Archive for January, 2010

Challenging choice in society

Following the recent discussion on the Today programme about choice in society (listen again here), Michael Clarke, author of the forthcoming Challenging choices, writes:

Choices proliferate in every corner of our lives, not just in the supermarket, the clothing shop and online, but in the knowledge, techniques and drugs available in medicine, in the options for savings and investments, in building our short or long term relationships, in how we bring up our children. Compared to those suffering poverty, authoritarian government and patriarchal family life we are surely privileged and have achieved mighty progress over the past centuries. Choice is central to our way of life and empowers and enables us.

So can we never have too much choice? Is it always a benefit? At some point each of us will be overwhelmed at having to choose between too many alternatives, or at having to make too many choices in sequence. We routinise, have habits, have favourite brands, leave it up to others, to alleviate these problems, but the issue returns.

Not all choices are easy: try choosing a pension arrangement unless there is a good occupational scheme available to you. The consequences of a choice may be severe and yet the responsibility rests firmly with the chooser. And choice does not always work. Do we really have a choice of train operators, or merely regional monopoly, high prices and ticketing confusion? Surely there are other ways? But is that not in itself a bit of a contradiction: other and better ways than choice?

What do you think? Is more choice always better? What are the alternatives and are they necessarily any better? We’d love to hear your views, so please add your comments to the discussion.

Book Launch 24 February 2010: Housing policy transformed

To celebrate the publication of Housing policy transformed: The right to buy and the desire to own – now available with 25% discount – the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is hosting a book launch on 24th February 2010. The author, Peter King, and Simon Heffer, Associate Editor, The Daily Telegraph will make brief remarks; this will be followed by a drinks reception. For more information and to find out how to RSVP please click here.

The Right to Buy is the most controversial housing policy of the last 30 years, but it is also the most successful. Unlike the many studies that have focused on the costs of the policy and sought to show its negative impact, this book seeks to understand the Right to Buy on its own terms. It explains how the policy links with a coherent ideology based on self-interest and the care of things close to us – instead of a policy that sought to do things for people, the Right to Buy allowed people to do things for themselves. Why not check out our other post on this issue ‘Why the Right to Buy policy was so successful’.


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