I’ll get right to the point. I’m not buying a pair of Nikes this week because I don’t need them.
No, I’m not boycotting Nike. Far from it. I think Nike’s recent move to feature Colin Kaepernick in their ads is strategically very clever, and more generally I’m supportive of Kaepernick’s kneeling as a form of protest, and so by extension I’m supportive of Nike’s support of Kaepernick. And no, I don’t think there’s any need to decide between those two analyses: a given business decision can be both strategic and ethical, opportunistic and morally laudable. I think Nike has scored well on both counts, in the present case.
But buying a pair of Nikes I don’t need would be almost as silly as burning a pair. I’ve already got a good pair of athletic shoes for running, and I’ve got a couple of nice pairs of sneakers for walking around town.
And so I think buying a pair of Nikes this week would be foolish. For starters, it would be a foolish waste of money I could spend on something else—like, say, a $175 donation to the ACLU, or the NAACP. And generally, buying Nikes wouldn’t accomplish much. Yes, in principle I’d like to pat the company on the back, but me shelling out for a pair of shoes is hardly going to be noticed by a company with over $30billion in revenue. Nor is anyone going to notice my flashy new Nikes, and nod in appreciation that I’m on the right side of this debate. When so many people sport a particular logo—sporting it for so many different reasons—that logo’s significance as a signal is necessarily close to zero.
Finally, this issue is a good opportunity to talk about what values we think should determine our behaviour in the marketplace. Do we really want politics creeping in? Is that a good thing? Should lefty consumers really stick to buying shoes (or cars, or broccoli) from lefty producers, and should right-wing consumers stick to buying from right-wing companies? Or should we instead stick, generally, to buying good, well-made products that suit our needs? Markets work better when we ignore each other’s political leanings. Voltaire noted it in the 18th century, pointing out how marvellous it was that the Christian, the Jew, and the Muslim could set their religious differences aside in order to engage in trade. And so, as my friend Alexei Marcoux, argued more recently, we should be wary of letting the marketplace become what he calls a ‘market for values.’ “The market for values,” he argues, “undermines and displaces toleration in the most important venue for social cooperation in a commercial society—the market.” The marketplace is a place where we learn to accept differences of opinion; we shouldn’t jump at opportunities to let our differences of opinion interfere we behave in the marketplace.
See also: Ethical Consumerism (Concise Encyclopedia of Business Ethics)