Politics and Governance

Vote everyday with your voice and your money

With a small effort I can make my voice a lot bigger.

We just went through a big national vote but today our national Congress is in session and so is our Maine State Legislature and our civic leaders are expecting to hear from us.

And with every spending or investment decision, corporate leaders are counting our dollars to be sure. Dollars are votes in the world of commerce.

This newsletter focuses on how to influence your world. All the time.

I hear people complain about government policies yet do little about it. Voting counts. Contacting your elected leader counts. Talking about stuff on social media or other places actually doesn’t. Spending and investing money actually counts. Talking about what others should do with their money doesn’t.

I might not like the ways in which the world has established for me to have a voice and it might take some effort on my part, but these are the ways. Governments have set up many bona-fide channels for us to have a voice that counts, and markets are extremely responsive to our spending and investment signals.

Vote with your wallet

I’m not fanatical about reading labels or researching products, but when I have a clear choice to buy something in line with my values, I try to do it. And my purchase sends a signal to the market, just like a vote. And just like a vote, it might seem like my dollar doesn’t count much considering all the dollars in the country, but it does. Someone is watching that dollar, lot’s of people actually, and decisions are made on which dollars go where.

In fact, you might say that spending is more influential on the planet than voting.

And let’s not forget investing. My retirement money is invested in stocks and bonds that align with my values. Yes it takes some effort, and yes I don’t make as much return on investment because socially responsible mutual funds have to be more actively managed than other investments, but I do it because it actually counts. It makes me feel like I’m doing what I can. And it wouldn’t seem right to say that I’m a pacifist while my money supports companies that make guns.

I get that not everyone has spending and investing choices like I do. A lot of people have no choice but to buy the cheapest thing on the shelf; the least expensive option no matter what it is. And that’s never for me to judge against. Yet there are a lot of us who have a little wiggle room. Some of us are awash in wiggle room. And for those of us who can afford to express our values through a purchase, why not make a purchasing decision that not only gets me what I need but that sends a signal about the world I want?

If you are like me and can sometimes afford the product that aligns with your values, do it. Chances are you won’t miss the money and you will be sending clear market signals. Don’t just talk about your “consumer preferences” on social media, demonstrate your preferences in ways that count. You can see this phrase coming, right? Put your money where your mouth is.

America is great because of slavery

Not saying it’s great we had slavery, but that slavery helped make our economy the greatest in the world. Let’s just say it.

You might think that American ingenuity made us great. Or capitalism. Individualism. Entrepreneurship. Sure, those contributed. And many other things too. Yet during black history month – all the time actually – let’s remember that slavery also made us great. Millions of slaves picked cotton and worked fields to grow American wealth. I believe we are still coasting on that momentum today and we owe a reverent debt of gratitude to the black people who came before us and paved the way for our prosperity.

Did you know that over 30,000 ships came to the Americas with slaves as cargo? Did you know that the United States had nearly 4 million slaves at the time of the Civil War? That’s a lot of free labor.

This graphic depicts a simple four-fact history of how black people contributed to the US economy, and how they have been deprived of it opportunities.

When I worked at the Maine Development Foundation many years ago I was asked to research economies of other states and the world and try to find correlates to economic growth; that we might uncover some secret to apply here in Maine. What I found is that economic growth is often correlated with wealth disparity. The bigger the difference between the rich and the poor, the more likely it is that the economy will grow.

How shall we measure the greatness of a country? What should be our goal? How about a company or a nonprofit or a city or a state or any group at all? What should be the measure of greatness?

Rather than overall economic output, for me the measure of greatness is creativity, sustainability, and overall happiness. Those things are way more important to me than material wealth. I am usually hired by groups not to help them get richer but to get happier. Bosses want their people to get along better and love their jobs more. You might be rich but are you happy? That’s what I think matters most: people’s happiness.*

We could ask this of America today: “America, you seem rich but are you happy?” I’m afraid of the answer.

For me, I love the Mahatma Ghandi quote: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” I think this applies to all groups.


* Easy for me to say because I have money. I am privileged. I’m simply naming that for a person who does not have money and you ask, “What’s more important, money or happiness?” they might answer differently than me.

And here’s a time lapse animation of the voyages of 31,166 slave ships over 200 hundred years from 1660 to 1866. It’s backed up by a searchable database.