What is an economist doing writing about an election? As a numbers guy, the statistics from the November 2014 mid-term election demands attention because of their implications for our economy and sustainability.
A lack of voter participation was the most telling statistic of this last election. Voter participation was a record low 33 percent. This means 66 percent of potential voters were so unmoved by the candidates and the issues that they did not participate. The obvious question (economic and political) is: Why did the majority of voters vote for 'none of the above?'
In comparison, the millennial generation skipped this election. Only approximately 1 in 1o millennials voted. Their participation was almost half of the participation by their older siblings and grandparents. Among the millennial generation it was unmarried women and minorities that most noticeably did not vote. The millennial generation members that did participation were also most likely to have voted for Republican Mitt Romney for president in 2012.
Based on voter participation, the millennial generation voted “no” to whether the political parties had answers to their issues of burdening school debt, limited job opportunity and barriers to homeownership. Neither party was viewed as being “cool with a purpose” in terms of sustainable economic or environmental solutions.
The boomer generation voted their pocketbooks as they always have. Their economic issues were lower taxes and increased economic growth. They continue to look to their government to grow the economy’s size to achieve lower taxes and secure their social security payments.
This disconnect also exists among voters. The boomer and millennial generations could not be further apart on the issue of sustainability. For much of the boomer generation, sustainability is defined by increased regulation and taxes. For the millennial generation, sustainability is viewed as their future. They are buying more sustainable products and post about their sustainability on social media, but they are yet to flex their full political muscle on the issue.
An epidemic of obesity and diabetes is also a reality. The health care and environmental costs of an unsustainable industrial food system are very large and growing. Consumers are responding by making healthy convenience foods the fastest growing food market segment. As this market segment grows it will gain economies of scale that will increase its price competitiveness against industrial foods laced with sugar, starches and chemicals.
Fiscal responsibility is also a sustainability issue. We have a government that is funded by debt. Our national debt is almost $18 trillion or approximately $60,000 for every man, woman and child in America. Our tax system is so incomprehensible that 82 million American taxpayers pay to have a third party prepare and submit their tax forms. The system is so misshaped by special interests that the average actual corporate tax rate is approximately 12 percent, with major corporations like GE, Morgan Stanley and Verizon reporting single-digit tax rates for 2013.
A well understood economic concept is that there is no free lunch. At some point unsustainability will again result in another recession, damaging extreme weather event and health crisis. Sustainability is good for business, for our economy and job creation. At some point sustainability will be good politics. The question will be: How much pain will be required before we vote for a sustainable future?
Image credit: Flickr/dokidoki
Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017
Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!