Economics, USA

Voting with the dollar

Some people are political junkies. They watch the political process with all the fervor and rabidity with which a Vikings fan watches a Teddy touchdown pass. Then there are those who are apolitical. The political process at best disinterests them, and for some even disgusts them. The apoliticians don’t watch CNN, they don’t listen to NPR, and they don’t follow campaigns. Many of them don’t even vote.

I don’t blame the disgusted for their desire to be politically abstinent. Washington is a slimy place. To choose between Republicans and Democrats can feel like choosing between the lesser of two evils—the proverbial Giant Douche vs. Turd Sandwich.  No one makes this point better than the current Democratic frontrunner herself, whose best advice to liberals whom are less-than excited about the prospects of having to support her seemingly inevitable anointment as the Democratic nominee was to just “be pragmatic and do it anyway.”

But no matter how politically abstinent a person may claim to be, I don’t agree that their apolitical agenda automatically extracts them from the political process. I challenge the notion that political abstinence allows someone to absolve themselves from the actions of their country. What is more, I challenge the notion that disengagement from what we typically think of as political behavior, things likes voting, signifies political abstinence at all.

Everything is political. We make political decisions every single day, decisions that have significant effects on others whether we choose to think about those effects or not. We also vote everyday, not with ballots, but with dollars.

What we eat, what we wear, where we go for entertainment—these are all political decisions, political decisions that we make with the dollars that we spend. We are voting with our dollars for competing entities in a competitive market, just like we vote between competing candidates for a political office. Every dollar we spend is a vote for what that entity is, what it does, and what it stands for.

Unfortunately, if you choose to trace your dollars back to their roots, to the people and practices they ultimately support, the truth of what we are voting for is pretty unsettling. We vote for fruits and vegetables picked by poor and mistreated migrant workers, meat from animals that live in absolute misery and suffer horrifying deaths, shirts and shoes manufactured by the hands of overworked and underpaid peoples in developing nations, many of them children, and for corporate giants who carelessly cause immeasurable and irreparable harm to both the planet and the people who live on it.

The links attached to the above examples are hardly the tip of the iceberg. The shelves of the Walmarts and Targets of the world are stocked front-to-back with human rights violations and environmental catastrophes. But rarely do we think about this when plucking something off of them for purchase.

I’m as guilty of this as anybody. I wonder if I’d even be able to afford the MacBook Pro that I’m typing on right now if it wasn’t produced by cheap, Chinese labor and shipped to me on the fumes of government subsidized, dictator-sponsoring oil.

But even if I were to try to wean myself off these luxuries of privilege, it would take some economic acrobatics. $90 is a lot to pay for a pair of new jeans at American Apparel when I can get two pairs of Wranglers for $30 at Kohl’s. $6 is a lot to pay at my local co-op for a liter of milk from grass-fed, drug fee, happy-go-lucky cattle, when I can get a gallon of the more questionable stuff for half that price at any mainstream gas station or super market.

But then again, maybe that’s just how much this stuff actually costs when so much of the price is not externalized, when we pay people living wages and treat animals with dignity and take care of the environment, when we as consumers actually pay the real price of what it takes to make shit. Maybe that’s just how much it costs when we cast monetary votes that match our values and beliefs, and reflect the vision that we claim to have for what we want our world to look like.

Nevertheless, I know that I’ll continue to use my votes to support things I abhor. I’ll provide funding and support for child labor, animal mistreatment, environmental degradation, and oppressive dictatorships as long as they continue to pump out cheap goods that make my life easier and more enjoyable. Comfort is the greatest benefit of privilege, after all. I just hate that my comfort continues to depend on the discomfort and misery of others.

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