Economics

If You Think Having Too Many Choices Is Tyranny, Wait Until You Have Too Few

Articles complaining "there is too much stuff" may be the one thing of which we have too many.

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A quarter-century ago, it was Walmart, Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores, and a few other bricks-and-mortar retailers that touched off panics over "the tyranny of choice." Too many flavors of Pop-Tarts, don't you know, was the new slavery, paralyzing us mere homo sapiens, who had evolved really only to choose between strawberry, blueberry, and brown sugar–cinnamon (either with or without frosting). Suddenly the breakfast aisle was overflowing with a few dozen types of breakfast pastries and we just couldn't deal with it. "Choice no longer liberates," wrote psychologist Barry Schwartz in a 2004 best-seller called The Paradox of Choice, "but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize."

Unsurprisingly, the same basic argument migrated frictionlessly into cyberspace, where the Long Tail wags us all near to death. When faced with such plenitude, who can decide? Here's the latest, steaming-hot iteration of that basic take, courtesy of Amanda Mull of The Atlantic. "There Is Too Much Stuff," reads the article's headline, neatly summarizing its argument. "The human brain can't contend with the vastness of online shopping," insists the sub-headline. A search for clothing hangers at the online retailer Amazon, writes Mull, yields over 200,000 options, which are too many to sift through, proving that "contemporary internet shopping conjures a perfect storm of choice anxiety." Even as she grants that it's "tempting" to see more choice and variety as "advantageous to consumers," she concludes that "infinite, meaningless options can result in something like a consumer fugue state" and that "after shopping online, I often don't remember days later whether I actually made a decision."

She links to a 2010 New York Times story that recounts a famous 1995 experiment involving displays of jam flavors in supermarkets. The researchers found that customers bought more jams when they were offered six flavors rather than 24 flavors. "Having 'too much' choice seems…to have hampered their later motivation to buy," they concluded.

Talk about your First World problems! So what is to be done? Should we limit consumer choices to help our mental health? But then we'd buy more, right, if the jam experiment is true and can be universalized to other goods and services? That doesn't seem to be what Mull or The Atlantic is after; each exudes an unambiguously anti-consumerist vibe.

Discussing the jam experiment in a 2005 Reason story, Virginia Postrel drew different lessons. The larger display may have drawn different sorts of customers (such as herself) who don't buy jam but were surprised or delighted by the range of choices. Postrel pointed to a related experiment by the same researchers, one in which they asked people to choose from a smaller or bigger variety of chocolates. The people faced with more choices said it was frustrating and annoying to have so many choices but also that the act of choosing was enjoyable. Go figure.

"Knowing we may regret any particular decision," wrote Postrel, "sometimes we simply won't choose." At the same time, we come up with ways to structure or limit our choices so we aren't overwhelmed during each and every trip to the grocery store. We actually do a pretty good job, Postrel explained, of limiting our choices so that we don't drive ourselves crazy or slip into paralysis. We keep going to the same restaurants and ordering the same dishes. We limit the number of stores or sites we look at while scoping out a new purchase. We rely on reviews and guides that we come to trust through experience. But the anti-choicers aren't comfortable with these heuristics. From Postrel again:

At the heart of the anti-choice argument is a false dichotomy: We can have a narrow range of standardized choices, or we can live with options that are infinite, dizzying, and always open.

[Barry] Schwartz treats commitment as the opposite of choice rather than its complement. By this logic, a market without contracts is freer than one in which contracts are enforced. After all, what if I sell you my car and then change my mind and want it back?

"Social ties actually decrease freedom, choice, and autonomy," he writes. "Marriage, for example, is a commitment to a particular other person that curtails freedom of choice in sexual and even emotional partners." So gays who cannot legally marry their partners are somehow freer than heterosexuals who can? There's something deeply wrong with this understanding of choice. Freedom to choose must include the freedom to commit.

