Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Limiting Choices Is Not The Answer

Photo by Harry Brignull
A TED Video Provokes My Thinking

I recently watched a TED talk video on YouTube that caused me to really consider if this paticular speaker had a valid argument. If you're not familiar with TED, TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then, its scope has become even broader. For more information on TED, check out its website at:

So, back to my story. I watched this TED talk video by Barry Schwartz titled "The paradox of choice." Schwartz has also written a book by the same name. Before you continue reading this post, I would encourage you to watch his video here. It's an incredibly interesting and thought-provoking talk, but I also believe there are a lot of inherent flaws in Mr. Schwartz's final conclusions.

Here's a quick synopsis of the video: Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

Schwartz's Solution Is Flawed

On many levels, I do agree with Schwartz that our western, affluent society has created a number of challenges for those of us who do live in an extremely wealthy society. We do struggle with depression and other psychological problems as a result of too many choices. Because of our great wealth, we get fixiated on the accumulation of money and stuff, thinking that this will buy us happiness. In the end, no amount of money or material goods can ever make us happy.

The biggest problem, though, that I had with the talk was his conclusion. It made me want to jump up on my home office desk and yell "WRONG ANSWER, BUB!" Mr. Schwartz's answer to the problem was income re-distribution. If he were given the power to fix western, affluent society, he would take a lot of our western wealth and spread it around to those other parts of the world that have less wealth and fewer choices. The main problem with this solution is that it has been tried before around the world and failed miserably - communism. Here in the United States, we've also tried and failed in this income redistribution experiment and have created a poor, dependency class as a result.

The purpose of this post is not to discourse in a political debate, but rather to encourage better thinking in this area. Wealth redistribution does not work from both sides - from those handing over their wealth to those receiving the wealth. Here's why. When people educate themselves, work hard, and begin to accumulate assets, they resent others forcing them to hand over what they have accumulated, involuntarily. As this happens more over time, people have less incentive to create wealth in the first place. Why should they "bust it" when they're going to be forced to hand it over to the government or other entity? They will automatically seek a level of work where they are getting maximum payoff for minimial effort.

On the other side of the problem, just handing wealth over to other people groups or nations that have less choices is definitely not going to solve their problem long-term. Why work hard and achieve anything if people are just going to hand money and resources over to me for free? I'll take it easy and just let others do the hard work for me in order to give me a few additional choices in life.

Laziness, less wealth, and fewer choices will be the ultimate result on both sides of the equation.

A Better Solution

I would like to propose a better alternate ending to Mr. Schwartz's TED talk. People in western, affluent society have failed miserably at teaching the important concepts of thanksgiving, contentment, and generosity. I don't think we need another government program to accomplish this, either. If parents would take their role seriously, our society would not be so wrapped up in the pursuit of wealth in order to give us more choices in life. If we were truly thankful and content for those things that we do have, we wouldn't be as interested in the accumulation of more stuff. We would understand that money and stuff can never buy us happiness in this life.

And, if we coupled thankfulness and contentment with generosity, I think western, affluent society would be in a lot better place than it is, today. Since these are primarily Christian concepts, the universal church needs to do a better job of teaching these three concepts to the Body of Christ. Mature believers in Christ also need to do a much better job of living out thankfulness, contentment, and generosity in their everyday lives.

So, Christian, where are you at, today? Are you living out a life here in western, affluent society in the pursuit of more money, more stuff, and more choices? Are you suffering from depression and greed because you are too wrapped up in the pursuit of more money, more stuff, and more choices? I would encourage you to rethink your current pursuits. Compare what you're doing in light of God's Word. I think you will see that you need to make some major changes in what you currently hold up in life as important. King Solomon said it best in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11,
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
Also, check out these related posts:

No comments:

Post a Comment