With respect, Maggie Gallagher could not be more wrong about boycotts. If anything, the Right should be more assertive about voting with its pocketbook. Boycotts are a good and healthy exercise of civil society — and, with their power amplified by information technology and social media, they hold the promise of putting more power in private hands and less in that of regulators and bureaucrats.
Buycott, the consumer-activism app that lets you scan products and match your purchases with your principles, is the Model T version of this approach, but it isn’t too hard to imagine what the more developed and sophisticated version will look like. (My preference would be for a boycott database that links with your debit and credit cards, so that products from firms you want to discipline are automatically blocked. Note to entrepreneurs: Build it and I will sign up.) I don’t think that you have to be wildly optimistic about the prospects for spontaneous social orders to believe that, in a world in which Taylor Swift has 31 million Twitter followers, it should be possible to organize a few million Americans to pressure firms into behaving as they should, provided the transaction costs of doing so are low enough.
The sweet spot comes when that kind of organized social pressure becomes a more significant economic force than government regulation. To take an obvious example, if consumers (and — this is critical — business partners) insist on holding companies to a very high standard of environmental conduct, then what the EPA has to say about X, Y, and Z is a good deal less relevant. But of course those higher environmental standards come with a price — which is a good thing: A standard that can be priced is far preferable to one that cannot, even if the standard is fundamentally arbitrary. Under this model, the cost of the “regulation” is in whole or in part passed on to consumers, meaning that the regulators have a stake in the costs of the regulation.
(As an aside, I also object strongly to Maggie’s use of the word McCarthyism, for two reasons: 1. There’s an important difference between a private boycott and government persecution; 2. McCarthy was right.)
In most cases, conservatives should welcome the opportunity to put our principles to the market test. If we are right about what we believe — and not just right in some abstract, metaphysical way but right in a way that entails real social and economic consequences — then that should be apparent under real-world conditions. What I suspect is that social conservatives (and I think of myself as a social conservative) do not in the main have the courage of our convictions, being convinced that we are destined to lose every cultural contest. I do not think that is true. Chick-fil-A is doing just fine.
So long as conservativism is a political movement and progressivism a social movement, conservatives will lose ground; our infantile politics is an outgrowth of our infantile culture, not the other way around. Conservatives need to be much more engaged beyond the ballot box, and boycotts are a potentially useful part of that.
Obligatory plug: Much more about boycotts, consumer activism, and the power of market-based regulation substitutes here.
Postscript: Anybody who boycotts Orson Scott Card and Ender’s Game over something so trivial as the author’s opinions on gay marriage is a fool. Harrison Ford back in space? Come on.