Tuesday, February 25, 2014

If there Was a Grand Canyon, She Could Fill it up with the Lies He's Told Her

Following up on Arizona's SB 1062, George Takei writes an open letter to the people of Arizona. In it, he pledges to boycott the entire state.
If your Governor Jan Brewer signs this repugnant bill into law, make no mistake. We will not come. We will not spend. And we will urge everyone we know–from large corporations to small families on vacation–to boycott. Because you don’t deserve our dollars. Not one red cent.
Having studied public choice economics, I'm perhaps over-sensitive to methodological individualism. I have an appreciation for the nature of coalition politics and how it can be that no one's first choice for either policy or representative could (under certain circumstances) end up on the ballot. Indeed, since I understand all this in my bones, I am deeply puzzled by Takei's pledge. It strikes me as a missed opportunity.

As I noted a couple of posts back, the struggle for equality is one waged in the moral sensibilities of the constituency. If I were an avid gay rights champion, I would take this as an opportunity to visit Arizona and reward gay-friendly businesses, perhaps picketing bigoted firms while I was in town.

The thing I find remarkable is that Takei and his family were subjected to Executive Order 9066, one of America's greatest 20th Century moral embarrassments. Roosevelt's WWII internment of Americans with Japanese ancestry assumed guilt by association. Though different in scope and application (especially since it was conducted by force rather than with voluntary withdrawal), the logical error was still the same: [Japanese implies traitor] <==> [Arizona business owner implies bigot].

But that's not the EE point. What I strive to do here is to understand moral intuitions. In Arnold Kling's terms, this issue is spoken of using the language of oppression. The oppressed have few tools available to them to signal displeasure, among them are economic sanctions. This issue falls flat to libertarians, since explicit coercion is actually decreasing in Arizona. And for conservatives, it allows ordinary citizens to fight back against encroaching barbarism. Of the three moral dimensions, I think I side with the progressive sentiments the strongest. The systematic oppression of LGBT citizens is an affront to common decency. However, I also find myself predisposed to the notion that the heavy lifting of changing minds is a task for rhetoric, not for mulish legislation. Plugging your ears and turning your back punishes the innocent along with the guilty and risks further alienating friends and allies.

There's nothing euvoluntary about refusing ordinary arms-length commerce because of taste-based discrimination. Why work to make the world of peaceful exchange even smaller by withholding your business from folks who would never consider such offensive behavior?

Boycotts are a heuristic. Examine your impulses.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?