Which brings me to a larger problem embedded in anti-choice arguments of the sort made by Mull. It's easy to mock the idea of 200,000 types of hangers (or, close enough, 200,000 search results at Amazon). Who needs that many hangers, right, or 24 flavors of jam, or…anything else that I don't particularly care about? Why do we have so many types of music, or eggplants, or nail polish?

I'd argue that the social-economic-political system that generates such a proliferation of choices in seemingly banal consumer goods also does the same when it comes to other choices in our lives that are arguably more central to our flourishing and self-expression—things such as sexual orientation, religion, personal dress, race, and ethnicity. You don't get 58 gender choices on Facebook without having to put up with a near-equal number of Pop-Tarts. A liberal order predicated upon individual rights, tolerance, and pluralism is going to generate a ton of SKUs in shit that you and I may not care about. That's not a problem to be solved, it's a dynamic to be defended and expanded to all aspects of human activity.

"Choosing determines all human action," pronounced the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises.

In making his choice, man chooses not only between various materials and services. All human values are offered for option. All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another.

Choosing among competing options isn't easy, but it beats the alternative, which is being denied alternatives not just when it comes to hangers but to all parts of life.

NEXT: Cheapfakes and the end of blackmail

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  1. The only time having “too many” choices is a drag is when I’m sick and feel like crap and am staring at 100 boxes of cold and flu relief medicines all of which address one or two of your myriad of symptoms but none address them all.

    1. A few months ago as I contemplated my aging body I decided I would eat healthier by including a quality smoothie every day. But what to put in it. Everything I studied had some good nutrient that was a little better than a comparable choice… but then that other choice also had something better than the first idea.

      Should I use almonds, walnuts, or cashews? Okay… now I add all three. Why not?

      Oat flour vs. wheat germ vs. taro root? Ahhhh… all three go in.

      Chia vs. flax? A bit of both.

      Ground ginger vs. Ground tumeric? Hmmmm… both taste good so both go in. Along with cinnamon.

      Fortunately there was nothing I had to compare cocoa to so I just dump that in all by itself.

      I have a big jar in the fridge with everything but the nuts mixed into it, and five big spoonfuls each smoothie disappears into blissful taste with the homemade yogurt and other stuff.

      1. And yet I just swallow a multi-vitamin and am done with it.
        However, I feel no need to require you to take my pills, and have no anxiety over your choice.

        Side note to all snowflakes: you never have to decide between more than two things. Deal with it.

    2. There is definite truth to that. There are tons of options for most everything today except 99% of it is crap and it does take a bit more time to find the needle in a haystack that isn’t shit. But…
      That’s why people stick with brands they know and trust on anything significant (I’m on my 3rd Toyota). That’s why endorsements from friends and families for products count (online reviews help also). That’s why companies work to keep up their reputation and brand by releasing quality products. It’s also why there’s introductory pricing and groupon and such as newcomers try to prove themselves (benefiting consumers with lower prices, at least initially). It can and is being solved quite effectively with market forces.
      It’s when assholes demand regulations mandating this and that on a class of products that ticks me off to no end. If they’re too lazy to do their homework, it’s their problem. It really pisses me off when I don’t have the choice whether something mandated is important to me or not and if so, how much extra cost is it worth to me. And it reduces competition (especially newcomers to the market), increases price (both by reducing competition and compliance costs) and the remaining players in the market sell products that are increasingly indistinguishable from one another because half of their specs are legally mandated.

      1. Bad news; the on line reviews are fake.

    3. They used to have good cold symptom medicine on the shelves, but now you’re deemed a potential criminal if you buy any.

  2. There are too many non-choices for president. Discuss.

    1. Truth. Smart people don’t want the job.

    2. I have lived under about 10 different presidents. My life hasn’t veered off course due to any of them. I really don’t get excited about who is president, I don’t know why anyone does.

      1. Good for you. But about 60,000 lives were radically “veered off course” thanks to JFK, LBJ and Tricky Dick. Hundreds of thousands more dealt with the pain of losing loved ones or seeing them maimed due to actions of the last ten presidents.

