The boycott is a powerful tool in modern political society. With the widespread popularity of social media, individuals can now collaborate on a scale that was not possible a mere 10 years ago.
Modern social media allows massive numbers of people to come together at a moment’s notice to work toward a common goal. This is the community organizer’s fantasy.
However, even for someone not involved in this breakthrough in communication, it is hard to argue that it is a bad thing. Of course, there are the occasional rapid reactionary consequences of mass hysteria but, as a whole, so much good can be done by connecting the world together that these unfortunate occurrences are outweighed. A network of 10 can now be turned into an army of thousands.
This ability to connect has laid the groundwork for a massive ability to boycott. The ability to financially starve opponents small and large is more accessible than ever.
Medieval warriors realized centuries ago that even the largest city can fall to a much weaker army because of a thorough siege. Smaller adversaries cower at just the thought of such a conflict. Modern organizers are basing their boycotts on the same principle, but the opponents are dissonant individuals and businesses.
This approach is widely touted as a free market form of protest that exercises every person’s right to free speech. This could not be further from the truth. The boycott results in a failure of the free market and is a bastardization of free speech. It is merely a form of coercion. There is no essence of freedom in this model and no arguments are being made.
Just as a siege forces a city into submission, a boycott forces an opponent to obey. The same principle applies to both situations: surrender or be destroyed.
The main purpose of the free market is to produce the best quality goods for the cheapest price. This is achieved through competition between producers and a well-informed consumer base that possesses the ability to objectively compare products.
The better brand is monetarily supported by the consumer’s purchase. By entangling politics with the market, a major negative externality is produced. The ability to objectively compare products no longer exists and, subsequently, the best producer does not always receive the highest revenue.
The negative externality of public opinion allows inferior goods to be valued higher and the superior goods of other producers to be valued lower. In effect, lower quality goods can be sold for higher prices and the free market ends up failing. Of course, situations like these are never absolute and the real world does not exist solely in extremes, but the concept remains: boycotts are not a free market solution.
Free speech, in concept, holds that everyone has the right to speak his or her mind. Following this basis, it is easy to believe that a boycott is in line with this idea. If an individual has a problem with another individual or company, the solution is to stop doing business with that individual or company. At its core this is just a pure freedom of association.
Once behavior is weaponized on a mass level, it is no longer a liberty that belongs to the individual. Rather, it becomes a subversive tool of the collective. The boycott allows the collective to forcibly coerce all opponents into submission. No person is free when the decisions they make are forced under intimidation.
So, how can someone healthily express his or her opinions while respecting the rights of others and ensuring that the free market works closest to its maximum potential? In this case, the answer is simple: political disagreements and purchasing decisions must be kept separate. Of course, this is not a practical solution as human emotions are tied so closely to the decision-making process.
It is time to stop misleading society, especially the youth, on the ideological basis of boycotts. These are not harmless forms of self-expression. Rather, they are a form of economic intimidation forcing all those who disagree to submit. Neither ideas nor discourse matter.
A boycott does not care who has the best ideas or who makes the best product. Let civilians rise above this combatant nature of humanity and fight their battles in the marketplace of ideas and not in the coliseum of intimidation.
Eric is a Public Affairs student who is active in organizations including the Baruch College Republicans and the Honors Student Council. Outside of college, he recently founded a nonprofit, Doxa, which aims to increase “debate, discourse and citizenship.”