Ask for a cup of coffee in Starbucks and you’ll face a seemingly infinite number of choices: tall, soy, java chip frappuccino, extra-hot, half-caf. Shop for jeans at the Gap and you’ll face endless walls of them: long, lean, drop-waist, distressed denim, short cuffed. Thirst for an orange juice — but would that be orange banana, extra-pulp, no pulp, vitamin C-infused?
The Western world is erupting with choices. In consumer goods, politics, and the media the word “choice” is equated with freedom, in particular having the freedom to live the life you want, and the more choices you have, the more freedom. But this shouldn’t be surprising. Doesn’t freedom universally mean having the opportunity to choose what we want?
No, according to recent research. In many cultural contexts outside the US, freedom does not equal choice. Moreover,even most Americans do not equate freedom with having more choice. This lack of contingency is particularly strong among the poor, immigrants and working classes. The poorer you are, the fewer choices you have and so other ideals are likely to express freedom better in that situation – freedom of speech, fairness, freedom from domination by regimes, tyrants, rules and regulations for example.