Votes as Voices: The Surprising Similarities between Elections and Economics
Last month in Canada marked a historic election on many fronts: The longest campaign length since 1872, the highest turn out for advanced polls, and the largest overall voter turnout in over two decades. Like many of you, this election marked the first time I got to spread my democratic arms and express my opinion on who I believe is the most competent at running our nation. No matter how you voted, or whether you were elated or devastated by the results, by voting you contributed to the decision making process of this great nation.
As I stepped forward, driver’s license in hand, I realized the amazing fact that my voice, along with all those around me, is one that counts in the decision making of Canada. The seemingly primitive act of putting a little “x” on a piece of paper meant that I was participating in a great system established by hundreds of years of Canadian history. I also realized that this great privilege is not given to the majority of the world (particularly women like myself). It is difficult, as someone raised with the first world as my only context, to imagine what it is like for the millions upon millions of people in the world who have no say in who controls their nations. Though we may complain about inefficiencies in our system and claim that our votes do not actually accomplish anything, it is important to remember we each have been given equal democratic voices in a world where having a voice is not always given. Although it is true that our system is not perfect and that influence comes in many forms (often tied to wealth and previous power), on Election Day in Canada one voice equals one vote. As I folded up my piece of paper and watched the elderly volunteer mark down my name and address, I could not help but think about what a parallel having a voice in this election is to having a voice as an economist.
During our time at University, we will all be given information much like during a campaign, from which we must decide as individual economists which opinions, models, and approaches we believe to be theoretically, ethically, and academically correct. We will have voices as economists. Voices that should speak from experience, education, and ethics with a focus on helping those who need it and driving our world to a better equilibrium for all. The responsibility of developing our voices as Canadian voters is very similar to the responsibility of developing our voices as economists. Everyone gets ticked off at an uninformed voter, and yet we do not get ticked off at fellow students who claim to pursue economics and yet have no desire to learn about the economic issues affecting our society. Facebook newsfeeds were packed this election with opinions by our friends and ourselves that were based on facts we collected and our weighting of their importance. Finding our voices as economists will require much of the same: taking in facts and analyzing them according to what we believe is best for our world.
However, in elections, it is not merely enough to have an informed opinion. What is most important is voicing your opinion through the system, no matter how unfair you think it is. We learn in our classrooms about the inequalities and failures in our modern markets, the costs of poverty and unemployment, and the inefficiencies in the real world. We learn how to think about complex issues like policy decisions and taxes, programs and markets shocks. Yet, without sharing this knowledge and contributing to a collective vote to make our world a better place, how can we expect to change what we do not like? Like an opinionated voter who does not bother to get out on election day, so too do we as economics students run the risk of not using our voices as votes. We could easily slip into the current jaded and selfish views of many who aim to ‘beat the system’ and make it out with as much as they can. As I left the community center where I voted, I realized that if we are not careful and do not state as economists what we know should change and why, we risk losing the power of our voices and votes.
Hopefully, if you did your part in the historic voter turnout and cast your vote as an expression of your valid voice as a Canadian, you will also have the courage to cast your vote as an economist someday. So, as someone who has just learned to appreciate the wonder of having a voice through my vote, I encourage you to think about what your roles as voters in this world look like. We can create change not only through democratic elections, but as economists who use their knowledgeable and compassionate voices throughout their careers and lives to vote for a better world.