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.