At the beginning of any liberal arts Economics course, the definition of economics as a social science is reverberated: the study of people making rational choices in the face of scarce resources. The inclusion of scarce in the definition seems to intuitively run contradictory to the prevailing thoughts regarding capitalism (and America really), where freedom is constantly pushed as a fundamental and essential component. After all, how can there be true freedom in an environment already defined as scarce?
Recently I watched a TED talk titled “The Paradox of Choice” (here is the link: https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice?language=en) which kind of changed the way I viewed the landscape of economics. In the talk, the speaker argues that an infinite number of choices causes at best inefficient decisions and at worst causes the prevention of choice all together. What really is important to people on a fundamental level is not that they have access to an unlimited number of choices, but rather choices they consider desirable. Therefore, a scarce or limited number of choices (or resources) doesn’t contradict the freedom supporters of capitalism advocate for if the limited number of choices are mostly desirable.
The capitalist global system runs counter to this ideal of everyone getting to choose from a grouping of desirable resources. The political and economical principles of the system create a society set up in a fashion where the most desirable choices are made available to a predetermined group of individuals. The added culture of consumerism creates a market where people aren’t making rational decisions, as hyper-commodification and the pace of transaction in the free market system results in decisions being made with incomplete information. To do a complete 180, it might well be rational for those whose choice is impeded on in a global market to continue to take part in the system, as the Globalization Reader points out that people or institutions that try to push back against the capitalism and the accompanying culture often are furthered stifled. Here, it becomes clear that we are dealing with choices of scale, from the micro-level decision of what to consume to the macro-choice of whether to continue the support of a capitalist global system.