Expansion of Choices

Tobias was a 17th Century entrepreneur. His primary business was the delivery of mail between London and Cambridge England. He had a stable of horses which he used for his mail deliveries. When horses were not used for mail delivery, he would rent them to family and students at the University of Cambridge.

But Tobias ran into a problem. Some of his horses became overused. He solved this problem by rotating the stalls for the horses. He then insisted that people wanting to rent his horses would have to take one from the nearest stall in his stable. His policy became known as this one or none. Later the policy was given the name of Hobson’s Choice in recognition of Tobias Hobson, the owner of the stable.

Today we view Hobson’s choice as an illusion of choice. In effect it describes a take it or leave it situation. While Hobson’s original practice might have been noble (preventing the exhaustion of his horses), Hobson’s choice is often used today as a strong-armed negotiation tactic.

Choices don’t have to be all or nothing situations. In the public policy arena, we are often presented with those false choices. There are powerful forces at work in public policy making which discourage the exploration of possibilities.

Consider the case of outrageously expensive drugs. Individuals have a Hobson’s Choice: pay for the drug or go without. What other possibilities might there be assuring people get the drugs they need? Surely there are many viable alternatives. Why aren’t these considered in public policy debates?

Just imagine what might result if representative citizens were engaged in the exploration of policy choices? Might this expand our choices? Just imagine how these citizens would deal with the complexity of policy choices? Could their work culminate in the conceptual framing of choices with the details left to policy experts? Just imagine how citizen involvement in the expansion of choices might influence the ultimate outcome of legislation? Could wide spread citizen engagement be a counter balance to the money of influence peddlers? The answers to these exploratory questions are unknown but hopeful. Finally just imagine how we might make the expansion of choices a topic for consideration in the future of our democracy?

* * *

“If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.”  – Robert Fritz (organization development consultant)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.