That Word Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Means…

The title of this press release from Living Streets Aotearoa – “Helping Kiwis Choose to Walk More Often” – nicely illustrates how seriously most public health advocates, environmentalists, and other do-gooders take the concept of choice.

If you want to help someone make a choice, you could give them information or point out any flaws you find in their reasoning; but when you’ve decided in advance what the right choice is, you are not taking their capacity as a person capable of agency seriously. You know what the right choice is and want to manipulate people or alter the incentives people face in order for them to do what you want. What the press release really means is “Making Kiwis Walk More Often Without Using Force.” That’s not a goal I find particularly objectionable, but it has nothing to do with helping anyone choose anything.

At least in this case nobody seems to be using coercive means such as sin taxes to “empower” smokers or fatties to make the right choices.

2 Responses

  1. I think they might be helping people make choices by encouraging the provision of secondary transportation options – it’s no good choosing to walk to work if it’s not practically possible.

    • That’s not “helping people choose” in any meaningful sense, though. They’re trying to alter the conditions under which choices are made to change the outcome. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s all done voluntarily, but I don’t see that it has anything to do with helping people make choices.

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