Politicians like to talk about empowering the middle class or other segments of the voting population, but they're typically a little fuzzy on what empowerment really means. That makes sense when you consider that elections are essentially about politicians asking to get power rather than share it.
The truth is that we all have more power as consumers, volunteers, supporters and members than we do as voters. That's because the key to empowerment is the ability to walk away.
That's a lesson learned over the past half century by Major League Baseball. Up until the 1960s, baseball players were restricted by something known as the "reserve clause." It was a contract provision that restricted a player to one team for life.
In those days, the minimum pay for a ballplayer was $6,000 a year. The average salary was under $20,000 a year.
Then, in the 1970s, a Supreme Court ruling gave players the chance to become free agents when their contract expired.
Today, the minimum salary is $490,000 a year with an average pay topping $3.2 million.
That change, from an average salary of under $20,000 a year to over $3.2 million, didn't come about because the owners suddenly became generous and decided to share more revenue with the players. It came about because players won the right to walk away and force the owners to compete for their services.
Few of us will ever earn the kind of money that Major League Baseball players command. However, our employers also recognize that we also have the power to walk away and that they have to deal with it.
The fear that we will walk away has created a cottage industry of countless consulting firms, seminars and books advising companies how to keep their employees happy. The Wall Street Journal explained why companies are willing to underwrite that industry. "High employee turnover costs business owners in time and productivity."
The paper suggests offering perks "to show employees you are willing to accommodate their outside lives" and practical gestures to "help employees better manage their lives." It suggests promoting from within because "Employees will become frustrated and may stop trying if they see no clear future for themselves at your company."
Companies that follow such advice attract the best employees and enjoy the most success.
The same logic applies whether it's shopping or looking for a job. We get the best prices not because some store owners are more generous than others. It's because we have the power to walk away by taking our business elsewhere.
When it comes to shaping our community, we have that same power over charities and nonprofit groups. Whether it's a food bank or a local theater group, their survival depends upon convincing us to give our time as volunteers, our support as members, and our cash as donors. If we don't like their mission or don't think they're effective, we walk away.
So, the next time a politician talks about empowerment, ask the candidate how they are going to give you more power to walk away and make your own decisions.
To find out more about Scott Rasmussen, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.