On a very basic and pragmatic level, money translates into choices. This might not seem to be much of a news-flash, but it is an important proposition when we’re wondering why many of our public policy decisions are skewed to favor those who have radically more money than the average citizen. As the gap between the very rich and the rest of us grows, it’s more and more obvious that this trend cannot continue without causing some potentially severe consequences. But here’s an almost insurmountable obstacle…how do we talk about reducing the power of ‘big money’ in political decisions without being branded as Communists? So I’m proposing that we need to talk about how we might focus a wide spectrum of consumer choices to increase the clout of ‘small money.’
Here’s just one example of consumer choice that can counteract some lethargic public policies: purchase products that use greener technology. Notice I didn’t say ‘green’ technology, because we’re still in the starting stages in research and development for truly ‘green’ products. We’ve purchased two hybrid cars…not because the technology has been perfected already, but because we want more R&D in alternative energy systems in the future. This is how we send a message to manufacturers…we spend our limited resources on products and trends we want them to continue…and we resist spending on the products and trends we want them to end. It’s really just that simple. The problem is…we’re not communicating about what we need to resist and what we need to support in any meaningful way. We’re basically still just trying to get the best bargain on the most stuff…and it’s keeping us powerless and dependent.
I’m totally skeptical that the power of ‘big money’ can be reversed or even slowed by the people who are currently our political leaders. This is one of those sticky conundrums that keep us frustrated…we think our only remedy is that somehow our leaders will spontaneously act in a way that flies in the face of their current political wisdom. Miraculously, they will set aside their desire for reelection donations from the super-wealthy, from big business, and from big unions…and they’ll embrace the public’s desire for a new direction. Hey…it’s not going to happen any time soon.
About 20 years ago, I had this hen-headed idea that consumers could make some significant impact on economic and social issues with their daily purchases. I started thinking…if only consumers could know the true cost of an item they’re preparing to purchase, they might make wiser choices, and they might reshape the market. At that time, I thought about researching a book that would list major consumer items like Consumer Reports does, but this book would identify some of the hidden costs of the item, like child labor abuses or environmental degradation or high energy consumption. Today, this kind of research can be spread as an application through most of the cell phones in the world…letting people know as they input a bar code what the consequences are in completing their purchase.
I apologize for being pessimistic in impacting the ‘big money’ part of our global economy equation. I am, on the other hand, completely jazzed on the opportunities we have in the information age in impacting the ‘small money’ part of the equation…every day with every intentional purchase. This is a tech breakthrough that’s ripe for development and application. Let’s talk about how citizens can gather for careful conversations about what’s important and why. And then…let’s translate that public knowledge into tools that are easily accessible and understandable, so everyone can participate in the choices that can reshape our nation and our world. Money means choices…let’s make our money more effective.