Friday, December 30, 2005

Making Choices

Making Choices

Lately there been discussion on other blogs, particularly Urban Review - St. Louis, about making choices in education, transportation, and housing.

My general sense is that:

1) People with more money have more choices;
2) People who are white and male often have more choices than others do;
3) Our choices are path-dependent: that is, what we choose today may constrain what we can choose tomorrow.
4) Public policy is an additional constraint on individual choice. In fact, maybe that should be point #1.

Thus, when we want to travel from place-to-place, we have choices. But those choices are limited by money, in some cases by gender and race, by past choices, and especially by public policy.

Through massive federal, state and local subsidies during at least the past 50 years, and arguably since the 1920s, the private automobile has become the preeminent transportation "choice." Indeed, for distances of a couple hundred miles or less, some people believe it is the only viable choice.

Amtrak and Greyhound provide increasingly limited service, serving most major cities but not necessarily frequently nor on-time. Very few small to medium sized towns have service from either. Greyhound does a decent job of serving college towns and military bases, but otherwise, their service is limited indeed. Amtrak routes are similarly limited, and frequently threatened with elimination.

Airplane travel is viable for traveling cross-country, but seems utterly silly for going to places as close as Chicago or Kansas City. It's an option, but not a very efficient one. And forget about flying to other places in Missouri or Illinois; the fares are often ridiculously high despite the short distance and lack of amenities.

For education, sure, there are choices. However, if you cannot afford to pay tuition, your choices are limited significantly. Public schools are an incredibly important social institution. When individuals "opt-out" of the public schools, ultimately democracy may suffer. Innovations in public education like public schools and charter schools are great; but they, too, may lead to an increasing divide between those who know how to access those kinds of options, and those who do not.

So perhaps a point #5 should be:

5) We can only make choices based upon what information we have available. An economist might say the choice set is constrained by imperfect information.

This very esoteric essay comes down to this:

You can't always get what you want!

Anyway, have a fun, safe new year! See ya' in 2006...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

IOW, "choice" is slanted in your favor (or conversely stacked against you) when you can (or cannot):
1) buy what you want;
2) get discriminitvely offered what you want;
3) already have something coming to you;
4) lobby for what you want; or
5) know what's best for you.

But if already on a path of limited choices, making new year's resolutions do seem rather futile.

A rather pessimistic post to close 2005, but Happy New Year!