Introduction to 3-Part Series: Voting with Your Dollars

Political pundits predict that presidential candidates for the 2016 election will spend, in total, somewhere around $5 billion trying to persuade voters how to cast their votes.  Why?  Regardless of how much money a candidate can raise or the endorsements he or she can rack up, elections are still ultimately decided by voters.  Through the small act of casting a vote, voters have an opportunity to make a personal choice and to be heard.  Voting is power.

Similarly, Anne Lappé, co-founder of the Small Planet Institute, contends: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the world you want.”  However, unlike voting in a presidential election, which only happens once every four years, most individuals vote with their pocketbooks several times a week, if not every day.  Voting with your dollars is an idea worth exploring, especially at this time of year as we, as consumers, prepare to embark on our usual holiday spending frenzy.  The National Retail Federation projects that American consumers will spend $630.5 billion on retail sales during November and December this year.  Just let that soak in for a minute.  This holiday season we will spend $630.5 billion on stuff.  

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on this topic in a three-part guest blogger series entitled, “Voting with Your Dollars.” 

In Part I of this series, I’ll examine the idea of how spending money is like casting a vote.  How are you voting?  What do your consumer votes say about the kind of world you want to live in?  And how can we cast consumer votes to better reflect our preferences and values?     

Part II will continue the discussion by making a case for shopping Fair Trade.  It will explore why we should be motivated to buy Fair Trade not by pity for the individuals who produce the goods, but rather by the sense of empowerment we gain when we partner with others to build the kind of world we want to live in.  In this Part, I will examine how the voting analogy can help shift our thinking away from paradigm of pity to empowerment. 

Finally, Part III will wrap this series up with a discussion on how economic institutions are like political candidates.  Most would agree that polling informs a politician’s platform.  In the same vein, consumer spending influences decisions made in the corporate board room.  Institutions are sensitive to the preferences of their constituents; yet, as consumers, we have somehow lost sight of this fact.  What message does shopping Fair Trade send?  And what kind of world might we build if the votes cast in favor of Fair Trade won?

Check back soon for Part I in the series.

Be well!

Maggi Carfield

Maggi Carfield is a lawyer, social worker, and teacher.  She is passionate about social, economic, and racial justice issues.  She lives in St. Louis, MO.


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