“One man, one vote” is one of the great achievements of our common journey through history. It ensures that our society is governed according to our wishes. Thus I think it’s fair to say that we have the government we deserve.
“But the process is rigged by big money,” you say. “Economic interests trump the ‘one man, one vote’ process?” Because of that, many citizens justify the decision not to vote. Yet the last US Presidential election had a mere 64 % take advantage of this hard-fought-for privilege.
I agree: Money votes as well in any election and has a big say in how the world works. But it is not this “conspiracy” or “these people” who control that economic vote. Just like in the civic voting, it’s us. We vote with our money just as we vote with our ballots. And I’d venture to predict that many of us nullify our civic ballot with our money vote.
When we vote for a civic leader, we use a positive filter: we want our leaders to have certain values, pursue certain goals, a specific vision of a better future. A future we can believe in, since we only get to vote once
When we vote with our money, when we invest or purchase, our vote is conflicted: we want to make as much profit or utility as possible, but we don’t want to do it at too high of a cost.
So we apply a negative filter: We screen out the most atrocious behavior: No child labor, no abortion, no pornography, no alcohol, no tobacco… our filter intends to discourage a set of behaviors. A set of rules to “manage fallen man’s misdirected desires.”
But think about it - is that really your vision? Is the directive “do anything but those particularly awful activities” really sufficient? Pursue the highest return possible as long as you don’t engage in these few vices! This is the vision you vote for with every dollar you own, invest in and spend on companies that use this “threshold” as their view of morality.
Are these the companies you want to form our culture, create our advertising and produce the products we purchase? This is a ballot where you can vote over and over again, as many times as you like. Every time you invest, every time you buy, you vote. As the saying goes, “vote early and vote often!”
Or do you have a grander vision for the economy, the world you want to live in, the culture you want to create? Do you have a vision of behaviors, a level of morality that you would like to encourage? Virtues you would like to reward in company leadership? Patterns that you want to seek out and reward? Supporting, instigating a change of heart, a transformation in the economy? You can move toward achieving these goals by voting with your money.
We live with a latent apathy, a propensity to abdicate our decision power, to delegate the complex and difficult decisions that are our moral responsibility to others: politicians, portfolio managers, activists – anyone but me. Don’t make me think; don’t ask me to take responsibility for my actions, my vote, my money or the culture that results as a consequence. Just tell me what to do.
This apathy is responsible for today’s economic and political crisis. We have all contributed. Here are a few questions to help you see where you stand:
· Does my investment portfolio mirror my most important beliefs and valued practices?
· Do my purchases reinforce my values?
· Does my economic vote cancel out my civic vote?
I am a Catholic Christian. A husband and a father. I care about prosperity. I believe in the culture of life and the market economy. I see ethical business as a school of virtue, a force for good. I am convinced that if we do business with each other, we can lift ever more people out of poverty. In the Americas, in Africa, in Asia… anywhere. I see the poor not as a problem, but as people with potential, with talent and value. I am convinced that we can do well by doing good. I want my elected officials, my purchases and my investment portfolio to reflect these values. I don’t want to waste my vote.
It took me a while to learn to vote well and conscientiously. I am now convinced that I vote even with what I do every day, with the words I use, the companies I build, the products I develop, the customers I serve.
In my ten years of working with emerging market entrepreneurs, I have found them to be extraordinarily talented and promising. They do not differ from any I have worked with in Silicon Valley or New York. The difference is that they are excluded from networks of productivity and exchange. They don’t have a seat at our table. We give them our charity, but we don’t do business with them. They can’t grow their businesses, and in turn pull their economy out of poverty.
Lending is the mother’s milk of prosperity. No business can grow without it. In emerging markets, the going rate for a small business loan is 20-30% per year. In our Western system, that’s illegal.