams as a Soviet immigrant collapsing at the sight of an American coffee aisle, circa 1984. Imagine what would happen in Starbucks.

A free economy multiplies variety, the better to serve buyers with different tastes and different needs and to give people the chance to experience different goods at different times. Arguing that this plenitude is inefficient went out decades ago. The problem with markets, the detractors now say, is that all these choices make us unhappy.

To understand why there's a photo of jams here, and what they might (or might not) have to do with private retirement accounts, read the rest of the column.

I'm also at work--hard at work right this minute, Nick, just taking a small blogging break--on a more-extended Reason essay on the anti-choice critique.

In related news, this site will soon feature two new sections, representing my current areas of research: Variety and Glamour. Watch for them.

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