One of the most fascinating discussions of any political year has very little to do with policy or candidates or ideology. It’s the most basic political question of all: How do you determine the will of the people? Every candidate, certainly, will claim that their only purpose is to serve that will, whatever it may be. That highlights the importance of figuring out just what that will is.

Pollsters are perhaps the most active discerners of our collective wills, however accurate their results. They build simulations; they sample populations; and they render their verdicts, fraught with caveats and  margins of error, and largely divorced from context. Then they rationalize the difference when the voting doesn’t seem to match up. Of course, what many of them are doing is not revealing public opinion, but shaping it.

There’s no inherent shame in such shaping. For instance, it is reasonable and often righteous to rally the public to one’s side, with a speech in the village commons, or an editorial in the newspaper. These days the platforms are only getting larger—be they web sites or podcasts, or blogs. Argument is perfectly respectable, even emotional argument, since we are creatures of feeling, after all.

How do you know whether you’ve won the argument? In matters of governance, it’s the voting that counts. Nothing is perfect, but we are forced to assume a vote cast is the best declaration of one person’s will on a particular matter, or the best expression we can glimpse. Once a ballot is cast, the voter bears responsibility for whatever message it sends.

Not everything gets a vote, however. Outside of governance, those who would respond to the will of the people have to rely on some other means of determining what that will is—or how to make it whatever they wish it to be. Reasonable people can differ on the best way to go about that.

In fact, the science journal Nature ruminates that people can be difficult. They say they want good things, like sustainability, like long-term improvements in the environment, but they are also pretty bad at thinking ahead. They are impatient, and have little interest in sacrificing alone. So, the article suggests, they may need to be “nudged”—by things like international treaties, taxes, and groups that monitor their performance. Their “will” having been determined, they must be encouraged to follow it.

Any effort to encourage the better angels of our nature should be applauded. Even good people can be better, and the aspiration is noble. At the same time, it would be great if there were a method of determining the true will of the people, not once a year or every few years, but every time they make a public decision. In fact, for most areas of life, we have exactly that. It’s not a polling question, or a platform. It’s not even a voting booth. It’s a cash register. 

People express their will every time they buy a product that is made in the style they prefer, that fulfills the function they require—and yes, that is made in the manner they find most acceptable, or from the resources most suitable. It’s been the most reliable system of determining what people want for millennia, for virtually as long as there have been people.

Paper Water Bottle believes that the people will express their desire for sustainability at the cash register—provided they have that opportunity. Someone first has to produce those products, products made from renewable materials, products that are even Backyard Compostable. Then the will of the people can be expressed, clearly,  every time they purchase A Refreshing Alternative.