I’ve been thinking about Occupy Wall Street and the power corporations wield in our political system. When politicians need the money of giant corporations to run their campaigns, a conflict of interest arises. Policy sways toward augmenting the corporate bottom line, and away from the interests of the majority of citizens.
Political candidates need not only votes but gobs of money to get into office. Corporations achieve greater influence on lawmakers by making donations and hiring lobbyists than a citizen can with one measly vote. It seems that voters need to find more ways to make sure our country is ruled by the shared vision of the majority rather than whomever has the majority of money.
Now consider who funds the corporations–that’s us! The people. We are the source of the money that corporations use to lobby for legislation that benefits them. I’m not trying to vilify corporations, rather wake the rest of us up. Corporations are very intentional regarding what politicians they back. Most citizens who fund corporations with their consumer dollar are not nearly as intentional about the businesses they choose to support.
Vote with your dollar
Aligning our spending with our priorities is a way to use free market principles to have our voices be heard. We can shape the decision-making of corporations because they are marketing to us. If they need to improve their work conditions or environmental practices to attract our business, they will. If consumers have no standards other than getting the lowest price possible, neither will corporations.
Shopping this way takes up a lot of head-space. Who wants to spend all day comparing and contrasting business practices? We just want to buy stuff! Ideally, we can entrust our government to do some legwork on our behalf– create sensible laws that set a reasonable standard for business conduct, eliminate loopholes that exempt corporations from paying their fair share, and ensure citizens of safe products, work places, and a clean environment to live in; even if it infringes somewhat upon the corporate bottom line. Businesses that cannot turn a profit while paying taxes, creating good jobs and leaving the world a better place than they found it should perhaps yield to businesses that can.
Use your voice
Since corporations have so much influence over our government, we the people need to exert our influence too, through voting, raising awareness, constructive dialogue, letter-writing, organized protest, art-making, social media, whatever channels we have access to. Anyone with a clear idea of what they’d like to accomplish can become a lobbyist. Corporations have vast money, but we’ve got vast numbers. When vast numbers of people reach a consensus, they can initiate great change. It is harder to go it alone, but there is always a way one person can make a difference. Just keeping and open mind, staying informed, and being respectful helps.
I like the idea of voting with my dollar because it is an action I can take immediately. Of course we want to buy the product we like the best, whether it’s the way it looks, tastes, functions, etc. But when there’s an option to get a comparable product that you know comes from a better source, choose it! Even if it costs a little more. And a few rules of thumb can help de-concentrate the power of corporations, little by little.
Support local businesses
Supporting local businesses makes our culture more diverse and interesting. It stimulates your local economy and helps decentralize the influence of giant corporations. It builds your sense of community and makes you happier!
Video case in point: 20 second moment from the Kingfield Farmer’s Market. While supporting local agriculture, Brian Tighe spontaneously joins Ben Glaros with harmonies on Ballad of El Goodo. Meanwhile, a woman behind them mixes a smoothie in a bike-powered blender. You simply won’t see these sights while shopping at Target.
Pay for it in cash
Yes, credit cards are insidiously convenient. But it’s creepy how they get a kickback from every little transaction happening everywhere. At the store my mom manages, she noticed one month that the credit card companies made a profit equal to her store’s profit. Transaction fees particularly cut into profitability when customers put small dollar amount purchases on a credit card. When you pay cash, more money goes to the store instead of the credit card company.
Banks make money off your money; so moving your dough out of giant corporate banks is a way to offset the concentration of wealth. You may also be able to find a bank that better matches your priorities.
Disgruntled by the new fees that her bank Wells Fargo is experimenting with, Vanessa Messersmith pointed out: “There are plenty of credit unions and banks that we can switch to. And many of the smaller banks use the same ATM as Wells Fargo. So for instance, at TruStone, you can make a deposit or withdrawal from a Wells Fargo ATM and not be charged.”
As moveyourmoneyproject.org warns: Not all community banks or credit unions are risk free. Some of them got involved in the same risky behavior that took down some of the biggest banks. HelloWallet and Institutional Risk Analytics both have online tools to help you find a safe bank or credit union in your area.
It would be hypocritical for me to demonize giant corporations given all the corporate-derived products I enjoy. I’m typing on one now! But I do believe they can do better by us, and too many are not paying their fair share. If they are benefitting from our economic system through profits, they should be contributing to our country through taxes.
Check out this great little article from the New York Times “The Paradox of Corporate Taxes”:
Finally, Jeremy Messersmith has been doing some thinking as well. Enjoy his OWS inspired tune and thanks for reading the Wednesday Post!