How America’s Middle Class Dug Its Own Grave

The U.S. Capitol is reflected in a fountain full of coins on the plaza, November 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. Today Americans head to the polls to cast their vote in the mid-term elections which will ultimately decide which party controls the Senate. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

During stretches of adversity, the natural inclination is to look anywhere for relief, or for blame. With the current and ongoing economic turbulence the country is experiencing, there has been a lot of both going around. Blame the bankers, the politicians, or even emerging economies on the other side of the planet — you’re bound to be accurate, at least partially.

The economy is immensely complex, and there are so many detailed factors that go into making society function at such a basic level that there is almost always a big business or individual that can be vilified. In that way, economics and politics are similar. While there may be satisfaction, and perhaps even factual accuracy in pointing out the shortcomings or faults of the establishment or large institutions, us individuals should also first take a look at our own behavior as well. No matter what we do, we’re still having an effect on the systems around us, whether in a passive or active role.

Much like we are all afforded a voice in the political process, individuals have the ability to make their intentions known in an economic sense as well. As consumers, individuals within the economy can use the free market as their soapbox, and use purchasing power as a dynamic force for change. A person’s formalized, authoritative form of communication is their money.

Each dollar they spend is a vote of sorts in favor of a specific enterprise. Each dollar signals that there is demand for certain goods or services, so the economy will seek to produce a supply of those goods and services to match that demand. In response, the economy will produce more of the particular goods individuals create demand for, and how people choose to spend their money influences the economy from the very micro level to the very macro.

This was expanded upon by Stony Field Farm CEO Gary Hirschburg, during a commencement address at the University of New Hampshire.

“It doesn’t matter where you set down a stake; it only matters that you contribute,” he said. “But don’t forget that as consumers, we wield enormous power to choose the polluting, consumptive and failed ways of the past or the renewable and sustainable ways of the future too. When we purchase anything, we are voting for the kind of communities, society and planet we want. And I have learned that corporations spend billions of dollars to tally those votes.”