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Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Ethical Wallet: The weight of a dollar

greenburg_opOne dollar weighs roughly one gram. That means that about 454 dollar bills in the palm of your hand would weigh about one pound. One pound is nothing, and it makes you wonder how many thousands of dollars would you need to hold to really feel something. Yet, one dollar carries more weight than a simple measurement in grams can even begin to cover.

Allocation of resources is the idea that markets use the most efficient means to target whatever population will bring the most profit. If you’ve ever taken an economics class, you probably know the basics. Supply and demand rule the market, naturally monitoring what consumers want and need. They regulate prices based on what people are willing to pay for particular resources. At times the market feels mysterious. So much of it can’t be physically identified because it sits among data and percentages that many of us can’t understand.

However, we could achieve more transparency through spending our dollars in the right markets.

The organic foods industry is a great example of the people’s vote making an impact on the market. After the discovery of pesticides and health-threatening chemicals used in the production of crops, people became more and more concerned about the potentially adverse health effects of pesticide use. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, farmers began using more organic methods to meet the demand for a population of people who wanted clean food. At first, this movement was decentralized and there were no standards regulating what was and was not truly ‘organic.’ Because of the movement’s growth, the Organic Foods Production Act was passed in 1990, mandating a national standard. Twelve years and many grams of dollars later, those rules were finalized.

Another form of speaking with the dollar is boycotting. I have never directly encouraged the boycott of any specific brands or companies, but by advocating sustainable markets and ethical brands, one could argue I am encouraging the boycott of all other unethical companies. In the past, boycotts have been extremely successful. The Tuna Boycott of 1986 forced fisheries to implement new fishing practices that didn’t involve dolphin netting. Because yellowfin tuna like to gather in schools beneath groups of dolphins, millions were killed in the process of catching the tuna. After the procedure was filmed and exposed to the world, the movement grew, grabbing the attention of fishing companies everywhere. By 1990, the three largest tuna companies had agreed to stop selling tuna caught through the use of dolphin netting.

Boycotting and natural economic forces will both result in the same goal: sustainability. The way many companies run their business today isn’t sustainable, but I’m confident that change will eventually arrive. I would prefer to see these changes sooner rather than later. McDonald’s is one example of a company that will either have to to continue to undergo major changes, or become obsolete. The company only began offering salads after Americans began giving their dollars to healthier alternatives.

Putting our money towards ethical consumption is the equivalent of living in the future. We are preparing for what is next, and supporting the companies that are doing the right thing now, before it is normal and easy. If everyone bought organic food, it would be less expensive and more available to farmers. If everyone bought clothes from local crafters, the materials would be more affordable and workers would be paid better wages. I strongly believe that all these things will happen eventually, but I worry that when they do, it will be too late. How many more workers have to be killed in factory fires? How many more children, little potential Einsteins, have to sacrifice their education in order to pick cocoa beans in the forest? I am not comfortable taking part in the cheap benefits of many others’ struggles until we see a change. We must invest in our future, both vocally and economically. The weight of the dollar rests in your hands.

You can contact Martha Greenburg at mzgreenburg@ucdavis.edu or on Twitter @marthazane94


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