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Boycotts Can’t Be a Test of Moral Purity

2 min read
Boycotts Can’t Be a Test of Moral Purity

Photo: Getty / The Atlantic. Article by Zephyr Teachout – Author and associate professor of law at Fordham Law School.

For some people, when they hear about some bad corporate practice, their first reaction is to consider cutting ties to the company. So it is not surprising that each time I discuss the democratic dangers of Facebook, Amazon, or Google, people always bring up personal consumer choice. Instead of policy (antitrust, data rules, outlawing arbitration), the conversation veers quickly into pride or guilt. One woman worries she can’t leave Facebook without leaving her social life. One man sheepishly says he quit Facebook for a few weeks and crept back when he missed his friends. At the heart of this conversation is a thesis: Using a service is an endorsement of its business model. Or more pointedly: If someone is not strong enough to boycott, she lacks standing to object to the behavior of lawmakers and petition them for change. […]

We need to change the current habits of protest in a way that places public, electoral politics at the heart of how we interact with corporate monopolies. If your local pizza parlor starts treating workers badly, sure, boycott it. But when a monopolistic drug company hikes up prices, or a social-media goliath promotes political lies to make more money, the right response is not to beg Google or Facebook for scraps, but to march to Congress and demand that the practices be investigated and the power of these companies be broken up. And if your representative fails to act, don’t boycott her. Replace her. […]

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