Friday, September 23, 2005

A 'Forced' Choice

This article caught my eye partly because one of the people mentioned in it lives in Northern Virginia. It is easy to sympathize with the woman in the article; she has been the victim of unfortunate health conditions. Noting that she is also living on disability pay and contributions, we might also postulate that her health conditions had a negative impact on her income.

The other reason this article caught my eye is its application of the word "forced" to a choice based on price changes and budget constraints.

For Pam Koren, the storm's impact has been more immediate - and more drastic. Suffering from low blood sugar, spasms of the esophagus and nerve damage, she exists now on disability pay and contributions from her daughter, who attends college and works as an assistant youth minister.

With gas and food prices rising after the storm, she says, she was forced to put her house in Burke, Va., on the market. She is considering east-central Pennsylvania, and a less expensive home.

"I'm a wreck because I'm not sure I'm making the right decision," she says. "I didn't want to have to do this, but things have become so tight I have not had a choice. I did not expect things were going to get this bad."

She was forced to put her house on the market? More accurately, she decided that given her income constraints and the value she placed on goods other than her house, she decided that it was in her interest to sell her home and use the proceeds for a less expensive house and the remaining proceeds to purchase other goods on which she placed a higher value. We make choices like this every day because we live in a world of scarcity and constraints. When I choose to sell my car to buy a new one, is it terrible that I was "forced" to sell my car? If I had infinite resources, I would have kept it and the new car. The presence of scarcity and constraints requires me to determine which option is the best out of all available options. Am I "forced" to buy clothing because it is cheaper than making it myself and there is some minimum level of clothing that I must have? We do not and should not attempt to guarantee rights against circumstances which make one choice cheaper or more feasible than another; to do so is impossible.

The woman in the article is also quoted as saying, "I didn't want to have to do this, but things have become so tight I have not had a choice." Had she been more accurate, she would have said that due to budget constraints and rising prices, her available options have been reduced. To maintain the minimum requirements of other goods, she must then cut back on goods such as housing. She will still have one house, but the desirability of her location may be lower, the house may be smaller, etc.

Life doesn't always give us the choices we want, but (as long as we are the ones assessing our own values and making decisions based on those values) we always have choices.

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