Sunday, 9 September 2012

How To Vote With Your Money

Whenever we use money, we're casting a vote.  Want to vote thousands of times a year, rather than once in five?  Read on...

Democracy, as nice as it sounds, has its problems...

#1.  It's not very efficient.  If you take the combined amount of time that people have spent learning about their favourite political parties and add the time they spend standing in voting queues, you'll end up with millions of hours.  Add to that the cost of every party advertising... figures like £31,000,000.

#2.  It's not a very good way of making decisions.  Most voters only know one or two of the parties, and most people are not educated enough to make the best decision.  It's really all about which party has the biggest advertising budget, and which party is the best at manipulating the public into thinking they're the best choice.

#3.  Your vote doesn't really matter, because your vote only has a one in a million chance of making a difference.

There are more problems, but this is not about problems, it's about solutions.  This is about a different kind of democracy, based on the system of capitalism*, in which we find ourselves, a kind where you can make a bigger difference than by traditional voting, whenever you use money.  

This is something that everyone needs to be aware of, because whether or not you're aware, you're voting whenever you use money, and you may not realize what you're voting for.

*The theory behind capitalism is that the market leads production.  It's very democratic.  That means that we, the consumers are in charge!  This is supposed to mean that everyone gets what they really want, and that production is highly efficient due to competition.  Unfortunately, there are reasons that this doesn't work as expected:  The high pressure of trying to produce competitive goods, at low costs, forces companies to use the cheapest material and labour available, meaning bad working conditions and products which don't last very long.  Any corner that can be cut, will be cut.  Any scam that can be made, will be made.  It's inevitable.

Here are my ideas:

Bank with a better bank

In case you don't understand how banks and money work, here's the gist of it:

You put your savings into a bank.  They then lend out most of this money, keeping a fraction as a reserve.  They earn interest from giving loans, and pay you interest from this interest.  You don't have a choice about where this money goes.  It could go to developing weapons or helping someone buy their next petrol guzzling 4 X 4.

This is why ethical banks, like Triodos exist.  Triodos only lends the money saved with them to sustainable causes.  You can even go to Triodos and get a list of everyone that they lend to.

Opening a Triodos bank account could not be simpler, because you can do it online.  You can then transfer your savings to and fro, using the internet.  They have options to either pay your interest to you, or to a charity.

Spend money on work that you would want to do

Imagine your idea of a perfect life, and what you would spend your time doing.  Perhaps you'd be looking after your children, researching a cure for cancer, being creative or building homes.  

You probably would not want to spend your time begging, doing the same thing over and over in a factory, or doing some other monotonous task like a security guard or bag packer.

In capitalism, money is the tool that we use to decide what other people are forced to do.

I've read about a factory in China where they had to put suicide nets around the building to stop the employees from jumping.  I could presume that none of us would want to use our money to vote for people to do such a boring and dangerous job like working at this factory, and yet we do, ... well everyone that's bought an iPad has.

Most toys, electronic gadgets and clothing have been made by people working in boring, low paying jobs in Chinese factories, so you might be wondering if I'm suggesting that we pretty much stop buying everything, and the answer is...

Not exactly.

Here are some ideas:

#1.  Buy second hand.  Second hand goods require no labour.  I do buy and sell quite often on eBay, which is a very safe way to shop.  Just don't buy from anyone with a rating of less than about 98% and you should be fine.  You may, however, have to return a faulty item, but I've never had any problems getting a refund.  Some items (usually books, I think) have a little picture of a ribbon next to them.  This means that some, or all, of the money goes directly to a charity.  You can also buy things like books directly from a charity, like Oxfam, and don't forget to donate your old things to charity shops.

#2.  Don't buy things unnecessarily.  During traditions like Christmas and birthdays, it's probably best to consider alternatives to buying things made in China, like vouchers for electronically downloadable goods.  Personally I'd prefer someone to donate to a charity of my choice, rather than give me a birthday present.  The Just Giving website is a great tool to do this, because you can donate to a charity and it feels like you're giving to your friend at the same time.

The DeLorean - Designed to last a life time.

#3.  Buy things that last.  This requires less labour and less waste.  Companies try to make their goods disposable in order to sell as many units as possible.  It is possible to make products which last a very long time, like the DeLorean, used in Back to the Future.  The DeLorean was a stainless steel car, designed to last a life time.  The problem is that making anything that lasts a life time is expensive and a very bad business idea... unless enough people refuse to buy the cheap, disposable versions.  Buy from websites like buymeonce which stock products that last a lifetime.

#4.  Don't give to beggars, car guards and Big Issue salesmen.  Okay, before you think I'm an evil scoundrel for saying so, let me explain, and feel free to disagree afterwards.  I consider these "jobs" to be humiliating and a waste of human life.  By giving to such people you're encouraging this as normal behaviour.  As an alternative, we should vote for a different system.  Think about what would be a better life for the beggar.  If you want to pay him, pay him to sit in a library and read a book, or pay him to help you do some work around your home.  Try and find people who agree that students should be paid to study, and sign petitions to promote this idea.  People need to be paid to do things which are constructive and fun.  Contact StreetLink to notify them about homeless people that they can help.

More ideas

Use open source (free) software where possible.  

Monopolies, like Microsoft, make it expensive for people to use computers, but because people continue to buy their products anyway, it makes it difficult for anyone to compete with them.  If you simply use your computer for browsing the internet and writing emails, consider using Ubuntu instead of Windows.  If you use Windows, then use the FireFox web browser and OpenOffice for their word processor and spreadsheet.

One can also find open source software which do just about anything, including 3D modelling and video editing.

Use renewable energy

BMW i8 Concept - 2.7 litres / 100km
Switch to a renewable energy supplier, such as ecotricity or buy a solar panel for your hot water.  

Having a solar panel doesn't mean that you have to wait for a sunny day to have hot water.  What it does mean is that on sunny days you get hot water for free.

Make sure your next car is electric or a hybrid that can be plugged in to your renewable energy source.  Electric cars have come a long way.  I would recommend buying a pluggable hybrid.  This means that you can use electricity, which costs almost nothing and does not pollute.  If you run out of electricity while on a long trip, you can use your petrol engine.

I know it's expensive to buy a new car, but if you're wealthy enough to do that anyway, I'd suggest considering something like the Toyota plug-in hybrid.

Support crowdfunding

If you've never been to, it's worth checking out.  They have loads of interesting projects that require donations to get started.  If you find something you like, offer a donation.  You only have to pay if they succeed in raising the specified amount of money within the specified amount of time.  You also get a reward based on the amount you donate.

Know where your food comes from

It's good to know where your food comes from; whether the chickens that lay the eggs run around freely, or are fed unusual chemicals that fatten them up to a point where they are no longer able to stand.  Do the cows that produce the milk that you drink live pleasantly in a green pasture, or do they suffer in cramped conditions?

It's not something that many people like to think about, but you can start by buying free range eggs, and products made with free range eggs.  After having seen a documentary on food, I try to avoid buying fast food, especially McDonalds and KFC.

Buy healthy food and drinks

Companies that manufacture food and drinks don't usually care enough about how healthy it is.  They like to add extra sugar and grease, things that your body craves, to help the product sell.  If you have fatty, sugary food, you can become addicted to it.  It's better to try and find healthier food.  The more people buy healthy food, the more companies will want to produce it.

Find out how employees are treated

Before buying from a new website, take a look at sites like to see how the employees are treated.  Glassdoor consists of many anonymous ratings and reviews of companies by the people who actually work there.  It's how I found out that the popular site CafePress has many unhappy employees.

Buy products made from sustainable materials

Can the product be recycled?  Do you really need a bag?  Does the wood come from a forest in the Amazon that is being wiped out?


There's no point in buying the same things as your friends if they're willing to share.

Don't get a phone contract that comes with "free" phones

Besides the sub-standard life styles of Chinese factory workers, getting a "free" phone every year or two encourages companies to produce products with a short lifespan.  Rather buy the longest lasting phone that you can, buy the screen protector and case protection.  You may not be the coolest kid on the block, but I'm sure you're mature enough to deal with that.

Offset your carbon footprint

Obviously, when flying, lots of carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.  One can pay a bit extra to "offset" one's carbon footprint.  Unfortunately this is not an exact science and it's therefore better to reduce one's carbon dioxide emissions where possible. 

Eat less meat

If you think that killing animals for a living is something you would enjoy, then feel free to disagree with me.  Meat also requires more resources and the production of meat contributes to global warming.  I am not a dietician, so I'm not going to tell you how much meat you should or shouldn't eat in order to be healthy, but if you eat meat every day simply for the taste, you could try alternatives.  Sainsbury's sells some veggie burgers which, while they aren't quite as tasty as the best meat burgers in the world, are probably healthier.

Donate to charities

Obviously :)


Using your head when using your money, can make a difference.  Of course we won't be able to solve even a tiny fraction of the world's problems caused by the misuse of money unless millions of people change their purchasing habits.  Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen.  It's unlikely that the majority of people will ever decide to thoroughly investigate every purchase they make for its environmental impact.  These ideas treat the symptoms of the problem, rather than solving its root cause.

For that reason I support The Venus Project, and any other group that promotes shifting to a natural law / resource based economy.  A natural law / resource based economy is a theoretical system that does not have the problems which exist within a money based economy.  It is designed to be compatible with natural law and technological progress, which means that the more advanced we become, the more sense a resource based economy makes.  

This also ties in well with my idea for an intelligent democratic decision making system.

While I wait and dream of a day when we'll have a sensible system, I will try to do my part by chipping away at the mountain with a tooth pick.  Bring your tooth picks, and let's chip away together.

Thank you for reading this, and please let me know if you agree or disagree with anything here, or want to add something.  I'll be looking forward to comments.

Stephen Oberauer

No comments:

Post a Comment