Rethinking Voting With Your Dollar

In response to many anti-consumer practices effected by large companies, many a naive capitalist will respond with, “Well, you should vote with your dollar! If you don’t like ABC Corporation, just don’t buy their stuff!”

That seems sensible enough on a small scale, but the rules change once we begin speaking of enormous capital. Let us therefore discuss the way in which the principle is correct first before we find in what ways it is incorrect.

Small Business

Voting with one’s dollar is indeed very true in the case of smaller businesses, particularly local businesses. The reason is quite simple: because the smaller business does not have a large amount of assets, whether or not I patronize the place can affect its successfulness. A $100 purchase means a lot more to a company that only brings in $3,000 a day than it does to a company that brings in $3,000,000 a day.

Since a patron has much more influence in the small business example, we can safely say that we are indeed voting with our dollars that we like the business and wish for it to continue providing value. This might be compared to a democracy of 5 people in which each person has 20% influence on decision-making versus a democracy of 500 people in which each person has only 0.2% influence.

Whether or not I choose to do business with a small, local business may very well affect the livelihood of that business’s owner and employees; we therefore say that we are voting with our dollars truthfully. Let this suffice for the aspect in which the statement is true.

Large Business, or, Your Vote Does Not Matter

Much like voting for the President of the USA, in which each individual’s influence is hopelessly miniscule and has, practically speaking, no effect on the outcome, whether or not we choose to patronize a large business has very little effect on that business’s livelihood. Let us look at alt-tech’s favorite company to hate as an example.

Apple makes trillions of dollars. If I choose to purchase a Macbook from Apple, that is, practically speaking, nothing to them. The contrary is also true: if I choose to not purchase from Apple, that is, practically speaking, nothing to them. What is a few thousand dollars, gain or loss, when you regularly deal in thirteen digit numbers?

It is completely absurd to judge a mac user as “voting” for Apple, because their “vote” is like a grain of sand compared to a beach. The beach gains or loses very little in terms of one simple grain. Apple is simply too big for any individual consumer to matter.

By choosing to use Linux or Windows, you are not affecting MacOS in any meaningful way; you are not “rebelling” against MacOS.

Choosing What You Like

Large corporations would love it if all of us really thought that our buying into their systems actually mattered to their bottom-line; it could only affect them if a bunch of new consumers joined in, or a bunch of old consumers left. But as we have demonstrated above, as individuals, we have no practical effect on these companies.

Now, this is not an invitation to fanboyism; on the contrary, I think it demonstrates that whether you love or hate Sony or Microsoft or whoever, it does not really matter.

As an example of this: I have thoroughly despised every version of Windows after Windows Xp. Windows just keeps getting slower, more cumbersome, more aggravating, and more spyware with every dreaded update. Did my switching to Linux matter to Microsoft? Nope, not a bit. Did it, however, make me a whole lot happier to put together a decent OS that actually does what I want and nothing I don’t want? A resounding yes. I did not switch away because of some imagined vendetta against Microsoft, I switched away because I actually like Linux better.

You could be the total opposite, and that is perfectly fine. “Voting” for Nintendo over Sony does not affect either of them much.

In cases like these where our dollar-votes clearly have little influence, you may as well pick whichever you like best and not try to attach some silly ideology to your decision. If you genuinely prefer Playstation to Xbox, go ahead, see if anyone cares. If you think you are somehow enemies with Xbox owners however, you are falling into fanboyism.

Additional Applications

While I have mostly referred to tech companies, we can apply the same principles to other arenas.

If I go buy a new BMW with all the money-grubbing subscriptions for heated seats and such novelties, what does that really matter to BMW? If I did not purchase from them, would it make any appreciable difference? Further, if I really did buy that BMW, who is to say that I “voted” to have subscription-based heated seats? I very well could have “voted” out of ignorance, or maybe that is all they had on the lot.

Not that I would purchase a new vehicle anyway. There are far more software switches that can be flicked on/off by the manufacturer at will than I am comfortable with.

What about auto insurance? Would someone seriously say I am voting for Progressive over Allstate? Of course not; I just happen to prefer the price and coverages of one over the other; to put it in childish terms: I like one better than the other.

How about one gas station versus another? Or MacDonald’s versus Burger King? I could go on, but I think it is quite clear that my dollar-votes are quite meaningless to these business titans.

Recognizing When Your Vote Counts

With everything said so far, we can now properly divide dollar-votes into two categories: one in which they do count, and another in which they don’t. As said earlier, a local business is genuinely affected by my patronage; in such cases, I really do vote with my wallet. With a larger entity however, my vote is inconsequential; there is no need to attach some silly ideology or fanboyism or anything like that: I just pick out what I like best. Even abstaining from voting, for example, choosing not to have a computer at all, will not affect the tech giants in a meaningful way.

Clearly then, “vote with your dollar!” is quite the flawed platitude and should not be held as gospel for the reason that, in many cases, the “vote” is so small that it may as well not exist. To believe it in all cases is just irrational ideology. By all means, “vote with your dollar” at small local businesses where the philosophy holds up, but don’t believe for a minute that such philosophy applies to those businesses “too big to fail.”