        1. I took that into consideration, but any other idiot in the chair was just as likely to do the same stupid stuff as the next.

        2. If Creech had said “exactly 10 presidents”, that would mean he was born in the #36 Lying Bastard Johnson administration, and probably didn’t remember any of the three presidents you named. “About 10” could include all or none.

          But at any rate, I can’t blame Kennedy for our troops dying in Vietnam. He sent a maximum of 16,000 military advisers and special forces, and I expect those would be our best and most professional soldiers, and NOT draftees. These were volunteers, who’d put in their maximum effort to pass the training needed for those jobs. They signed up for danger, but only a few died, and I think they had a better chance of surviving contact with their enemy than the South Vietnamese soldiers they were advising.

          Although IF he was indeed about to figure out what a hopeless cause it was AND have the courage to pull out, I do wish he’d ducked. OTOH, it would have been quite interesting if he figured out we were following a losing strategy and decided to change it to something we might win – if he had the political capital to do this, because the one thing I can think of that would have changed the ultimate outcome would have been to put a half-million Green Berets in the villages, and reduced the rest of the Army and Airforce to the guys who’d sweep through the jungle and mop up what was left of the VC after messing with an A-team and about a hundred villagers that the A-team had recruited, armed, and trained. The joint chiefs of staff would have _hated_ that, and they do have ways of pushing back politically.

          Now, LBJ was responsible for a lot of deaths, and IMO his Vietnamese policy was the biggest but not the only way he acted sociopathic. If you took a step back and looked at the big picture, his Vietnam strategy amounted to “Winning hearts and minds WITH NAPALM.” There’s no way that could work – but he’d rather throw American boys and the Vietnamese people into a meat-grinder than take the political risks of either losing a war to communists or taking on the Army brass and their love of WWII tactics (plus napalm).

          I think Nixon was another sociopath (e.g. when he trashed a report recommending decriminalizing marijuana, and when he hired a crew to try to steal the next election from the White House basement), but I have to give him credit for trying to find a better way in Vietnam. The boys that died in vain under him didn’t die just for the President’s political advantage, but for a strategy become so tired of paying taxes to blow things up in a jungle.

    3. WE DON’T NEED 63 CHOICES OF DEMOCWAT PWESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WHEN CHILDWEN AWE GOING HUNGWY!!!!1!1!!
      /Bernie

    4. Well, the Democrat Panjandrums have written off 2020. They are using Trump to winnow out the radicals who threaten their positions in the party.

  3. Talk about your First World problems! So what is to be done? Should we limit consumer choices to help our mental health? But then we’d buy more, right, if the jam experiment is true and can be universalized to other goods and services? That doesn’t seem to be what Mull or The Atlantic is after; each exudes an unambiguously anti-consumerist vibe.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest she’s riffing on cultural change rather than legislative.

    1. Just laying the groundwork for socialism where your choices are standing in line for bread, or just going hungry and skipping the line.

      1. And their next argument is that no one earned billions of dollars, they were just in the right place at the right time. So they may as well hand it over to the government.

      2. The final goal of “pro”gressivism has always been, “Everything that is not mandatory is forbidden”. If 10 choices are better than 100, then 2 choices are better than 3, and 1 choice is better than 2. And when it turns into NO choice – there’s not even one kind of bread left when you get through the line – that’s just because someone let the wrong people be in charge, not because the whole idea is flawed, nor that giving anyone that kind of power ensures the wrong people will seek to replace him.

  4. I am not sure why other people’s psychological problems in dealing with basic life should affect me in any way.

    1. Problem is, THEY are.

    2. +10

      But the sick bastards keep trying!

  5. In Venezuela, you may wipe your ass with your left hand, or your right!

    1. Like you can get enough food there to make you poop.

  6. For their first proposition, who the fuck doesn’t actually know what kind of jam they want? Give me red plum or nothing. Stick grape anything you know where.

