In a previous post, I discussed the logistical problems with sanctions. To sum up, they rarely (if ever) accomplish the desired outcome, and are always accompanied by negative, unforeseen consequences. Trading with countries and maintaining diplomatic ties is a much better way to work towards the prosperity and peace of all nations.
Here, I would like to compare sanctions to boycotts. While I am strongly opposed to economic sanctions, I am very much in favor of boycotts as a market tool.
One big difference between the two is that governments decide all the particulars related to sanctions, whereas individuals decide all the particulars related to boycotts. For instance, in the case of sanctions, the government decides the timeframe they will be imposed, the conditions under which they will be imposed, the possibility of repeal, the conditions under which a repeal is possible, etc. Individuals in a country have marginal (if any) real control over any of the above. Yes, citizens may pressure representatives in one direction. But in the case of sanctions, such opposition is not nearly loud enough, or from enough individuals, to be heard.
Thus, the government (or certain individuals inside or intimately involved with the government) decide nearly everything related to sanctions. The government may say, “If country x would only do such-and-such, then we wouldn’t have to resort to such measures.” I would ask what control the citizens of the countries “receiving” sanctions have over the functions of their government, especially if it is totalitarian in nature. Thus, largely innocent citizens are punished for their government’s actions on behalf of another government.
Boycotts are completely different. In the case of boycotts, individuals choose what not to purchase. They choose what conditions they will boycott under, how long the boycott will last, when it will be repealed, etc. Boycotts are most effective when individuals band together in a voluntary organization of some sort, and withhold financial support of some business, company, institution, etc.
Further, individuals on the “receiving” end have much more control over what they (or their organization or company) can do to repeal the boycott as compared to control over their government. They can refuse to work, for instance, or litigate. They could talk to reporters, spreading the bad news around. Or, in a free market, (if we only had one), individuals could find another job with relative ease. There would always be many employment opportunities available. Thus, those on the “receiving” end of the boycotts have more control over their situation than those on the “receiving” end of sanctions.
Examples of successful boycotts include African Americans refusing the ride the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama, at the early part of the Civil Rights Movement, PETA refusing to patronize KFC for its treatment of chickens, and the AFA refusing to purchase motor vehicles manufactured by Ford Motor Company for alleged support of the homosexual agenda. Obviously, not all boycotts work, but many, when well-planned and executed, can accomplish the desired objectives much more efficiently than government-imposed sanctions.
The beauty of boycotts is that whether you agree with the principles behind a boycott or not, you actually have a choice whether to participate. Individuals have complete control over boycotts.
What is the potential power of boycotts? Individuals can use boycotting to combat slave labor, polluting companies, unsafe companies, poor service, or many other possibilities. In this way, a well-organized boycott can, in principle, have a powerful influence on a host of potential problems and issues.
Thus, I am very much in favor of individuals exercising their right to boycott, and opposed to governments compelling their citizens (via sanctions) to withhold financial support for any organization, company, individual, etc., within a certain country’s geographical boundary.