Unless you have been living under a rock the past couple of weeks, I’m sure you have heard about the gay marriage controversy involving the president of Chick Fil-A and the company’s donations, via its charitable organization, to certain groups opposing its legalization. There have been condemnations, boycotts, and counter-boycotts over the comments. Some Democrat mayors in several major cities have also weighed in calling for banning Chick Fil-As in their cities. The “controversy” has lead me to yet again examine the nature of capitalism and morality and whether the two intertwine. I believe that in most cases, especially when the political views of business owners are involved, the answer is no. The free market is best served when it is amoral and is only concerned with delivering the highest quality product and the lowest possible price with the best possible service.
I strongly respect the right of those who choose not to patronize businesses whose values and political viewpoints they disagree with. On the other hand, I also strongly disagree with the use of boycotts as a political tactic. The biggest problem I have with boycotts is the same problem I have with economic embargoes and sanctions, they punish far more innocent people than the guilty ones. When you boycott a company, you are probably not going to affect the higher ups that made that offensive decision and/or statement in the first place. Instead, the ones who will most likely be hurt are the rank and file employees who usually in most cases have no say in the running of the company. When a company has to cut costs as result of lost sales, they will usually look to the biggest cost first and foremost and in most business, that cost is labor. The next ones who will be hurt are the company’s suppliers when that company has to cut back its orders for supplies and materials. Those suppliers also have little to no say in the company’s policies. Many companies also operate under a franchising system where local locations are owned and operated by individuals and or groups who have little affiliation with the corporate office. This is like punishing local small business owners instead of punishing the big, bad, evil corporation. Finally, if you’re boycotting a company or a series of products based on where they are produced, you won’t harm that nation’s government, instead you’ll be hurting the everyday people who live in that country who actually work in the factories producing the goods. Eventually, you may force a change in the company’s leadership, but what may happen instead is what appears to have happened in the case of Chick Fil-A. There has been a backlash against the critics of Chick Fil-A and last week, the company appears to have set a record in sales and many locations actually reported having run out of chicken.
However, there is nothing wrong with punishing companies for providing terrible service and/or a terrible product. That is the free market at work. Indeed, there is nothing morally wrong with boycotting a company. The act of boycotting, as long as it is done peacefully, is an act of free speech and should be protected. My only problem with boycotts is that they target too many innocent people, along with the guilty.
The ultimate problem I have with boycotts and why capitalism should remain as amoral as possible is that we should not make every little statement or utterance by anyone a controversy. The free market works best when it is focused on providing the best possible product at the best possible value for all parties involved in the transaction, that’s it. I can honestly say, I don’t factor politics into the decision to purchase a product or service. However, I also understand that people will do business only with people they like and part of deciding whether or not is the values of the other party involved in the business transaction.
At the end of the day, this is a decision each of us has to come to on our own.