    I truly do not understand how this can be anything of any serious concern. I often shop Amazon because they have more variety. I use Autozone less and instead but car parts at Amazon because I can see what options I have, sort through the choices with greater detail, and judge pricing from multiple perspectives. The only thing it has done is remove barriers.

    1. I worry about people who aren’t smart enough to figure out how to make a decision. I’ve never had an issue shopping amazon and prefer it because it does give me more choices for most things.

      I did have a hard time once trying figure out what toothpaste to buy every time I went into the grocery store. I decided to buy several small tubes until I found a flavor I’d enjoy and then buy that toothpaste every time. So far, it’s worked well, my teeth are clean and I’m happy.

    2. And who wants frosting on blueberry pop tarts? Or any kind of strawberry pop tart?

      Now cinnamon pop tarts, of course you need the frosting.

  7. Anyone who thinks choice is tyranny is doing it wrong. In which case they deserve the tyranny they get.

    Just leave me out of it.

    1. And there are billions who are doing it wrong.

    2. Unfortunately no one ever just buys tyranny for themselves. They always want to share

  8. Why does Medium have nicer photos than you guys? Their 99 Cent is HUUUGE! Bigger license budget?

  9. Of course we have too many choices.

    For example, have you ever shopped for olives?

    There are colossal, giant, extra jumbo, jumbo, extra large, large, and superior olives.

    And those are just the sizes.

    Then there are un pitted and pitted olives .

    And the pitted could be stuffed with various things like tiny peppers or onions.

    If only government could regulate the olives so their can be less choice and confusion.

    1. They do try. Or at least olive oil and labeling of certain olives.

      There is much cheating as has been going on since long ago.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Olive_Council

      You brought up a great example.

    2. I like the cheap Spanish green olives stuffed with processed anchovy. $1.29 a can.

      1. Those are the best.

    3. “There are colossal, giant, extra jumbo, jumbo, extra large, large, and superior olives.”

      I’m frustrated because I want small or medium olives. Big Olive is clearly sizeist.

  10. When I can’t make a decision because there are too many choices, it’s a sign I don’t actually know what I want. Time to rethink my parameters.

    1. “When I can’t make a decision because there are too many choices, it’s a sign I don’t actually know what I want. Time to rethink my parameters.”
      1) Sign on to Amazon.
      2) Examine alternatives.
      3) Realize I’ve yet to define what I’m looking for.
      4) Sign off, do some damn research, for pete’s sake!

      1. 5) Usually realize that all options are effectively the same, just with slight variability in quality vs. price.
        6) Further realize that time is money and the difference in price vs. quality isn’t worth spending much time contemplating.
        6) Choose the first option that looks a little cheaper than the average.

        1. Look carefully and you will sometimes see that all the options are rebranded versions of the exact same Chinese product.

          1. Sometimes not even bothered to rebrand them.

    2. Exactly this. People who struggle with this constantly must have no idea what they want out of life and thus no idea how to use their liberty. They also apparently have no self control because the issue could be solved by just imposing a few personal rules. These people are dangerous to the rest of us, of course, because they are clamoring for an authority to make their decisions for them.

    3. Either that or it doesn’t really matter what you pick and you should just pick something and get on with it.

      1. It’s like people who learn the time value of money, but not the money value of time. And then run to the post office every time they need a stamp.

    4. Choosing among too many alternatives is a two-step process:
      1. Eliminate choices that are less than optimum.
      2. Ennie-meenie-minnie-moe…

  11. . . . without frosting.

    Careful Comrade, lest your support, however tepid, for deviant lifestyle choices come back to haunt you

  12. “Journalists” have to write shit to make money. Writing insightful, informative, thought provoking shit is difficult as it requires intelligence, knowledge and research.

    What does it take to write a story about having too many choices? Noticing that we have a lot of choices and then saying it’s bad because dumb people, like journalists, find it difficult to make choices.

