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Is Boycotting Rush Anti-Free Speech or the Exercise of it?

March 6, 2012 1 comment


There are free speech proponents who, regardless of the foulness of the speech involved, feel very, very queasy about economic boycotts intended to silence people.

But regardless of how one feels in the specific case of Rush Limbaugh’s remarks about Georgetown University student, Sarah Fluke last week, central to the issue of the efficacy of economic boycotts is the concept of money and the free market.

The Supreme Court has made it pretty clear that money is a vehicle for the expression of protected 1st amendment rights. In the matter of Citizens United, the high court upheld the rights of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.

The underlying philosophical foundation would also support the concept of economic boycotts because they too involve the use of money as a means of political expression. Not the spending of it, but the strategic denial of it.

And it is, perhaps, ironic in the case of the Rush controversy, that presuming that many on the political right are extreme free market proponents, the use of the economic leverage of the boycott, really is use of the free market; manipulating it as an expression of free speech.

So whether you’re boycotting Bill Maher’s advertisers for an ill-advised and, some would argue, grotesque tweet about Tim Tebow a couple of months ago, or angry with Rush Limbaugh for his vitriolic rhetorical attack on a young female college student, looks to me like the law is- more than ever- firmly behind you if you decide to stop buying products from companies whose perceived values are incompatible with your own.

To the anti-boycott/free speech advocates- if there really is a marketplace for ideas in this country- a place where people pay through their purchases and their listening or viewing habits, to make it possible for some to shout their views from an electronic pulpit- no one is ever losing their right of expression.

The only thing affected by the power of money- is the size of the pulpit. How people choose to spend their time and money and show their attraction or revulsion to the product, determines whether that pulpit is amplified through a 50,000-watt radio or television tower, or relegated to 45 people reading the daily rants of a lonely website.

Either way, though, it’s still free expression. Nobody said you have the absolute right to get rich off of it.

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