Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

The illusion of non-choice / Follow-up: The illusion of choice

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One of my many backlog items is a text that partially reverses The illusion of choice ([1]), namely a discussion of how some entities claim that they do not have a choice when they either do or when the non-choice has arisen through own manipulations. For reasons of time, I will just give a few examples and then drop the backlog item:

Many examples arise from government regulations or requirements on businesses. These sometimes* “force” a business to do something that is in the business’s best interest to begin with, often because of extensive consultations with or covert lobbying by business representatives. Consider, e.g., laws that ban free bags at grocery store check-outs. The grocery stores can now collect more money from the customers and/or reduce the overhead for providing bags, while blaming the government in order to avoid a loss of goodwill with the same customers.

*More often, I suspect, they are driven by ideology, voter manipulation, ignorance, or other harmful-to-the-business factors. Sometimes, of course, there are valid reasons and a societal/customer benefit.

A less obvious, but very similar, example is the introduction of new restrictions on e.g. cars for reasons like traffic safety and pollution, or refrigerators for reasons of energy efficiency. Yes, this usually makes the products more expensive to produce. However: Firstly, by not giving low-end producers the option of foregoing a voluntary product improvement in favor of a lower price, mid- and high-end producers have it easier. Ditto businesses with greater R-and-D investments/success versus businesses with lesser such. Secondly, as the government is blamed, customers will be somewhat willing to accept a corresponding price increase. Moreover, markup is usually a percentage of the price, meaning that more expensive products give a higher profit-per-unit and chances are that a disproportionate price increase can be passed off as “caused” by the new regulations, as the customers are not aware of the actual increase in production costs. Thirdly, chances are that the new regulations will shorten the life-cycle of already sold products, e.g. because customers feel the need to upgrade to be safe or environmentally friendly. Absent a grandfather rule, there might even be a legal mandate to upgrade well before the natural end-of-life of the already sold product.

(When it comes to the environment, even an official government intervention might not be needed, as a business can claim e.g. that “the climate crisis forces our hands”.)

However, examples exist in many other areas, as with a government who wants to push some unpopular-with-the-people policy, but fears the loss of votes. No problem! The EU, the UN, or whatever might apply, “forced” us do it (after we lobbied them to do so/voted in agreement). Or consider an individual who uses work as an excuse to avoid unpleasant family-related activities and vice versa. (“Sorry, honey, I have to work late tonight.” / “I would love to help, boss, but I promised my wife that X.”)

Excursion on electric cars:
Electric cars are a particularly interesting example, with the reservation that their effects on the car industry have been very varied from producer to producer: They are typically massively more expensive than corresponding “internal combustion” cars, which allows the industry to shift the price range of cars correspondingly far upwards, while, again, blaming the government or the climate. (Such attempts to shift the price range and/or get rid of products that have too low margins are comparatively common. I have another backlog entry on the topic, but, for now, just consider attempts to shift coffee consumption from drip-brews to capsule systems of various kinds, which come with a higher or much higher markup than drip-brews.)

Excursion on the Sorting Hat:
Looking back at the beginning of [1], is the Sorting Hat an example? Not normally, as the misinterpretation by the children is of a very different nature than the misrepresentations above. However, if someone were to argue, e.g., “I am cool, and I really wanted to join Gryffindor! It is not my fault that the stupid Hat put me in Ravenclaw with all the nerds!”, then it would be an example. (Assuming that my interpretation is correct and that the choice of Ravenclaw ultimately reflected the true wish of the child.)


Written by michaeleriksson

October 29, 2022 at 1:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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2 Responses

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  1. […] To continue the discussion of choice (see The illusion of choice and non-choice): […]

  2. […] yet another few words on choice (see [1], [2], [3] for earlier […]

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