CAN CONSUMERS HAVE TOO MANY CHOICES? It is surprising to me to see the articles and new books which argue that having too many choices can be harmful to consumers. It is not that the consumer may choose tobacco or another harmful good. It is the burden of having to choose itself that is supposed to be harmful. It is surprising because economists have typically assumed that having an additional option would necessarily improve the lot of the consumer. I have never heard anybody complain about a restaurant menu that was too large. Nevertheless, I do bump against the effort to limit choices. The example I think of is my fancy car radio that will not let me listen to a station with imperfect reception and therefore safeguards me from listening to important local stations like WINS, (which claims to be the most listened to station in the New York area). I am thinking of this in connection with my post of yesterday about the fantasy baseball league. The stat service we have used for many years has been revised to limit the options available and now rejects our rather simple format. I tried Yahoo, but it has a maximum limit of 1250 innings for pitchers for a year (you can choose a range of lower ceilings). With nine pitchers, that would meant that you couldn’t have as many as five starters. CBS had a good site, but it had a maximum of 23 players. ESPN doesn’t permit the use of runs produced as a category (even though it does permit categories like pitches per plate appearance for batters and pitch count and pickoffs for pitchers). Maybe some of these limitations could be overcome by somebody more accomplished with computers, but deep down I think it’s because of the desire to limit choice. Why should somebody want to have a virtual pitching staff with five starting pitchers?

This entry was posted in Economics, Sports. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Annalisa says:

    Personally, I LOVE a staggering amount of choice when it comes to consumer goods, like at the grocery store. Mr. Burt made a long digression in AP US History to rant about how privileged we are to have a whole aisle full of different kinds of bread. He announced what a great country this is. I agree. The choice is a good thing, not something harmful. If I have to choose only one box of cereal from all the 55 varieties in the cereal aisle, not a problem; I can buy Wheaties one week and then Honey Nut Cheerios the next time I run out of cereal. It’s pleasant to have variety.

    (However, I have read in diet articles that having more variety in food encourages you to eat more. If you want to discourage your appetite, limit your options. If you want to encourage yourself to eat vegetables, put a variety on your plate.)

    The time that too much choice does stress me out is when I have activities or social engagements that overlap, especially if it’s something like two friends’ weddings in the same weekend. I was afraid that would happen with Catherine and Tanya’s weddings this September, but fortunately they’ve picked different weekends.

  2. Richard Weisfelder says:

    I wonder if any of you ever read the 19th Century best seller, “Looking Backward” – a non-Marxian utopian socialist (and rather dull) novel – that railed against the waste produced by excessive competition and product choices at that time! What would its author, Edward Bellamy, say now? Thinking in terms of urban sprawl, etc. how many big box stores really add to significant choices and contribute to general well-being? I note that Best Buy, Circuit City and others are cutting wages and stores. Comp USA is closing down. The progression of empty strip malls and defunct smaller grocery stores around Toledo reflects another downside of supposedly bigger and better choices. Isn’t there a point when consumer choice simply becomes excessive or wasteful duplication? I know that after 9/11 Bush said it was our patriotic duty to consume. Contrast that with the Swedish concept of “lagom.” (I note, however, that the younger generation of Swedes sometimes interprets this as “It’s enough, but not very much,” perhaps suggestive of the viewpoint Annalisa presents here.)

    Might not sound environmental policy limit choice by excluding or limiting production of certain products based on the waste generated? Is choice as we know it becoming a euphenism for stagnant earnings and an economic race to the bottom for US workers?

  3. Annalisa says:

    I had heard about Circuit City’s cutting workers and closing stores, but hadn’t heard about Best Buy doing similar things or the complete demise of Comp USA! Wow. The rest of what you said, Mr. Weisfelder, gives me a lot to think about. How many of these stores, shopping malls, and even products are redundant?

    I have one counterpoint that may or may not be valid. I’ve picked up on a lot of worry over the big chain bookstores (Barnes & Noble and Borders to a lesser extent) driving out the little independent booksellers. Authors, and agents to a lesser extent, worry about how the big chain bookstores use impersonal and sometimes inaccurate computer programs and protocols for selecting which books to stock and when to restock. But I have to wonder about the success of big chain bookstores that has them so worried. Is it because the big chains can afford to provide a LOT of variety under one roof? That’s pretty much why I love Barnes & Noble so much: it has SO many books. And if B&N fails, there’s always, which is a whole other story.

  4. Annalisa says:

    With regards to environmental policy and the waste generated by the production of certain products–I am amazed at how much packaging goes into processed foods. I admit that I buy them, but I feel guilty about it. I have actually started doing paintings on some of the cardboard that comes from the bulk packages of catfood cans. People might debate the relative benefits of recycling (is the material worth the energy consumed to process it?) but there’s no harm in reusing wherever you can!

    There are so many points to consider, but this is all I can do for now.

  5. Lee says:

    Anything that closes Best Buys is fine by me. Checking out at a Best Buy is “choice” overload of another kind:

    Do you want the extended warranty?
    How about dial-up Internet access?
    Okay, what about high-speed Internet access?
    Have you tried this shoddy online video game rental service?
    Let the Geek Squad gouge you to run an anti-virus program on your new computer
    Let me give you 8 FREE ISSUES of magazines no one could possibly care about!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.