Politics are everywhere. Even if you’re of the head-in-the-sand, “I don’t follow politics” crowd, it seems to be becoming increasingly difficult to remain neutral or uninvolved, in some way. Between the controversy surrounding Chick-fil-a last year and a variety of other businesses and their CEOs whom took sides in last year’s long and bitter presidential election season, even where you get lunch is a political choice. Many people have tried to strike out at these businesses for their controversial stances, boycotting them and disparaging them, while others have made it a point to patronize and support them. So where does it end? Is this politicization of everything absurd, just another arena for a partisan war? And most importantly: Should you care?
Short answer, yes, actually, you should care, and I’ll explain why. Though politics can certainly become exhausting, they surround us in everything we do, not just when we vote. This is a fact that is easily lost on many people in their day-to-day lives, unaware that their choices make global impacts. I began to touch on this subject yesterday, as I explored what I believed to be a “selfish” strain of behavior in this nation which is blind to the ways actions (or inactions) can have a ripple effect on other people in profound ways.
Today we’re talking about your economic choices – what stores you shop at, what products you buy, where you fill up your gas, and so on. Many Americans are starting to realize that their dollar and how they choose to spend it is one of the largest powers we have as citizens of the world’s wealthiest nation – in many ways, this is basically how capitalism is intended to work, is it not?
“Can’t I just eat at my favorite fast food? Does my $6.25 really make that big of a difference?”
It does. Even though it’s only $6.25 this time, it adds up when there are hundreds of people going through the drive-through every hour. That money goes into various people’s pockets who use it for their own ends. While Bill Gates takes his share and decides to use some of it to eradicate polio, there are others, like Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter, who host political fundraisers for their political favorites and talk to the media saying rather outrageous things.
Don’t believe me? It might be hard to believe that your everyday purchases make a difference, but they do. John Schnatter didn’t buy his absurd $7.58 million dollar house by winning the lottery or discovering buried treasure. Americans decided to purchase his sub-par, over-priced pizzas en masse.
This last election season brought out a number of right-wing millionaires and billionaires to air their hyperbolic, unfounded claims about Obama or his policies (usually the Affordable Care Act). And in response, many people stopped patronizing them – and they felt it. According to a leading market survey which tracks company and brand reputation and public perception found that many of these companies, including Papa John’s and Applebee’s, saw a large rating decline, precipitated by their anti-Obama statements.
So if business representatives and CEOs say negative things like threatening to reduce a large portion of their workforce’s hours in order to have them avoid “full time” status and thus ACA benefits – do businesses who treat their employees well and behave positively see results? Just ask Costco CEO Craig Jelinek who, after recently speaking out in favor of an increase of the minimum wage, saw a huge increase in profits following his statements. And better yet, Jelinek puts his money where his mouth is, paying an average salary more than twice the average paid by their competitor, Walmart-owned Sam’s Club. And I’m willing to bet the rest of the industry is looking on – confused, perhaps, but they will come to realize that their customers care about how their money is used.
The beautiful irony of this situation is of course that those businessmen who decided to voice their unpopular, even selfish political opinions which (in theory anyway) espouse free-market capitalism – have themselves felt the merciless sting of that very system (though I very seriously doubt Schnatter will be pinching pennies anytime soon).
It doesn’t always happen quite that way though. I’m sure we all remember the first big incident of this variety, which involved chicken dispensary and hate group-funding Chick-fil-a after its CEO, Dan Cathy, made public his views on “traditional” marriage. Many condemned this stance, but many endorsed it and showed their support of intolerance by patronizing their stores in large groups. And as such, saw a 14% profit increase in 2012.
The bottom line is this – it’s easy to dismiss these things as politics intruding into realms they shouldn’t, but the fact is that the politics were already there the minute money became involved. And much of that money is yours, which you willfully spend freely at one choice (out of many). To not care and to choose personal preference over smart use of your money and patronage is a concerning ordering of priorities. Don’t mistake me – much of what we do and own cannot be obtained without being questionable in some manner; this is for you figure out for yourself. For me, it’s about practical, everyday change – instead of ordering Papa John’s, order from the local, independent pizzeria.
It’s said that your vote doesn’t matter – this is probably truer than it isn’t. But your dollar does matter – use it wisely, because no one else will.
(In case anyone cares, here are the places/products/brands I try to avoid at all costs. It grows often, and these aren’t all of them: Whole Foods, Papa John’s, Chick-fil-a, Kraft, Coca Cola (Powerade, Dasani, etc), Nestle (Swiss Miss, Dijornos, Stouffer, etc.) or any bottled water, Nike, Foxconn, Ford, etc. Don’t get hung up on everything all the time – but when you can, take the time to Google your favorite brands and chains; with a little research, it is not hard to find out how your dollars are being spent.)