At the beginning Steven Levitt’s TED lecture viewed today during class, he references to crack cocaine as author Malcolm Gladwell’s “extra chunky version of tomato sauce.” In one of my favorite videos, delivered at a TED conference right before Levitt’s lecture, Gladwell tells the story of psychophysicist Howard Moscowitz and his research of spaghetti sauce for Prego.
After finishing the Milton Friedman and Fredrick Hayek reading from week 3, I happened to scroll through my bookmarks and watch this video again. Friedman and Moscowitz believe that freedom of choice brings the utmost of utility. Freedom is represented in Friedman’s case as economic and political while in Moscowitz, this is represented as the opportunity to choose from a variety of pasta sauces. Both are advocating the fight against the application of universal ideas therefore restricting freedom of choice.
Happiness as a result of freedom of choice and the concentration in research (such as economics) to find universals during the 20th century are discussed in the following quote from Gladwell:
And why were we attached to that? Because we thought that what it took to make people happy was to provide them with the most culturally authentic tomato sauce, A, and B, we thought that if we gave them the culturally authentic tomato sauce, then they would embrace it. And that’s what would please the maximum number of people.
And the reason we thought that – in other words, people in the cooking world were looking for cooking universals. They were looking for one way to treat all of us. And it’s good reason for them to be obsessed with the idea of universals, because all of science, through the 19th century and much of the 20th, was obsessed with universals. Psychologists, medical scientists, economists were all interested in finding out the rules that govern the way all of us behave. But that changed.
What is the great revolution in science of the last 10, 15 years? It is the movement from the search for universals to the understanding of variability. Now in medical science, we don’t want to know how necessarily – just how cancer works, we want to know how your cancer is different from my cancer. Genetics has opened the door to the study of human variability. What Howard Moskowitz was doing was saying this same revolution needs to happen in the world of tomato sauce.
Gladwell concludes his talk with this statement:
That is the final, and I think most beautiful, lesson of Howard Moskowitz: that in embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a surer way to true happiness.