05 November 2014

Transcending False Dilemmas with Living Income Guaranteed – Part 4 – Abundance of choice vs Sustainability

This post is a continuation to the blog-posts:

Transcending False Dilemmas with Living Income Guaranteed – Part 1
Transcending False Dilemmas with Living Income Guaranteed – Part 2 – Sustainability vs Full Employment
Transcending False Dilemmas with Living Income Guaranteed – Part 3 – Tools of Intervention

Please read them first for context.

Example 4

‘We’ve created a society with an abundance of choices and so freedom to choose. Producing so many varieties of the same product places pressure on the environment, but reducing it would mean to give up the freedom we’ve gained.’

We all like to have options and choices – being able to ‘choose for ourselves’ which product we buy – the one that suits our needs just a little better, the one that has the specific features we are looking for. When we are not satisfied with a particular service, we like knowing that there are alternative providers of the same service and that we are not stuck with the only service provider.

Choices and options give u a sense of freedom, a sense of self-determination. So, it would seem that the more options we have available to choose from, the more freedom we have, the happier we are. And so, it would also seem that with the amount of choices we enjoy in our western consumerist lifestyle, we must have reached a state of absolute freedom. But have we?

Barry Schwartz did an excellent TED Talk presentation about this very topic and I will quote some of the key points he brought up as a quick summary – for the full presentation, click here.

“The official dogma runs like this: if we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximize individual freedom. The reason for this is both that freedom is in and of itself good, valuable, worthwhile, essential to being human. And because if people have freedom, then each of us can act on our own to do the things that will maximize our welfare, and no one has to decide on our behalf. The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice. The more choice people have, the more freedom they have, and the more freedom they have, the more welfare they have. This, I think, is so deeply embedded in the water supply that it wouldn't occur to anyone to question it.”

“We all know what's good about it, so I'm going to talk about what's bad about it. All of this choice has two effects, two negative effects on people.”

“One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis, rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.”

“The second effect is that even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from. And there are several reasons for this. One of them is that with a lot of different salad dressings to choose from, if you buy one, and it's not perfect […] it's easy to imagine that you could have made a different choice that would have been better. And what happens is this imagined alternative induces you to regret the decision you made, and this regret subtracts from the satisfaction you get out of the decision you made, even if it was a good decision. The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.

Second, what economists call "opportunity costs." Dan Gilbert made a big point this morning of talking about how much the way in which we value things depends on what we compare them to. Well, when there are lots of alternatives to consider, it is easy to imagine the attractive features of alternatives that you reject, that make you less satisfied with the alternative that you've chosen.”

“Opportunity costs subtract from the satisfaction we get out of what we choose, even when what we choose is terrific. And the more options there are to consider, the more attractive features of these options are going to be reflected by us as opportunity costs.”

“Third: escalation of expectations. This hit me when I went to replace my jeans. I wear jeans almost all the time. And there was a time when jeans came in one flavor, and you bought them, and they fit like crap, and they were incredibly uncomfortable, and if you wore them long enough and washed them enough times, they started to feel OK. So I went to replace my jeans after years and years of wearing these old ones, and I said, you know, "I want a pair of jeans. Here's my size." And the shopkeeper said, "Do you want slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit? You want button fly or zipper fly? You want stonewashed or acid-washed? Do you want them distressed? You want boot cut, you want tapered, blah blah blah ..." On and on he went. My jaw dropped, and after I recovered, I said, "I want the kind that used to be the only kind.
He had no idea what that was, so I spent an hour trying on all these damn jeans, and I walked out of the store -- truth! -- with the best-fitting jeans I had ever had. I did better. All this choice made it possible for me to do better. But I felt worse. Why? I wrote a whole book to try to explain this to myself.  The reason I felt worse is that, with all of these options available, my expectations about how good a pair of jeans should be went up. I had very low -- I had no particular expectations when they only came in one flavor. When they came in 100 flavors, damn it, one of them should've been perfect. And what I got was good, but it wasn't perfect. And so I compared what I got to what I expected, and what I got was disappointing in comparison to what I expected. Adding options to people's lives can't help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be. And what that's going to produce is less satisfaction with results, even when they're good results.”

“Finally, one consequence of buying a bad-fitting pair of jeans when there is only one kind to buy is that when you are dissatisfied, and you ask why, who's responsible, the answer is clear: the world is responsible. What could you do? When there are hundreds of different styles of jeans available, and you buy one that is disappointing, and you ask why, who's responsible? It is equally clear that the answer to the question is you. You could have done better. With a hundred different kinds of jeans on display, there is no excuse for failure. And so when people make decisions, and even though the results of the decisions are good, they feel disappointed about them; they blame themselves.
Clinical depression has exploded in the industrial world in the last generation. I believe a significant -- not the only, but a significant -- contributor to this explosion of depression, and also suicide, is that people have experiences that are disappointing because their standards are so high, and then when they have to explain these experiences to themselves, they think they're at fault.”

As with so many things in life, when we see something as beneficial, we have the tendency of overdoing it and pulling it to the extreme only to realize how that creates other adverse effects and we have to reign ourselves in a again. Sleep is good – it is a vital part of life and required for the body to rejuvenate – but sleep too much and you’re just wasting time. Chocolate is good, it is one of those substances that can give great pleasure – but eat too much of it and your face will be plagued with zits. With all such things – the key is to add the magic words ‘in moderation’: Sleep is good… in moderation. Chocolate is good… in moderation. Having choices is good… in moderation.

So, looking again at the original statement that we have to choose between either freedom through an abundance of choices – and sustainability in refraining from utilizing resources that no one actually needs – we can now clearly see that this is a very ‘black and white’ representation of the story, leaving out important considerations. In understanding that yes, some choice is better than no choice, but too much choice is worse than some choice – we are able to pursue both freedom and sustainability –they are not mutually exclusive.

To this end, we suggest in the Living Income Proposal that before new products and services are produced and made available on the market, it must first be proven that there exists an actual genuine demand for it: that it is something people are asking for – and not merely the same product or service of which there already exists a multitude of options to choose from, only to then create the demand through marketing and advertisement.


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