Book Review: The Choice between Life and Death and Everything In Between

Posted: 27 Jan 2010 Last revised: 21 Mar 2011

See all articles by Lee Harris

Lee Harris

University of Memphis - Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2008


In his latest book, the Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz, a behavioral psychologist at Swarthmore College, says what some of us have been thinking all along: Too much choice is not a good thing. People fail to make good decisions and their tendency to err is only exacerbated by expanding choice. Accordingly, Professor Schwartz argues that, because of the abundance of options, markets are failing to do what markets are supposed to do: maximize individual welfare. A counterpoint to the plain-vanilla economic analysis, Schwartz posits that the increased number of options may actually reduce overall utility, not increase it. This review of Paradox of Choice comes in several parts. In Parts II and III, I review the most important parts of the Book. Professor Schwartz lays out a convincing case that too much choice can have dire consequences as people muddle along to make decisions and, once made, regret and second-guess those decisions. To alleviate the incessant pressure to choose, Schwartz points out some commonsense things we might all do better. In Part IV, I point out some minor quibbles with the book, since there are few real targets to swipe at in this extremely engaging work. In Part V, I analyze the book in light of President Bush's call for creating an ownership society, which essentially expands individual choice in wide-variety of traditionally no-choice venues, like health care and retirement. In this Part, I make the point that expanded choice may be bad for many of the behavioral characteristics of individuals that Schwartz discusses. But, additionally, in such venues expanded choice should be approached warily since the bad choices individuals make in certain venues produce significant negative repercussions or externalities for others.

Keywords: Behavioral Law and Economics

JEL Classification: A14

Suggested Citation

Harris, Lee, Book Review: The Choice between Life and Death and Everything In Between (March 1, 2008). University of Memphis Law Review, Vol. 38, pp. 559-587, 2008. Available at SSRN:

Lee Harris (Contact Author)

University of Memphis - Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law ( email )

One North Front Street
Memphis, TN 38103-2189
United States
901-678-1393 (Phone)

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