December 4, 2010

Boycott (Part 2)

Regarding the decision by several peace activists to boycott, Bob Murphy writes:

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that it was Joe Lieberman, representing the might of the U.S. federal government, who caused Amazon to drop WikiLeaks as a customer. I have read some boycotters arguing that Amazon should have put up more of a fight, at least waiting for a court order.

This strikes me as very naïve. The government has all sorts of tools at its disposal. The IRS could’ve hit Amazon with an audit. The company could have lost its sales tax exemption. OSHA could’ve discovered all sorts of safety violations at its offices. If Amazon had wanted to acquire another company, the government could’ve held up approval.

One problem with Murphy’s argument here is that we don’t know how the federal government would have responded had Amazon continued hosting WikiLeaks.  The government certainly might have gone after Amazon, but, then again, it has more than enough on its plate right now and might have just left it alone.  And even if it had decided to do something, Amazon is a giant corporation, and, had it stuck to its guns, it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t have come out okay in the end.

Of course, Amazon’s profit margin is beside the point.  As I argued yesterday, the right course of action is not necessarily the one that yields the most money.  Obviously. 

Murphy continues:

It’s ironic to think through exactly why Amazon ended up being the target of the boycott, when even the boycotters would all quickly admit that it was Lieberman who was more culpable than the Amazon executives. Consider: If a would-be boycotter wanted to cause economic pain because of the silencing of WikiLeaks, then the obvious move would be to stop sending more money to the very government that is waging wars and harassing Assange.

Yet the boycotters aren’t saying, "Hey everyone, let’s stop sending our money to D.C." Why? Because they are afraid of what the government would do to them. In other words, they are behaving exactly like the Amazon executives.

It’s simply ridiculous to claim that Amazon’s decision to drop WikiLeaks is essentially no different than my decision to continue paying taxes.  Had Amazon stood up to Lieberman, it might have forfeited a little profit.  If I decided to stop paying taxes, however, I would definitely be thrown into prison.  And although going to prison would mean that the government could no longer take my money for its evil purposes, it would also mean that I could no longer influence voters and consumers.  It would mean that I could no longer support worthy businesses and charities.  It would mean that my wife would be deprived of a husband, my mother of a son, my coworkers of a friend, etc. 

In other words, although refusing to pay taxes would result in some good, it would also result in much evil.  And I just don’t see how Amazon would have caused the same amount of evil had it stood up to Lieberman.

Murphy does make one point in his article that I completely agree with:

If we are to boycott Amazon because it supported WikiLeaks, but then abandoned it when things started to heat up, then surely we should also boycott those corporations which we know would never have supported WikiLeaks in the first place. For example, we should never buy another GE appliance, because of the pro-empire spin of its media outlets.

Absolutely.  Let’s not stop with Amazon, which is far less culpable than many other American companies.  In so far as we can, we should boycott GE and all other immoral companies. 

If we really want to make our government less immoral, then we need to make it unprofitable for all companies who enable this immorality.  By boycotting companies like Amazon, we’re sending a message to other companies: Yes, the feds might try to hurt you if you don’t acquiesce to their every wish, but so will consumers.  The government’s going to be there to pressure companies to do the wrong thing, so we need to be there to pressure them to do the right thing.  And if enough of us applied such pressure, it’s hard to imagine that we wouldn’t eventually start seeing some results.


Roger Young said...

I'm afraid I'd have to disagree with you here. I think Brutus explains why better than I could:

Don Emmerich said...

Well certainly Amazon found itself in a tough situation. And certainly the real enemy here is the state.