I’m sure that I’ve discussed it before, but never in the detail it deserves, so I want to talk about the notion of free markets, and how libertarians are often considered to be shills for major corporations. This is true… for those libertarians who have misunderstood something somewhere along the way. To clarify what I’m talking about, I want to share this Facebook post I saw earlier:
Simple enough, right? “I don’t approve of this item for this reason and want the company to stop selling it.”
Whether you agree or disagree with the sentiment, nothing untoward has happened here. Even if Wal-Mart complies, there’s been no force, violence, or coercion–no aggression. It’s just someone attempting to boycott a product that is sold by a corporation, and we all accept that it’s consumers’ right to refuse to buy a product, to speak out against a product, and to come together to exercise their influence over the company, with the power of their wallets, to get the company to do what they want. The company is free to refuse, and consumers are free to go elsewhere. This is clearly not an act of force, lest literally everything becomes an act of force.
Yet some libertarians disagree.
Okay. No. No, it wouldn’t. The OP did not suggest or ask for legislation banning the sale of such items. He asked that Wal-Mart pull it from shelves. If Wal-Mart listens and bans the item, absolutely no one’s liberty has been violated. You do not have the right to purchase this item from Wal-Mart. In order for it to violate liberty, you must have the right to do it, and you simply cannot have the right to purchase a random item from Wal-Mart. If you had that right, then Wal-Mart would be required to sell the item, else they’d be violating your rights, and thus you’d be firmly violating their right to choose what they do and don’t sell.
This is the sort of thing that gets libertarians called corporate shills. Anarcho-capitalism and libertarianism depend on the power of consumers to influence businesses, and boycotts are a critical part of that process. Refusing to buy the item, asking friends not to buy the item, and saying, “I will take my money elsewhere if you don’t share the values that I share,” are all essential parts of the free market.
How is it “not very libertarian?”
By this logic, it’s “not very libertarian” to give money to lung cancer charities. It’s “not very libertarian” to feel sorry for drug addicts. This person acts like suicidal depression isn’t a mental illness or something. “You shouldn’t feel bad for people who have this mental illness. It’s not very libertarian.”
Sympathy, apparently, is “not very libertarian.”
Libertarians are often accused of being heartless, wanting to let the sick die, and not caring if the poor starve. And though I’ve spent years arguing that this is a straw man built of misunderstood ideas, here is someone who shares those misunderstood ideas and is a straw man. It’s “not very libertarian” to feel sorry for someone with what society has deemed a mental illness?
Granted, I’d argue that there’s nothing inherently insane or ill about being suicidal, but that’s a conversation for another day. To most people, attempting suicide is a sign of mental illness. So this person is saying it’s “not very libertarian” to feel sympathy for people who have mental illnesses.
Thanks for setting libertarianism back.
This is letting the free market decide. The right to boycott and demand that corporations behave, by explicitly or implicitly threatening to take your money elsewhere, is a critical component of the free market.
There is nothing really lost here if Wal-Mart doesn’t pull the item, if no one buys it, and if they lose money on it. This is a minor issue, and it’s why we need to get it out of the way now. Let me present this alternate scenario.
A: “I just found out Wal-Mart is selling Doing brand shoes! Doing brand shoes are manufactured by child labor in Chinese sweatshops! They need to pull these items off the shelves NOW!”
B: “I agree it’s messed up, but you can’t just have them ban it. That violates people’s right to choose to buy the shoes.”
C: “it’s not very libertarian to care what they do in Chinese manufacturing facilities.”
D: “Let the free market decide. If people don’t like it, they won’t buy them.”
See why the mentality is a problem now? “Let the free market sort it out” does not mean “Let the business do whatever it wants, and let it succeed or fail. Don’t try to influence it one way or another.”
That is where things get lost. The free market allows us to influence businesses. Not only do we have the right to, but it is actually imperative, as these free market tools like boycotting are precisely how we check corporate greed.
Yes, corporate greed is a problem. Only a fool denies that. The question is: how do we check it? One way is with the state, with laws. I reject this method as immoral.
The free market way is with boycotts, with shopping elsewhere, with spreading the word.
Simply put: libertarians argue that the state shouldn’t be holding corporations’ feet to the fire. That’s true, but someone has to do it. If you’re not in favor of consumers doing it and you’re not in favor of the state doing it, then, as far as I can fathom, you must be in favor of allowing corporations to reign unchecked, because I can’t imagine another way of doing it.
And, I’m sorry to say, this makes you a corporate shill.
And it’s “not very libertarian” to be a corporate shill.