Individual choice is a misleading concept: individuals do not control the choices available and are heavily influenced by advertising, propaganda, and other irrational factors. It also focuses attention away from alternatives, such as social choice.
- No One Makes You Shop At Wall Mart: The Surprising Deceptions Of Individual Choice (book) (1 link)
- Tom Slee's easy to read game-theoretic description of how MarketThink, the dogma of individual choice, does not lead to optimal outcomes.
People smoke in large part because they have been persuaded to. Persuaded by a tobacco culture carefully nurtured by the tobacco industry. Persuaded by an industry that suppressed hazards of smoking for decades after they were known. Persuaded by an industry that knew its product was addictive, and knew it had to addict juveniles to maintain the smoking population. This history is well known from internal tobacco company documents. You can pretend that the word "choose" absolves those corporations from all responsibility: but even libertarians shouldn't accept that. Otherwise, there would be no prohibition against fraud. People must make choices to be defrauded. The folks who invested with Bernard Madoff chose their investments, but that does not absolve Madoff. Nor are tobacco companies absolved because people chose to smoke. Those people were persuaded by an industry that spent enormous amounts on advertising, promotion, and disinformation. The amount they spent shows how critical they felt that persuasion was: that shows their responsibility.
Mike Huben, email July 26, 2009