I think Schwartz is full of it. He generalizes from his own experiences and attitudes. It's apparent to me that he's another critic of Free Market Capitalism searching for an angle of attack on it. The "the Market makes us TOO affluent and gives us TOO many choices" line is nothing new; John Kenneth Galbraith (who coined the phrase "the conventional wisdom") made the same charge in The Affluent Society
, where he railed against the "evils" of things such as tail fins on cars (of course, what Galbraith was really
complaining about was that people weren't make the choices he thought they should, such as sitting around reading his books and spending more on Government projects). The funny thing is that those same critics will often criticize the Market for making people too poor!
I quote from an article on consumerism:
We want better heating and cooling in our homes and businesses. We want more varieties of food, wine, cleaning products, toothpaste, and razors. We want access to a full range of styles in our home furnishing. If something is broken, we want the materials made available to repair it. We want fresh flowers, fresh fish, fresh bread, and new cars with more features. We want overnight delivery, good tech support, and the newest fashions from all over the world.
The libraries are going online, as is the world's art. Commerce has made the shift. New worlds are opening to us by the day. We find that phone calls are free. We can link with anyone in the world through instant messaging, and email has become the medium that makes all communication possible. We are abandoning our tube-televisions and landline telephones – staples of 20th-century life – for far superior modes of information technology.
We want speed. We want wireless. We want access. And improvements. Clean and filtered water must flow from our refrigerators. We want energy drinks, sports drinks, bubbly drinks, juicy drinks and underground spring water from Fiji. We want homes. We want safety and security. We want service. We want choice....are people buying superfluous things that they can do without? Certainly. But who is to say for sure what is a need as versus a mere want? A dictator who knows all? How can we know that his desires will accord with my needs and yours? In any case, in a market economy, wants and needs are linked, so that one person's necessities are met precisely because other people's wants are met.
Schwartz CONCEDES that the huge variety of jeans available resulted in him getting a pair that fit perfectly, but says that such an obvious BENEFIT of so many choices is somehow "bad", because if our needs are always being better met, we expect more. Yes, we want and expect more than we did 50, 75, 100, 1000 years ago (can you imagine the astonishment of someone from the Middle Ages at the idea of having and EXPECTING central heating and air conditioning, non spoiled food in tremendous variety and abundance, hot and cold running water, fantastic medical care, instant access to the world's knowledge in his pocket, etc etc etc?) . That's called PROGRESS. I can't even begin to imagine that having fewer choices made people happier (I'm trying to picture some caveman in a constant state of ecstasy because the only choices he has for the day are hunting game all day or looking for nuts and berries, and he sure as hell won't be picky about what KIND of game or nuts and berries). I prefer to think about the wonderful scene in Moscow on the Hudson,
where Robin Williams' character is joyfully chanting "coffee, coffee...", when he sees the overwhelming variety and quantity available in an American supermarket, instead of having ONE lousy choice after having to stand in line interminably.
Each of us is free to limit our choices, but artificially restricting them is a BAD idea. As one commenter stated, Barry Schwartz's head would explode if he walked into this store
. He'd obviously be much happier with this