    Trying to scare us by turning everything into a problem that threatens society gets more clicks. People living with all the comforts and benefits of 21st Century life seem to have a compelling need to feel like their lives are worse than all the earlier generations. I call this “Pussy Guilt,” they feel guilty about how good they have it, and they’re pussies for being so fussy and whiny about the tiny imperfections of our modern lives.

    1. I don’t think they feel guilty. I think they want to feel righteous and just and morally superior. They want to have some great evil to quest against, but all the great evils are dead and gone, so they tilt at windmills.

      1. I totally disapprove of windmills and think they should be deplatformed, along with people who are windmill-adjacent and alt-windmill.

    2. This isn’t tilting at windmills. Sadly, the people at the Atlantic apparently slept through economics 101, or they’d realize the real story is signal-to-noise and the undermining of a central premise of Wealth of Nations.

      Rather than point that out, and possibly direct efforts to put the economy back on an efficient track, they want to make it look like people are just too dumb to self-direct, and thus promote the command economy agenda where big brother picks for you.

      Reduction of choice is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it necessarily anathama to the free market. Henry Ford famously did it when he declared you could buy a Model T in any color, as long as it’s black. But there was something else that allowed the FREE market to famously reward him for eliminating choice, and that was cost savings. As the market rewarded Ford for providing an affordable motor car for the middle class, Ford responded by cutting prices by more than half!

      At some point, reduction of “choice” will translate into cost savings for Amazon. Fewer man-hours spend logging UPC’s into it’s cavernous computer databases. Fewer CPU cycles spent data mining which products to elevate on it’s search pages. However, if you think that cost savings is ever going to trickle down to the end consumer, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

  13. I eagerly await the first leftist online journalist to opine that there are too many choices in libraries, bookstores, and university course catalogs or…in online articles written by leftist journalists.

    1. Oh I’m sure there are plenty of books they would like to make sure you can never see. Same goes for college courses. Dissent is not welcome and it has recently become the same as physical violence to them.

      Intellectual debate terrifies them, which is why you have ideas like hate speech and safe spaces.

    2. Libraries are a horrible example of the Neo-consumption phenomenon. Today they take your tax dollars and buy 5 copies of the NYT bestseller list, along with 10 copies of the latest DVD releases (they are the new Blockbuster). In 2 years, they are selling those at the annual bag sale for less than 5 cents on the dollar. That is poor stewardship.

      Libraries were conceived as repositories of knowledge and culture. They have been transformed by a hungry consumer public from repositories to revolving doors. Just 10 years ago, I could go to my library and find a shop manual for an out-of-production 1970s Briggs lawn mower engine. Today… not a chance. Their fancy-shmancy computer flagged that books and hundreds others as “stale” because they were only checked out once or twice a year, and their moron McKinsey-wanna-be consultants brainwashed them into comoditizing their shelf space and inventing fake metrics like loans-per-foot of shelves. They threw out all their copies of the state laws — the ones that lawyers used to use (now they pay for a crappy online service that is vastly inferior to what lawyers use)…. and those shelves sat empty. Then they put in more tables and chairs for “community service” tutoring (because tutors who charge money are not allowed to use the library!)

      It’s bad. Real bad. Consumption of products with no value, and all kinds of distortions when it comes to valuable services.

  14. Anyone who complains about having too many choices should be put into time machine and sent back a few hundred years. Even the rich used to live like paupers compared to today.

    This is only a concern for politicians and their benighted supporters. Bernie thinks 23 different kinds deodorants is way too much. Fock that. Do you really want to relinquish your power to decide on personal grooming products to him of all people?

    1. “Do you really want to relinquish your power to decide on personal grooming products to him of all people?”

      Of course not.
      But he wants to take that power and that is the real point here.

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    1. I’m still considering all the other chat apps out there.

  16. “Do you really want to relinquish your power to decide on personal grooming products to him of all people?”

    Of course not.
    But he wants to take that power and that is the real point here.

