Tag Archives: boycotts

Um..What Happened To Support For “Limited Government”?

Remember when Republican politicians all ran on platforms endorsing “limited government”? Granted, a lot of them seemed to confuse the size of government with the intrusiveness of government, but to the extent the party actually stood for something, it was the principle that government’s authority over citizens should be limited.

As Barry Goldwater famously put it, “Government doesn’t belong in your boardroom or your bedroom.” (Old Barry is probably spinning in his grave, along with a sizable number of other former GOPers…)

Today’s Republicans are only too happy to invade your bedroom–not to mention your uterus, if you’re a woman. And given Party members’ homophobia, it’s pretty clear that a significant number of folks in today’s GOP would love to return to the time when government could outlaw same-sex marriage and criminalize gay sex. 

But what about that pious declaration that government “doesn’t belong in your boardroom?”

One of the few consistent themes of Republicanism has been the sanctity of the market, and the belief that even the most reasonable regulation of business is a semi-Satanic attack on economic freedom. Republicans have tended to define democracy as consumer choice–let the market decide! Keep government’s nose out of it! (Ignore those armies of lobbyists making sure there are official “thumbs on the scales…”)

Turns out that today’s GOP is just as willing to invite government into the boardroom as it is to insert government into our bedrooms. As the linked Guardian article reports,

A powerful rightwing pressure group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), is pushing states to adopt a new law shielding all US businesses from “political boycotts”.

Although primarily aimed at protecting controversial industries such as fossil fuel companies, big agriculture and gun manufacturers, the proposed legislation is written to prevent boycotts by investors, banks and other companies of any US business.

It comes amid rising consumer pressure on firms over whom they do business with, and follows the decision by major retail stores to stop selling MyPillow products after its chief executive allied himself with Donald Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Alec, which is funded by major corporations, intends to press state legislators to adopt the readymade law, the eliminate political boycotts act, at its closed-door States and Nation Policy Summit in Washington DC at the end of this month.

I’ve previously posted about Alec, and the fact that legislators in Republican-led states (very much including Indiana)  have enacted dozens, if not hundreds, of Alec’s “model” pieces of legislation–adopting the organization’s hard-Right agenda virtually word for word, in laws addressing “immigration, voting suppression, the environment, guns and energy policy.”

The new model legislation requires every “governmental entity”, which covers a wide array of bodies from state government to local police departments and public universities, to include a clause in contracts requiring businesses to pledge they “will not engage in economic boycotts”.

As with all of Alec’s “model laws,” the text of this one has been written by Alec’s lawyers to make it simple; all an obedient legislature has to do is fill in the name of its state. This one is aimed primarily at banks, investment funds and corporations that might refuse to do business with companies that damage the environment or otherwise engage in activities detrimental to democracy or civil society.

The huge investment company BlackRock is among nearly 400 financial firms to have sold off shares in big oil companies over their failure to pursue sufficiently climate-friendly policies.

Some corporations are increasingly concerned that consumer pressure will cause other companies to boycott them over their funding of rightwing politicians and causes, or social positions.

The model legislation follows an Alec meeting in Atlanta in the summer at which participants launched a push against “woke capitalism,” claiming that boycotts may break financial laws.

Hmm…what ever happened to “let the market decide”?

It seems to me that one of the genuine merits of capitalism and market economies is the ability of consumers to choose where to spend their dollars. If I want to confine my investments and purchases and/or those of my company to “woke” companies–or if I prefer to support crazy pillow guys–that’s my right, just as it is my right to hold religious beliefs different from those of Justice Alito and my right to decide who to marry and whether and when to procreate. 

The past few years have certainly illustrated the dishonesty of those “limited government” claims. If we dare to use our liberties to deviate from their preferred behaviors, the GOP will happily invite the government into our bedrooms and our boardrooms.


Reward And Punish

I recently stumbled upon a report issued (and constantly updated) byJeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management identifying the U.S. companies that have–and have not– withdrawn from Russia in the wake of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The report separates the companies into four categories:

1) WITHDRAWAL – Clean Break: companies completely halting Russian engagements;

2) SUSPENSION – Keeping Options Open for Return: companies temporarily curtailing operations while keeping return options open;

3) SCALING BACK – Reducing Activities: companies scaling back some but not all operations, or delaying investments;

4) DIGGING IN – Defying Demands for Exit: companies defying demands for exit/reduction of activities .

The date I logged on, there were 34 companies “digging in.”Unsurprisingly, Koch Industries was–and remains– among them, and there are calls to boycott goods like Bounty paper towels, that are produced by Koch subsidiaries.

American pundits sometimes seem divided between the tiresome ideologues who  believe the market  can solve every problem known to humankind, and the equally tiresome scolds who want to replace capitalism entirely. Actually, both the unwillingness of some companies to forego profits in order to help pressure Russia to withdraw, and the calls to boycott those companies, display what we might think of as the yin and yang of capitalism.

Ignore, for the purposes of the ensuing discussion, the fact that the American economy has devolved into crony capitalism and corporatism, a situation that deserves its own analysis.

America’s most pervasive and longstanding economic error has been one of categorization–determining what goods and services should be left to free  (appropriately regulated) markets, and which by their very nature must be collectively supplied by government. Other western nations have long understood that the provision of effective and accessible health care, for example, is incompatible with a market approach. (Market transactions require a willing buyer and willing seller, both of whom are in possession of all information relevant to the transaction–an impossibility with respect to health care.)

On the other hand, there is no reason for government to be involved in the manufacture or sale of most consumer goods. The genius of a properly operating capitalism is its ability to provide us with a multiplicity of products and sources of entertainment. Government  agencies would be highly unlikely to invent the iPhone…or Netflix.

If we are to have a properly operating economy–not to mention a properly operating government–we need to distinguish between the consumer goods that are most efficiently provided by the market, and the social and physical infrastructure that must be provided by government.

A good example is education. Efforts to “privatize” public education rest on the mistaken assumption that education is just another consumer good–that schools exist only to provide children with the skills to compete–or at least operate–successfully in the economy. That assumption entirely ignores what has been called the “civic mission” of public education–the role of our public schools in the transmission of democratic norms, and the forging of a common American identity among children from  diverse backgrounds.

So what does all this have to do with Ukraine?

When we look at Sonnenfeld’s list of companies that have placed profit above morality, we see the dark side of capitalism–its tendency to incentivize greed over concern for the human consequences of economic (mis)behavior. (It is encouraging, and worth noting , that the list of companies that have elected to remain is far, far shorter than the list of those that have pulled out–often at considerable cost.)

When we look at the calls to boycott the products of the companies that have elected to “dig in,” we see the power consumers can wield in market economies. Consumers “vote” with our dollars, and if enough of us choose to do so, we can punish companies engaging in behaviors of which we disapprove. A number of such boycotts have succeeded in the past and there are several websites enumerating those successes.

When it comes to mega-businesses like Koch Industries, it’s admittedly difficult: their products are pretty much everywhere. (Here’s a list.) Others–like Subway– are much easier to spot.

Bottom line: market economies provide consumers with the ability to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior–but just like democracy, delivering those rewards and punishments requires an informed  and engaged populace.