Home > Uncategorized > Paul Krugman Argues that Americans Have Too Many Choices… and, as the Texas Electricity Debacle Illustrates, More Choice Is Not Always Good.

Paul Krugman Argues that Americans Have Too Many Choices… and, as the Texas Electricity Debacle Illustrates, More Choice Is Not Always Good.

March 2, 2021

Paul Krugman’s essay this morning, “Too Much Choice is hurting America“, makes a powerful argument against the notion that more choice is always a good thing. Using the recent debacle in Texas as an example of how deregulation of electricity markets led to a devastating power outage, skyrocketing bills for consumers, and the bankruptcy of one the major electricity providers, Krugman suggests that choice has been oversold. The result? EVERYONE suffers from cognitive overburden… especially the poor!

There’s a growing body of research suggesting that the costs of poverty go beyond the trouble low-income families have in affording necessities. The poor also face a heavy “cognitive burden” — the constant need to make difficult choices that the affluent don’t confront, like whether to buy food or pay the rent. Because people have limited “bandwidth” for processing complex issues, the financial burdens placed on the poor all too often degrade their ability to make good decisions on other issues, sometimes leading to self-destructive life choices.

What I’m suggesting is that a society that turns what should be routine concerns into make-or-break decisions — a society in which you can ruin your life by choosing the wrong electric company or health insurer — imposes poverty-like cognitive burdens even on the middle class.

And here’s a question I posed in the comment section: “Given the powerful arguments against choice… why do we think introducing choices into public education is a good idea? I compare my eldest grandson’s labyrinthine decision-making regarding middle school and high school— the fruits of NYC’s “choice” system— to the complete absence of choice prevalent in most of the country and wonder why anyone thinks “choice” will fix the challenges public schools face. To paraphrase Mr. Krugman’s concluding paragraphs, We’re a rich country, it wouldn’t take much to ensure that the children of ALL Americans get the same opportunities for schooling that the children of affluent parents receive… So the next time some politician tries to sell you on the notion that deregulated privatization of public schools will increase choice, be skeptical. Having more options isn’t automatically good… in fact, when it comes to public services it is demonstrably bad!

Readers of this blog know that the whole choice argument applied to public education is deeply bogus because choice is limited to schools WITHIN a district. If Bronx parents had a real choice, they might choose to send their children to Scarsdale or Bronxville, or any number of school districts that are within commuting distance— especially since the choices they are offered WITHIN NYC often require longer and more complicated bus trips than attendance at a neighboring suburban district might require. Choice, especially the bogus choice offered now to parents in underperforming and impoverished districts, is NOT the answer.

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