    1. And yer another squirrel trick;
      I got that stupid “duplicate comment” note again, and having learned that it is random, reposted.
      Then got a new one; “you are posting too fast, slow down”.
      Then I immediately reposted, and it went through.
      Did they hire Hinn as moderator?

      1. It takes a few seconds for Hihn (I think that’s how he spells it, not to say that this makes it right) to make a bad decision. This is software.

        OH NO, did someone hire Hihn as a programmer?

  17. Don’t worry. If AOC and the other Daenerys Targaryen of the Progressive sect have their way, you won’t have to worry about deciding between options, because they’ll tell you what they want.

  18. “At the heart of the anti-choice argument is a false dichotomy”

    At the heart of the anti-choice argument is a desperate, DESPERATE need on the part of pseudo-intellectuals to differentiate themselves from the shuffling herd. THEY are smarter than the lesser orders who are so simpleminded they think lots of choice is a GOOD thing…

    Whingeing little maggots….

  19. The problem isn’t people who can’t make up their minds. The problem is the fact that people think that the fact that some people are overwhelmed by choice means they need to do something.

    This is one of those good problems to have.

    1. As the article notes, the “fixers” who have identified this as a problem are themselves pro-consumption. It is only a problem if less junk gets sold and the landfills stop being overburdened with garbage that only found a buyer by pretending to something false (from direct counterfeit products, to false claims that for $2 less you can get a product that does everything the “known” product does).

      This is a byproduct of Internet gobbley-gook information processing. The ability to control the sort order or the search algorithm becomes more valuable than having a quality product. In many ways, Amazon has hedge-fund-icized retail in the way that hedge funds turned the stock market into a gambling house. Amazon is able to absorb losses from misguided purchases of inferior / knock-off / fake products because it has such a diversified catalogue, just like how a hedge fund negates losses with gains from other investments. The mechanism by which mom-and-pop stores used to serve as an information conduit (buy-experience-possibly return for refund) was losses that those operators can no longer absorb in the age of lean margins and high rents. There has been a market transformation, and it’s not good. The problem, however, isn’t that people aren’t able to decided what nail polish to buy. The problem is that resources are being allocated in grossly inefficient ways… ways that “The Wealth of Nations” predicts should not happen in the long term, but it has become the harbinger of a new long-run equilibrium that puts individual households at a significant disadvantage to mega-purchasers who can pass on their losses. The government never went bankrupt for buying $200 toilet seats — it just passed along the loss to the taxpayer.

      Is it time to bring back the “Model T” mentality? Probably not if the government or some politically charged NGO is making the decisions.

  20. There must be a point where adding more options is no longer a benefit. This is diminishing marginal returns. Adding more options makes an informed choice more difficult. It also increases the possibility of making the wrong choice.

    1. And then we let the market sort it out. If there are too many choices, at some point one or many of those choices won’t make any money. The number of choices will always be at or near the number of choices people actually want to make.

      1. ps) Not choices that YOU want to make, but choices that PEOPLE, as in “all the people” want to make. This is a key distinction because asshats like Ms. Mull really don’t like OTHER PEOPLE having choices of which she disapproves, or doesn’t care about.

        1. I don’t know the asshat in question so I can’t comment on her motivations. Don’t let that stop you, though. But as to your substantive point, surely the solution is to make the most advantageous choice for oneself, but the market may not be of much help for you and may even lead you to make an inferior choice, Follow the herd is poor advice. Much better is make your choices informed choices, but this becomes increasingly difficult as more and more options are put on the table.

          1. mtrueman
            May.29.2019 at 1:38 pm
            “…may even lead you to make an inferior choice,…”

            3rd party busy-bodies are stupid enough to assume *they* know what is a better choice.
            In fact, that’s a pretty clear sign of a stupid 3rd party busy-body.
            Fuck off; you have no idea what I value.

