The Myth of Discovery
13 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2011
Date Written: 2008
This review essay of Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice discusses how Schwartz’s thesis that more choice is not always better should inform economists’ increasing acknowledgment that preferences are constructed, not fixed. In this companion piece to my more detailed consideration of the subject of constructed preferences, I argue that what makes the assumption of fixed preferences possible is a myth, the myth of discovery - that preferences exist to be discovered. Once we acknowledge that preferences are as much made as found, and that the raw materials from which they are made are scarcely stable, the assumption of fixed preferences becomes far less tenable. Schwartz’s account underscores that choosing isn’t just a simple process of discovery. When we choose, we do many other things as well: we may find out about ourselves, convey information to others, set ourselves up for good or bad feelings down the line and potentially, actions based thereon. In sum, a thorough cost/benefit calculation will not always favor more choice.
Keywords: preferences, rationality, choice
JEL Classification: A12, D83, D11
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation