Monday, September 9, 2013

Every Purchase Is Political

There is some argument about the exact numbers. Some economists say that consumer spending is responsible for 70% of the US economy; others put the numbers closer to slightly more than half. Either way, one inarguable fact remains: it is our purchases, mine and yours, from the morning cup of coffee to buying a new vehicle or even a house, that drives this country.

We're paying for all of it, directly through taxes and indirectly through participation in the marketplace. We pay for the roads; we pay for the schools; we pay to shore up all kinds of industries, from agriculture to energy to transportation. We pay for the military. We pay for what the military does.

We pay for what the military does in so many ways. We can't have this conversation without stopping to consider, to pause and actually imagine what it would be like to be one of the so many young wounded veterans, men and women who in many cases aren't even 40!, who have lost their arms or legs or eyesight or mobility or ability to think clearly or enjoy peace of mind. Who then come back to medical care and financial support that is without a doubt less than they deserve. We're told that there's no money to provide better.

But there is money, apparently, to start another expensive conflict in Syria. I stand here before you and tell you that I have no idea whether that would be money well spent or not. I see the videos of people suffering from gas attacks, and it seems to me impossible that we stand by and do nothing while these atrocities go on. At the same time, it seems as if the whole world (including people inside of Syria) thinks that the US military taking action would only make things worse for everyone.

It's too bad we don't have the equivalent of Special Forces in diplomacy - elite negotiators who could strategically and tactically create peace with the speed and enthusiasm with which we wage war.  With all the money we're spending in this country, why aren't we funding efforts to create peace?  To train people to understand and resolve conflicts, to help create a world without want and suffering?

But I digress. There's no sense in talking about what we could be doing with our collective money. We need to focus our attention on what is being done with our collective money right now. And we need to decide whether or not we're comfortable continuing to contribute to those decisions with our financial support.

You have to pay your taxes. There's no way around that legal and I believe moral obligation. However, we can and should be talking with our representatives about those taxes regularly. I think we've completely lost sight of exactly what we're paying for. I know I have. Informing yourself about what is being done with your money seems like a sensible idea.

The other side of the equation is consumer spending. Our country started with a demonstration of personal economic power creating political change. Today, boycotts are a tool used with some degree of success by both the Right and the Left.

I think it's time to remember that every purchase we make is political. Every dollar we spend contributes to the government and the actions it is taking. If you like what the government is doing, you should spend enthusiastically. If you don't like what the government is doing, maybe you don't want to buy as much stuff.

It's your decision. Just be aware that you're making it.

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