When Choice is not an Option


Choice.  It’s something we all like, and maybe take for granted.  But have we tried to extend the principle of choice to decisions where only one viable option is available?

For simple, everyday items, we’re all used to choosing from a variety of makes, brands and types. From toothpaste to chocolate bars, supermarket shelves offer us a bewildering selection of shapes, sizes and tastes.  Some products are clearly more ethical than others, and are themselves offered to us as part of the choice– “How ethical would you like to be today”.  Having a choice of these products is an attractive proposition for many consumers, albeit the real benefit to our lives is pretty trivial.

Of course, we’re all aware that the consumerist cult of choice breaks down in places.  Current train services are characterised by delays, disruption and pretty terrible conditions on board.  Whilst government franchising gives an illusion of choice, in reality travellers are trapped with these services – there’s only one service between Halifax and Manchester, for example.  Despite this inescapable fact, the government continues with franchising: they won’t give up on the “Choice Doctrine”.

A recent essay by Will Davies in the London Review of Books (link below – small subscription required) suggests that this addiction to choice has pushed well beyond the Consumer Sphere, into other areas of decision-making.

The “Choice Doctrine” appears to have reached its apogee with EU Referendum, where only two alternatives given to the country, one of which was not clearly defines, and was never a viable option for any country that wants the best for its citizens.
Indeed, the government appears to have known that this was a bogus choice, with the referendum being termed as advisory.  It pressed ahead nevertheless.

Now, having let the genie out of the bottle, the government contorts itself to deliver “the Peoples Will”, whilst knowing that no successful outcome is possible.

Review of Will Davies' book "Leave and Leave Again"