Let me start out with the punch-line: Someone needs to make a mint-like financial site that tells me when I am spending money on companies with policies that disagree with my morality or personal politics; I don’t have time to research when companies do horrible things, please help me be a better person anyways.
Our political system is so broken that money spent may speak louder than an actual vote. So perhaps if everyone voted with their wallet, the collective power of our dollars might effect real change in a way that the current voting system cannot.
Real Voting is Broken
I believe that the political system in the US (and in many other places) is broken. The two-party system limits real choice and encourages political extremism; the electoral college renders many citizens’ votes meaningless; and campaign financing laws require candidates to sell out their constituents to corporate and private interests.
Obama ran on the platform of Hope and Change; personal politics aside, the message of the platform is informative: That they want change means that citizens are frustrated with the current system. Of course, any politician’s real ability to change such a system or to effect real change, is limited. For example, Obama is a product of the current political system, and more importantly, he’s constrained by it. Undoubtedly, the political system as a whole is still driven largely by corporate interests and lobbying, and in general seems a mess.
Most people are not happy with the ridiculous and embarrassing debt ceiling stand-offs; what kind of country is run in such a childish and irresponsible way?
It seems like the influence of corporations on politics has increased over time, and that their interests often conflict with the interests of their consumers. Most people don’t like when jobs are shipped overseas, when companies use shady practices to avoid taxes, when they attempt to shirk responsibility for damages they cause, or when they treat their workers poorly.
Yet, these practices continue, generally because people continue to purchase from them despite their shady behavior — often because they might be unaware of the practices, or how their spending behavior indirectly controls what a company will do; in the limit case, if a company does something so terrible that everyone stops buying their product, they’ll go bankrupt.
I think fast food deserves particular attention here, because it is such a clear example of how a company’s interests and our own can be in direct conflict. No one wants to be unhealthy or fat; but the fast food industry does not care at all if we become so as a result of their product: They’re interested in our dollars, not our health. As a result, fast food is heavily optimized to be cheap, delicious, and addictive. Scientists actively study how the make the perfect addictive and delicious food. That such optimized food is part of a broken “western diet” that research shows is incredibly unhealthy, that is immaterial as long as the dollars keep rolling in.
More generally, optimizing for low prices drives companies to do terrible things; wal-mart has an awful reputation for treating workers poorly, as do most fast food companies. I don’t want my dollars to support terrible things. However, I’m lazy.
I’m Uninformed and Lazy
Here’s where some brilliant entrepreneur comes in. I want to be a better person and to allocate my dollars away from those doing terrible things to those that practice business in a way that aligns with my morality. If there was an app that put that easily put that information at my fingertips when I am about to make purchasing decisions, that would be great; if there was an app that reviewed my purchases and chided me when I spent money on a bad company, and lauded me when I spent more wisely, that would be great too.
I’d love to be a more responsible person and live in a way that better reflects what I believe. And perhaps you could make a few bucks in the process too.