Economics 101

The Vital Acts of Voting You Commit Every Day but Probably Never, Ever Think About

Why Voting with Your Feet - and Your Wallet - Is so Important
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On Election Day, Americans proudly wear the red, white, and blue “I voted!” sticker as a badge of honor.

Voting on Election Day is important, but is it the most important voting we participate in?

We put so much emphasis on Election Day, but the vital acts of voting we commit every day are never discussed.

You vote when you shop at the grocery store, pump gas at the gas station, pay your rent, purchase a new washing machine, or buy a latte.

You are voting with your feet (and your wallet) and sending important messages about your preferences to the people trying to give you what you want.

The Benefits of Voting with Your Feet (and Your Wallet)

This is different than political voting for two reasons.

We are not afforded the luxury of voting with precision when we step into the voting booth. We vote for a person we think believes what we do on (we hope) more issues than not. Then we hope he or she wins.

We are also less able to hold winners accountable. If your candidate doesn’t win, you are out of luck until next election season. If they do win, you hope they keep their promises. If they don’t, what can you do?

You could send an angry letter that will be read by a staff intern and filed away to gather dust. Slightly more effective are making angry phone calls or posting to social media. But these aren’t good accountability mechanisms. They rarely result in changed behavior.

The voting that takes place in economic exchange operates with more precision and transparency.

Why? When you purchase a latte at Starbucks, you are buying one thing. A house is a more complex product than a latte, but the principle still stands. You know what you want and have good reason to believe you will receive it. If you don’t get what you want, you have several methods to hold the seller accountable.

This time, when you write your angry letter or make your angry phone call or post your furious Facebook message, you get the changed behavior you want. Your actions are effective because Starbucks wants you to keep buying  lattes and to bring your friends with you to buy lattes, too. Companies want you to keep voting for them with your money.

The minute Starbucks lets you down, you can leave. And you can leave because you have several available alternatives.

The Most Important Voting

The private voting you do through economic exchange is possibly the most important voting you can do. It brings about change. It expresses your values. It serves the public good in awe-inspiring ways.

Think about it. You can run to the grocery store and choose from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. In the middle of winter. When you couldn’t grow these things on your own to save your life.

These purchases bring about peaceful cooperation. You are cooperating with the farmers and truck drivers and grocery store managers, none of whom you know. They serve you with produce and you reward them by paying for it.

This process provides choices. It also tends to lower prices. Ergo, the voting taking place in economic exchange brings peace and prosperity.

You and I need political and legal institutions to support these exchanges. In this sense, our political voting does matter. We need leaders who will work for flourishing, and we must hold them accountable however we can, because the more voting we do in the course of economic exchange, the better off everyone will be.


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  • Pete Smith

    I heard one of the producers of “Poverty Inc.” state that when we make a purchase we are voting for the company’s values. Dr. Bradley, would you agree? I do not. I am buying a product which I desire, I am not necessarily agreeing with the company that produced it. I like some Apply products but I may or may not subscribe to the company’s values. Some people frequent Chick-Fila BECAUSE it does not open on the Lord’s Day while others simply like good chicken sandwiches. Do our purchases mean we are supporting the values of the producer?

    • FM

      Good question from Pete Smith. It’s a question that can extend to national levels- if I buy a made in China product, does that mean I subscribe to the values promoted by the Chinese government. I think the right answer lies in moving away from oversimplifying the issues of values. Or rather, we need to start from a well-defined and articulated concept of what we mean by values of a company…

      • Rod Sanders

        I don’t believe you fully answered Pete’s question. Christians need to understand that when we spend His money on products or services we are communicating that it’s okay with us if you spend the profits from our purchases to support the agendas that God hates. There are many companies like Starbucks who are aggressively working with their policie and financial resources to tear down traditional marriage, the family our kids and ultimately our culture. We can’t avoid it completely and live in the world we have but we can make a stand when we know about a companies agenda. I believe we will be held accountable for how we steward His money.
        Rod Sanders, CEO & Partner

    • Mark Weber

      Hi Pete, thank you for bringing this discussion online and thank you to Anne for this excellent piece. When I speak of voting for a companies values when I buy something, I’m thinking more of the values directly associated with the product or service I am purchasing. In an extreme case, if I somehow know for a fact that sweater X was made from cotton picked by slaves whereas the raw materials and manufacturing for sweater Y are consistent with my values, then I am going to choose sweater Y. And even if sweater Y isn’t available, I won’t buy sweater X. A less extreme case: a month ago I decided to buy new running shorts. I was about to purchase some North Face shorts on sale, but I couldn’t find any information about the supply chain or how they were made. I took a look at Patagonia’s website and found a pair of shorts that did have the information I was seeking regarding their standards and commitments. I bought the Patagonia shorts, not because I know for a fact that North Face’s were unethical, but because I wanted to reward Patagonia (i.e. vote) for providing me with information that I value. Then I tweeted about it to the companies to give them additional feedback on why they won / lost my vote. Of course, it’s impossible to do this with every single market transaction, but I’m very encouraged to see a rising trend in companies championing their relationships with their positive supply chain partners. A very different type of example: I will be attending graduate school next year but I will be forgoing Federal loans and taking out private loans at higher interest rate. Here I am exercising my right to refuse participation in a system I believe to be flawed. There are all kinds of opportunities around us. I do believe such seemingly small decisions add up when we foster a culture of consciousness around the products and services we interact with. This attracts more producers and service providers to the space, which as Anne notes, tends to bring prices down while increasing choices.

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