Choices

4th March, 2007 with a response from kybernetikos

The word choice is very popular in our country these days.

On the surface this is a great idea, but it's important to remember that a choice is only truly free if one's choice isn't affected by another's.

Say Alex and Chris are given the choice of 3 holidays: Norway, Kenya and New Zealand. But if there is only one vacancy per destination Alex and Chris can't both choose Kenya. Not really a free choice.

In order to have a free choice there needs to be at least as many of each option available as there are choosers.

So, imagine we have 450 children and 3 schools. In order to be completely free choice each school needs to make avaliable 450 places: 1350 places in total. However, there are only 450 children, so 900 places will be wasted. This may cost nothing if it takes a school less than 6 months to create a place. If however it takes longer, an actual place, with classes, buildings and the land to put them on need to be built in anticipation of a child coming; but with only a 1 in 3 chance of a child actually coming.

It is clear therefor that, while it is possible to attain this level of choice, it's quite expensive. Oh, and it was your money.

And the moral for this little story? When someone offers you a choice, find out who's paying for it before accepting.

A response from kybernetikos

5th March, 2007

I don't think the way we use the phrase "free choice" is about not being constrained by scarcity, I think it's more about not being unduly influenced by external forces. The fact that I can't sing a rainbow, or eat a colour doesn't reduce my freedom. In the holiday example, it's not that I don't have a "free" choice, it's that actually, if the other guy chooses his holiday before I do, the choice that I actually have was a little bit smaller than the choice that I thought I have.

I would say that Alex didn't have a free choice in the holiday matter if Chris had threatened violence.