The Paradox Of Choice

I had the idea for this post and post title before I discovered that a book by the same name was authored by American psychologist Barry Schwartz and published in 2004. The sub-titles of the book are “Why More Is Less” and “How The Culture Of Abundance Robs Us Of Satisfaction.”

From the Amazon review:


“Whether we’re buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions—both big and small—have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented.

As Americans, we assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.”


In Economics, one of the major tenets of the discipline is Diminishing Marginal Utility. That is, the nth + 1 or nth + 2 of something is not as satisfying as the nth. A logical extension of that principle is that a state of negative marginal utility can be reached.

Although the days of all you can eat, serve yourself buffet meals are probably over, I can remember many instances–almost always in Las Vegas–where I was overwhelmed by the number of buffet choices and left the meal worrying I hadn’t sampled everything I might have liked.

OK, where am I going with this? Well, the number of places from which one can buy a car and the different types of car-buying experiences are making a selection of a Grocery Car/Taxi/Corvette Companion more difficult. The fact that I/we are torn between buying something somewhat practical or something more romantic, for lack of a better word, may be an internal factor, but the fact that it is almost too easy to find and to buy a car is a major complication.

I also think that ex post facto rationalization comes into play. To wit:


See the source image


From The New York Daily News a picture of the now-discontinued Buick Cascada. This car is now on the radar as a potential purchase. In Arizona, a convertible is a plus, the car is not ugly–at least not in our opinion–it has four seats and a decent-sized trunk. It’s not a performance car, I think its less than stellar power-to-weight ratio is a reason the car didn’t succeed, but it does have 200 HP/207 LB-FT of torque.

Last night when my wonderful wife and I were talking about this car, I was already “inventing” reasons why it would be a good purchase. The car was manufactured in Poland where my parents were born. The first car I ever drove was a Buick; neither my wonderful wife nor I has ever owned a Buick. All of this because a few examples of this car popped up on a general car search on AutoTrader.

What do you think about The Paradox Of Choice? I see similarities in the quest for choice and the rebellion against tyranny, both of which have probably gone too far in the opposite direction from the “original” state of affairs.





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6 thoughts on “The Paradox Of Choice

  1. As I sit here reading this, I am listening to my wonderful Hegel integrated amp play Weather Report’s “Heavy Weather” album and dreading having to pack up and send back the Musical Fidelity amp that I just had delivered yesterday. On paper the MF amp is better-all in one CD player, DAC, more power at 225 watts/channel. Fewer boxes on the stand, more power, entire CD collection in one place, what’s not to like. Well, something was missing, and now an hour after hooking back up my Hegel amp I know what it is…the “Boogie factor.” I was going to turn the MF off, but put on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” with the Hegel and here we are an hour later.
    Yup too many choices have us doubting ourselves, and frequently leads to bad decisions, whether it’s cars, stereos, or women. Not sure which one ends up costing us more in the long run. So the MF will go back, along with it’s 2X price.


    1. “…frequently leads to bad decisions, whether it’s cars, stereos, or women. Not sure which one ends up costing us more in the long run.”

      LOL and yet profound. Well done, sir.


  2. I’m in the camp of liking having a plethora of choices. I see it as there being a price point for everyone, with the exception of women that is. 🙂

    And I suspect everyone of us has made a wrong choice more than a few times. I know for myself it’s probably in the 3 digit range. Live and learn.


  3. I understand the good doctor’s theory, but I”m not sure I buy into it completely as many of our choices are eliminated by external factors by default leaving us much fewer true practical options.

    I recently saw my first Cascada in a parking lot and was immediately impressed. I was disappointed to learn it had already been slated for discontinuance. The vehicle reminds me of Toyota’s Solara, once on my list of choices for an Arizona convertible.


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