Posts tagged with: choice

childlaborImagine you are given three choices — A, B, or C. In the ranking, A is much preferred to B and B is exceedingly preferable to C. Which do you choose? Obviously, all else being equal, you’d choose A.

Now let’s add the following restrictions to your choice:

• You, your family, and your friends will all get A. But you must make the choice of A, B, or C, for other people who you will likely never meet.

• If you choose A, no one gets B and some (perhaps many) other people will be stuck with choice C.

• If you choose B, few people will get A but even fewer will get stuck with C.

Which do you choose now?

Before you know what the choices entail, you’d likely select B as the least bad option for the people you are choosing for. It’s not as good as the choice you yourself got but it’s still better than C.

But what if I told you A is a ban on child labor in Bangladesh and B is allowing children to work in a garment factory earning 53 cents per day. Does that change your decision?

children1With our newfound economic prosperity and the political liberalization of the West, we have transitioned into an era of hyper consumerism and choice. This involves all sorts of blessings, to be sure, but it brings its own distinct risks.

Whether it be materialism or a more basic idolatry of choice, such distortions will be sure to diminish or disintegrate any number of areas across society. But the deleterious effects on the family and children are particularly pronounced.

Throughout most of human history, children were most often the brightest light in an otherwise bleak existence of poverty, toil, and high mortality. For those with little freedom, few resources, and zero opportunity, children were a blessing and a bounty: a gift (and not just for the labor). Now, however, presented with a range of vocational options and the wealth and leisure to support them, our priorities have significantly shifted. We are prodded toward career or education or adventurism first, teased by a platter of technological tools to further prevent a child’s intrusion into our planned prospects. (more…)

poor-working-class-family-after-the-days-workCapitalism is routinely blamed for rampant materialism and consumerism, accused of setting society’s sights only on material needs and wants, and living little time, attention, or energy for much else. But what, if not basic food, shelter, and survival, was humanity so preoccupied with before the Industrial Revolution?

As Steve Horwitz argues in a preview of his forthcoming book, Hayek’s Modern Family, our newfound liberty and accelerated activity in the Economy of Creative Service has actually freed us to devote more to other spheres of stewardship, not less:

united-by-differenceI can choose between 350 channels on my television, 170 stations on my satellite radio, 10,000 books at my local bookstore, and millions of websites on the Internet. But on my ballot I have only two real choices. I can vote for a Democrat or I can vote for a Republican.

In an age when even ice cream comes in 31 flavors, having only two choices in electoral politics seems anachronistic. But the limitation has an ironically beneficial effect. For as divisive as politics can be, nothing else has such power to unite our pluralistic nation.

From magazines to coffee to houses of worship, our consumer-oriented culture provides us with an unlimited number of choices. Chances are that you don’t watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music, or attend the same concerts as your neighbors. While the range of choices can be individually beneficial, it can be socially atomizing. In the 1950s if you lived in Green Bay you rooted for the Packers — just like everyone else in Wisconsin. Now with satellite broadcast, your favorite “football” team is just as likely to be Manchester United.

The expansion of choices has affected almost all major areas of life, except for one. In electoral politics you are forced to choose between the two dominant political parties. (Technically, other parties are listed on a ballot but the choice is still effectively limited to the two parties. See addendum.) Whether you are a proto-Marxist a theocratic Domnionist or a socially liberal libertarian, your choice of parties is limited to the Democrats or the Republicans. The choice may be nothing more than a vote for the lesser of two evils—Beelzebub rather than Lucifer—but making it requires you to band together with others of varying degrees of unanimity.

dad-baby-bjorn1With the expansion of economic freedom and the resulting material prosperity, we’ve reached an unprecedented position of personal reflection and vocation-seeking. This is a welcome development, to be sure, but as I’ve written recently, it also has its risks. Unless we continue to seek God first and neighbor second, such reflection can quickly descend into self-absorbed and unproductive naval-gazing.

Thus far, I’ve limited my discussion to the ways in which privilege and prosperity can impact our views about work outside of the home, but we needn’t forget the side effects that modernity might foster in an area that often consumes the rest of our daily lives: the family.

Just as most of our ancestors had few choices about where they glorified God in business (toiling for the feudal landowner), they also had few choices when it came to raising families (who they married, how many children they had, etc.). Whether due to lack of contraception, more practical material/financial concerns, or any number of other factors, for most families, children were simply a given.

Today, much like in our approaches to job-seeking, child-bearing has come to involve a significant degree of choice, and the overriding choice of the day seems definitive. As Jonathan Last points out in his book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, birthrates in the Western world are in a free fall, with more and more adults opting for fewer and fewer kids, if any at all. Last offers plenty of nuances as to why this is happening, pointing to a “complex constellation of factors, operating independently, with both foreseeable and unintended consequences.” But on the whole, he concludes that “there is something about modernity itself that tends toward fewer children.” (more…)

The legal institutions of capitalism exist not to advance any particular purpose, says Robert T. Miller, but to facilitate the advancement by individuals of their various, often conflicting purposes:

As this article in the Wall Street Journal explains, Missy Franklin, a seventeen year-old from Colorado who won the gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke last week, has steadfastly refused lucrative endorsement contracts. Why? Because she wants to preserve her amateur status so that she can swim competitively in college. In other words, she prefers competing to money. Happily, the economic freedom of capitalism includes not only the freedom to make money but also the freedom not to make money, if one so chooses. That’s an important lesson. If most people in Ms. Franklin’s position choose the money, that just shows that they have desires and views about the human good different from hers.

I can imagine some scolds arguing that, although Ms. Franklin’s is the better course, many young people with her opportunities would go for the money because they are seduced into doing so, and thus there should be legal limits on offering phenomenal young athletes endorsement contracts. Now, some people in Ms. Franklin’s position are no doubt seduced: they honestly believe that they should forgo riches, but they choose them anyway because they cannot control their desires. That certainly happens. But these scolds miss a bigger point, which is that some people honestly believe that going for the money is the best option. There is a very wide range for legitimate disagreement about what’s good and what’s bad in individual cases, and for some people like Ms. Franklin, given their individual circumstances, which could well be different from hers, taking the money may well be the right choice. The person best positioned to make this decision—meaning the person with the best information and indeed the moral responsibility for the choice—is the individual himself. The freedom provided by capitalist economies thus leads both to better choices (because individual decisions are made by people with superior knowledge of individual circumstances—a Hayekian point) and places moral responsibility where it belongs, with individual human beings.

Read more . . .

Our latest health care video short is up: “Why Consumer-Driven Healthcare Beats Socialized Healthcare.” And John Hinderaker of Powerline has an incisive analysis of the president’s speech last night to a joint session of Congress. The passage that stood out to me was this one about competition:

This seems to me to be the most critical moment in Obama’s speech:

My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. Unfortunately, in 34 states, 75% of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90% is controlled by just one company. Without competition, the price of insurance goes up and the quality goes down.

In fact, Obama and Congressional Democrats have zero interest in increasing choice and competition. If they did, there is an easy solution. There are over 1,000 health insurance companies in the United States; why do you think it is that in Alabama, one company has 90 percent of the business? It is because there are major legal obstacles to insurance companies operating across state lines. State legislatures, and lots of the companies, like it this way. Competition is hard. But if Obama really wanted to expand “choice and competition” in health care, all he would have to do is go along with the Republican proposal to allow health insurance companies to sell on a national basis. Like, say, computer companies, beer companies, automobile companies, law firms, and pretty much everyone else.

The video and transcript of President Obama’s speech is available here. And more Acton analysis of healthcare policy is available here.