Thursday, June 4, 2009

embedded deep in the foundations of modern economic and political thought



by Eric Drexler on June 3, 2009

In standard theories of rationality, it is practically axiomatic that having more choices is always better. It should come as no surprise that this isn’t true of real human beings: Too much choice can make us miserable.

In The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz unfolds a broad picture of the perversities of choice, and these are more extensive than I would have guessed. His examples range from shopping to life-changing decisions, and his angles of view on the subject range from personal experience to human history, psychology, and economic theory. The themes overlap with those in a book I reviewed and recommended earlier, Predictably Irrational.

The insights presented in The Paradox of Choice should influence choices about choices at many levels. At the broadest level, they call into question assumptions about aspects of freedom, abundance, and happiness that are embedded deep in the foundations of modern economic and political thought. At a personal level, Schwartz distills research about choice, attitudes, and psychology to suggest how we might live our lives with more satisfaction. (Do you approach choices as a maximizer, or as a satisficer?)

The Paradox of Choice, like Nudge and Predictably Irrational, is a book about a topic of general importance, written by a leading researcher in the field, and highly readable. I recommend it.

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