            1. “you have no idea what I value”

              I don’t care what you value, and I don’t see why you are assuming I do care. I promise you I don’t. If you want to make a choice that most reflects your values, you have to inform yourself. That takes time and effort. The more options on the table, the more time and effort is necessary.

          2. Much better is make your choices informed choices, but this becomes increasingly difficult as more and more options are put on the table.
            OTOH, it becomes impossible when the number of choices is one, and it’s not the one you want.
            Getting Congress involved in making choices for you invariably ends up with a committee deciding which product would be best for you based on the one all-important criteria: Whether the factory making the product is located in the committee chair’s congressional district.

    2. mtrueman
      May.29.2019 at 11:01 am
      “There must be a point where adding more options is no longer a benefit.”

      If there is, the market will tell the suppliers without idiots like you sticking your nose into other peoples’ business.

      1. “If there is,”

        No if about it. It’s called the point of diminishing marginal returns. It has nothing to do with noses or other peoples’ business. It’s a difficult concept. Adding salt to food makes it tastier. But beyond a certain point, the point of diminishing marginal returns, adding more salt to your food will stop making your food more delicious and will make it worse, despite all expectations to the contrary.

  21. When things are all equaled outcomes I keep a pair D10’s to roll for my choices. But I got good a breaking things down to probabilities from years of rolling random encounters.

  22. […] Reason‘s Nick Gillespie fires back at The Atlantic: “If you think having too many choices is tyranny, wait until you have too few.” […]

  23. If you want to see the harm done by not having choices just imagine statists like FDR and LBJ forcing everyone into pension and health scams for your retirement that are financially failing and having no alternative to get out of them.

  24. There is a reason amazon now offers “Amazon’s choice” at the top of the results. It is a very efficient way to buy things when your time is worth an extra buck.

    1. ” It is a very efficient way to buy things when your time is worth an extra buck.”

      Letting Amazon make your choices for you may mean that you don’t get what’s best for you. Amazon has their own agenda and it doesn’t necessarily coincide with yours.

  25. The Atlantic has gone way off the fucking rails. Its too hard for the nanny statists to realize that they have a choice about shopping on Amazon, or buying shit in general. I don’t care how you shop. Stop sticking your control freak, power hunger, sociopathic megalomanic nanny state head in how I shop.

  26. “The human brain can’t contend with the vastness of online shopping,” insists the sub-headline. A search for clothing hangers at the online retailer Amazon, writes Mull, yields over 200,000 options, which are too many to sift through, proving that “contemporary internet shopping conjures a perfect storm of choice anxiety.”

    Geez, suck it up snowflake. You should be happy you have choice.

    Also.

    Have you never heard of ‘refined search’? When I put in an item on Amazon that renders ‘over 10 000’ results I narrow my search. You can do this by clicking on ‘Prime’ if you’re member and that will immediately cut the items offered down to size. Then you can ask only ‘4 stars’ and up be considered. Voila! Still less! Suddenly you have to go through, maybe 200 or so!

    It’s like magic! And your anxiety level goes down! Doug Henning would be so proud of you.

    Choosing ‘hangers’ to exaggerate your example is also lame. As noted in the article, there are plenty of items I care not for and don’t understand.

    Nail polish for instance. But I understand nail polish is a reflection of so many intricate demands, needs and wants desired by women. Their choices and combinations in attire are far more complex than what men have to consider. It’s also a celebration of the varied tastes and styles women have.

    I don’t walk into a NP place and pull a Bernie Fucken Sanders and arrogantly proclaim in commie-think, ‘who needs all these nail polishes?’ Instead, I marvel at the invisible marvel of the free creative market (through, among other things, supply and demand) offering consumers the chance to express themselves through such products.

    Honestly, people who complain about too much choice are the worst. What we call ‘First world problems’.

    I think people like this fool themselves into thinking it’s noble to not want choice. Advocating for less choice doesn’t reflect a more sophisticated view on life.

    It mocks the nuances of human existence.

