Assent is the currency of power

“Nothing in this world is free.”

“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

“Let the buyer beware.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user kristinausk

There are dozens of admonishments for those considering exchanging their hard-earned cash for some good or service. And with good reason: money is an everyday necessity. It is the means by which we feed and clothe our families, realize our dreams, and build prosperity. We do well to consider carefully how to allocate such a precious resource. Eventually, all sales are final. Once we’ve handed our money over to someone else, we lose the right to say how it should be used.

But what about another kind of currency? This currency is apparently not highly valued by the vast majority of Americans. It is given away on a whim to any scoundrel who is willing to make the grandest promises. However, there is a small group who do place a great deal of value on it. They will do practically anything to obtain it: lie, cheat, steal, make outrageous promises, some might even kill if they thought they could get away with it.

This currency isn’t something you keep in your wallet. It’s not in the vault at the local bank. I’m talking about votes. Of course those who covet votes are politicians.

Unlike the U.S. Dollar, votes are difficult (and illegal) to counterfeit (of course only the U.S. Government may legally counterfeit dollars). Every individual of a certain age and social status gets only one vote. In order to obtain power, a politician must convince a majority of voters to hand over his or her vote.

When a dollar transfers from the hands of a consumer to that of a business owner, its spending power goes with it. In the same way, a vote transfers power. By casting her vote, a citizen transfers her assent to another person.

“So what,” you say?

There’s a profound implication in the idea of votes as valuable commodities: spend them wisely.

Imagine scrupulously saving for months and months. At last you have enough to buy that new car. When you arrive at the dealership, the salesman shakes his head and says, “Sorry, all I have right now is this one with only three wheels and that one that they’re unloading from the tow truck.” What do you do? Do you choose the lesser of two evils? Do you declare you’d rather have anything but that three-wheeled car, so you’ll take your chances with the heap that’s being hauled in?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user shaghaghi.

If you do you’re a fool.

Even if that’s the only car dealership in town, why waste your money there? Go to a different town. Shop around. You’re the customer. You worked hard for that dollar, make them do the same.

The same goes for voting. If no one’s selling what you’re looking for in the political market, make it known that you’re withholding your vote until you’re satisfied with the offerings. Reason’s Nick Gillespie sets a great example.

An entrepreneur plies his trade in a certain market because he’s hoping that’s where the money is. In the same way, the candidates available on the ballot are there because they think they have a good shot at earning a majority of votes. If enough voters make clear that certain issues are important to them, rest assured there will be politicians eager to capture those votes.

If you’re willing to settle for a used junker every time, the streets will be lined with shady dealerships hawking curb stones. If we vote for the “lesser evil” every time, we’ll be on the path to “somewhat evil” governance for the foreseeable future. The only way to make it better is to demand more.

Above all, caveat voter.