Lie to me. I promise I’ll believe. ~Sheryl Crow
Adam gives a rather sophisticated argument against menu labeling that boils down to this: finding out something you’d rather not know makes you worse off.
This presents something of a problem for economics and economists because we typically think of information as determining how closely one’s actions are aligned with one’s preferences. That is, the more you know the more likely you are to get what you want.
Serious analytical problems arise when you have preferences about what you know. That is, when they’re some things that you just don’t want to hear. Yet, this is a deep and undeniable part of being human.
The always entertaining Ricky Gervais made a movie about it called the Invention of Lying. In Gervais’s film no one, until Gervais comes along, ever lies. Yet, as weird as the world in The Invention of Lying is, it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how fundamental lying is.
Now let me warn you before I go any further, you are not going to want to hear this. Indeed, that’s my point. I’ll say it anyway because I care much more about the displaying my intellectual prowess than I do about your personal comfort ~ that wasn’t very nice was it?
Lets start with some basics. First off, if social psychology is correct then you are much bigger failure than you realize. In fact, you’ve probably failed at most things. Now, since those things have happened you’ve actually rewritten your preferences to claim that you really didn’t care that much in the first place, the things you succeeded at mattered more, there is a reason for everything, every cloud has a sliver lining, when God closes a door he opens a window, and a whole bunch of other lies.
But lets not stop there. Perhaps you have children or perhaps you’re planning to. Our best available research tells us that they are probably on net going to make you less happy. You know the only people who are happy to hear that – the middle aged and childless. Almost, everyone else is kind of pissed and goes through intellectual gymnastics to try to deny it. It doesn’t feel great to think that the light of your life is when all is said and done more of a pain in the ass.
It gets worse though. Because as a parent you probably don’t even care that much about your children. Indeed, once your children’s abstract reasoning starts to mature, around 14, they will be sure to tell you exactly how little you care about them or what’s important to them. You know what? They’re right. You don’t. You don’t because you’re not hardwired to care about them. You are hardwired to care about their genes.
Caring about their genes means first and foremost making sure they survive long enough to reproduce with an adequate mate and adequate resources to give you what you really want – healthy grandkids. Getting there might involve a lot of pain for your kids and maybe on some level that irks you, but likely not enough to keep you from driving down their utility in an attempt to drive up yours. If you’re really good at it they will become stunning successes with beautiful successful spouses and lots of wonderful healthy grandchildren. And, there is a good chance they will never forgive you. Nor, should they.
We haven’t even started in on how tribalistic, ethno-centrist and racist you are. Here is a good place to get started on that. Basically, you suck and we’ve got the data to prove it.
All that information is like a breath of fresh air isn’t it?
After you’re done ruminating on the ways in which you’ve been a bastard – e.g. if all my friends have credible stories showing that everyone else is an asshole driver and I’m someone then . . . – perhaps you’d like to stop off for a quick bit to eat. You’re a little overweight sure. I mean you’re an American so chances are. This, however, is a moment to take a break before you face that failure that is your life and trust me it is a failure.
“That’ll be seven ninety-five” the cashier says, “oh and 900 calories (that you definitely could go with out)” I added that last part but you know that you heard her say that in your head. Just one more reminder that you suck. But, hey if this menu labeling works then you could have three more extra years to ruminate on all the things that you wished you’d done but you and I both know you’re too lazy and/or chickenshit to ever do.