  27. Here’s a personal example of how the extremely banal can be hyped up through the illusion of “progress”, which is one thing that drives the multitude of choices. Chicken Pot Pie. After stumbling on a an article in a Cooks Illustrated magazine at my dentist’s office on how to make “the best” chicken pot pie, the idea started to fester, and eventually I found myself googling recipes for the dish. But I soon discovered that there are not just thousands of recipes online (no surprise there), but that Cooks Illustrated, through their various branded monikers, is responsible for publishing nearly a score of different takes on the recipe, each one being bolstered with claims about how poor past recipes fared in terms of such-and-such, and how vastly they had improved things. Ironically, though, they were implicitly poo-poo’ing all recipes that came before them, including their own “the best” articles on the subject.

    Because we live in an age where spurious technological progress is the driver of consumption, there is a massive market failure that leads to an equilibrium where superior products are drummed out of production, and a dozen pretenders take their place. The episode with the chicken pot pie called to mind what I consider to be the best authority on traditional gourmet Italian cooking… a soft-cover cookbook put out with black-and-white hand drawn illustrations put out by a small independent Italian cafe in Cambridge that had the best biscotti around. The marketing for said book consisted of setting them up on a table in the cafe. Needless to say, it is now out of print, and not just that, but, after many years of thriving in the “don’t let the tail wag the dog” 20th century, the cafe itself went out of business in the dawn of the 21st century.

    The problem with choice in the 21st century is the noise to signal ratio that undermines Adam Smith’s invisible hand from rewarding superior businesses and punishing inferior ones. To use an analogy, we are living in an era when the Invisible Hand is attached to a drunk who is being led around by carpetbagging internet influencers and so called objective reviewers who would make P.T. Barnum blush. This year, such-and-such review magazine or website will laud the wonderful gadgetry of self-start cars. Next year, they will ignore, or even disparage that feature as destroying the starter, and instead focus on a newly designed instrument panel, which, in turn, will be derided as unacceptable in a subsequent iteration.

    In reality, there is room in the market to accommodate both fad and function. However, because fad is susceptible to economic downturns, while functional products carry the value proposition of saving — saving time, saving money, saving stress, even saving lives. The new science of marketing is only part of the so-called choice equation. When even major brands like Nike and Toyota “invest” unspeakable sums of money in product development, they rarely make a long term commitment to actually produce anything long term. By the time the drunk on youtube reviews consumer sobers up and realizes that a particular Nike running shoe is the best they’ve ever used, it is too late. There were a finite number of shipping containers with those shoes that sailed from China. Regardless of how much the market wants to reward the superior product, and put the inferior pretenders out of business, the superior product’s ship has sailed, literally and proverbially, making the consumer’s first hand experience effectively worthless.

    In bringing back the Supra, Toyata is adding another choice to the one market that still does have a manageable universe of model choices (in fact, as GM and Ford drastically drop production of cars, the number of choices is getting smaller. At this time, if you want to purchase a new mini-van in the US, there are basically 5 models to choose from, that’s it!) The new Supra may or may not be all that it is hyped up to be. But we won’t know for sure until at least 3-5 years into the undertaking, when the personal experience of the early adopters has reached the level of conventional wisdom. But if Supra sales have not met investor expectations — if the return on equity is not what the rent-seeking, short sighted modern capital market demands — the folks with the accounting degrees will carry the boardroom with sensible talk about write-off’s and tax savings and the Supra will be aborted before the public knows it’s true quality.

    In this climate, nearly every product’s success is dependent on “buying blind”, forcing the consumer to give it a try, to bear the risk, and to be trapped in a perpetual cycle of chasing their own tail for information, only to find once they have it, that the information is stale and irrelevant.

  28. As long as our clothing is restricted to black pants, black t-shirts, and black leather jackets… I’m pretty sure the world will survive 😉

  29. For those that say, “The human brain can’t contend with the vastness of … shopping, ” I say:

    Speak for yourself. Don’t limit _my_ choices because _your_ brain doesn’t function well.

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