The Amazon Boycott: Blaming a Victim
By David Henderson
Antiwar.com, where I write a monthly column, has decided to boycott Amazon. Their reason is that Amazon banished WikiLeaks from its servers shortly after a staffer at the U.S. Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Joe Lieberman, called Amazon and asked for an explanation. And now regular Antiwar.com columnist Justin Raimondo defends Antiwar.com’s decision and ends his defense with this:
The controversy over WikiLeaks is a defining issue, one that separates the liberty-lovers from the lickspittles.
Being called a lickspittle by Justin Raimondo is hardly going to make me lose sleep: as anyone knows who reads him regularly, as I do, his quota of name-calling ran out about twenty years ago. But even if I worried about being called names, I would say what I’m going to say: the boycott of Amazon is a bad idea. Bob Murphy has given a strong argument for not boycotting and so I won’t repeat it here. I will just highlight two things from Murphy’s article and then deal with one new piece of information that Raimondo presents.
Why single out Amazon for the boycott? To repeat, at least Amazon initially hosted WikiLeaks; this actually surprised me when I heard it, since I thought major corporations wouldn’t want to touch Assange’s website with a ten-foot pole in this environment.
It is strange. Amazon had the courage to host WikiLeaks and then it gets blamed for buckling under government pressure? This makes no sense, especially since the boycotters are likely to take their business to companies that never supported WikiLeaks.
Second highlight from Murphy:
The boycotters seem quite sure that this episode will send a signal to major corporations that they shouldn’t leave critics of the government high and dry. But this might actually backfire, and be akin to raising the minimum wage, thinking it helps unskilled workers. Specifically, the lesson to major corporations might be: “Whoa, let’s not get ourselves involved with any dubious groups or individuals, in case the government cracks down and makes us look like the bad guys.”
I’m willing to go further: I think that, to the extent the boycott succeeds, this is exactly how many managers of big corporations will think, those, that is, who weren’t already thinking this way.
Murphy also identifies the real villain here: Joe Lieberman. Any manager of a U.S. company, large or small, in the year 2010, knows that when he/she gets a phone call from a staffer from a Senate committee with “Homeland Security” in its name, he/she had better pay attention. This explains the one new fact Raimondo presents: that Amazon, rather than announcing that it buckled under pressure, instead said that it denied access to WikiLeaks because WikiLeaks was presenting stolen documents. But the timing shows that this can’t be it. If those documents were stolen, they were just as stolen in the days that Amazon did host WikiLeaks. So I won’t defend Amazon’s honesty, although I totally understand why they would tell a lie. But I won’t boycott Amazon. If I do anything about this, it will be to go after, in some way that’s legal, the megalomaniacal Senator Joe Lieberman.
The simple fact is that we live in a society whose governments are so big, so powerful, so intrusive, and so arbitrary, that we have to be very careful in dealing with them. That’s true whether we’re talking about a U.S. Senator, a local policeman, a city planner, or a TSA agent. Different people will draw different lines about how to respond to government abuses. But boycotting of one of government’s many victims? No way.