The trouble with choice

Saturday 25th August

The trouble with choice is that human beings aren’t really designed for this concept.  Given a choice of a fork in the road and two trails to follow we can usually decide.  Given a choice of four or five shades of colour we will go with our favourites time after time.  Given a menu in a Chinese or Indian restaurant most of us will choose dishes we know and have had before over something totally untried.  We are basically conservative creatures who know what we like and like what we know.

The modern concept of choice has been concocted by marketers and ad-men.  Who needs 50 shades of off-white, and besides the colour is never the same on the wall as on the tin.  Who needs twenty different types of fridge, as long as it works and is roughly the right size is all that matters.  And the illusion of politicians that we, the public need choice in our public provision has been proved wrong and yet they still regale us with this bit of prestidigitation as if it will solve everything.  I saw the experiment at first hand in Sheffield when Maggie privatized local bus services.  There were about six different companies running buses into town as well as the old municipal service.  Nobody chose anything, they just piled onto the first bus that was coming, no matter how uncomfortable or overcrowded it might be, or how bad the driver was – all they were interested in was catching the first bus they saw.  Eventually they have reverted back to the municipal service again.  As a parent, do you really have the time or the information to correctly check all the schools in your area.  No, what you want is for your local school to be very good.  If you are rushed to hospital with a heart attack, are you really going to express an opinion about which one they take you to.  ‘I don’t care, just make it quick.’

So rather than show me a menu with 100 items on it, where at least two thirds will be frozen and micro-waved, just offer me five meals and I will happily choose one I like.