Choice is bad, d’ye see? People might gain what they desire:
It is, however, important to recognise two further issues. One is that we are already moving, very rapidly, towards a command economy being put in place. It has already been announced that supermarkets and the government are working together on a plan to ensure that critical food supplies survive, largely at the cost of reducing the range of products available. This is de facto rationing. And it is the suspension of the availability of that supposedly critical element of the market, which is choice. That choice is, of course, largely created artificially by advertising for the purpose of product differentiation in the interests of profit maximisation. In practical terms, we might, within weeks at most, see the suspension of the market dogma this has underpinned our society for decades, and this will be necessitated by the simple requirement that we survive. Profits will be trumped by necessity. That imperative will close down choice, and transfer decision making to a bureaucratic system, whether we like it or not. And, I stress, this will be done by a Conservative government.
The long term implications are not clear. It might be that this imposition will only last for a matter of weeks, in which case it will be seen as an aberration. I suspect, however, that this is a decidedly optimistic view: the return to normality once what have been thought of as normal conditions have been suspended might take quite a while to manage. Rationing after 1945 lasted for longer than it did during war conditions. Once established, a command economy may take some time to reverse.
And there are good reasons for thinking that might be the case. If this epidemic is anything like as bad as some suspect it might be then the social and psychological impacts will last a great deal longer than the physical threat will. There are already signs that some patterns of behaviour will alter. I rather strongly suspect, for example, that there will be much less business travel after this epidemic than there was before: people will realise that videoconferencing is, now, pretty good. We are already seeing large-scale business events cancelled: I suspect business shows and conferences will be consigned to history, and not many people will mourn that. And people are, apparently already booking more UK holidays: I suspect that this might the start of a significant change in travel patterns. Together, it so happens that these changes contributes to a green theme.
So too, though, does the enforced reduction in choice. A command economy does, as one of its objectives, place priority upon the elimination of waste. People might get used to this, and even welcome it. They might even accept the need for coordinated economic planning to counter the much greater threat that we face from the climate crisis much more readily after this epidemic than they would ever have done before it.
Have you grasped all of that? Firstly, command economies are, apparently, less wasteful than free market ones. This is news to anyone who has ever actually observed a command economy. It’s also not obvious that having your 1,500 calories a day supplied by only turnips is less wasteful than getting 750 a day from each of turnips and swedes. That is, there’s no obvious reason why choice is wasteful. Consumption is 1,500 calories a day, production is, that it’s not a uniform product doesn’t seem to add inefficiency.
But we also need to note the thing he’s really not grasped. Sure, OK, ignore all of the above and agree, choice is costly, in extremis we’ll put up with less choice then. So, what does that tell us? That we humans like choice, that when we’re not in extremis – that is, when we’re richer than just surviving – then we take some of that greater wealth in choice. Just as we also take some part of rising incomes in more leisure etc.
Choice, like health care, pensions, insurance, leisure, being a luxury good. As our incomes rise we spend more of our greater incomes on those things.
What does that tell us then? Peeps like choice. And that’s where Snippa is truly wrong. He insists that we’ve got to give up the very thing we clearly and obviously, by our behaviour, like and desire. Because, not for any reason, just because.