Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tough hurdle

"Balance" and "imbalance" usually have no clear meaning, but are widely used. The same applies to "over" or "under" anything, as in "overcrowded", "overpopulated", etc. This is more rhetoric than anything else. The same applies to assertions of "too much choice" or "too many varieties".

This week's Economist includes "The tyranny of choice: You choose" which re-hashes research re the psychic costs of too many choices. "The average American supermarket now carries 48,750 items ... more than five times the number in 1975.

What is the proper number? Now one knows. Inventory size and composition (on the shelf) or in the warehouse are some of the toughest problems retailers face. So the proper number of anything can only be found via (drum roll) market competition. The Economist's coverage manages to include this:
Many of these options have improved life immeasurably in the rich world, and to a lesser extent in poorer parts. They are testimony to human ingenuity and innovation. Free choice is the basis on which markets work, driving competition and generating economic growth. It is the cornerstone of liberal democracy. The 20th century bears the scars of too many failed experiments in which people had no choice. But amid all the dizzying possibilities, a nagging question lurks: is so much extra choice unambiguously a good thing?
But "unambiguously a good thing" takes in very little of the known (modern) world.