In New York, a pro-life display was declared by a professor to be an act of “violence.” In Colorado, a university site warned that misgendering is violence. It is part of a national pattern on campuses where opposing views are declared “harmful” or “violent” as a justification for censorship or even violence. Now, University of Michigan economics professor Justin Wolfers has declared some of those boycotting the store Target over its line of LGBTQ+ “Pride” clothing are guilty of “literal terrorism.”
Target is the latest example of a corporation that is being “Bud Lighted” over its link to LGBTQ+ efforts. While experts on MSNBC and CNN assured viewers that these boycotts fade quickly, these companies have now lost billions. Target has reportedly lost over $10 billion. Miller Lite is also being hammered over its “Bad $#!T to Good $#!T,” ad slamming male-oriented beer campaigns.
With these boycotts picking up steam, the coverage has turned from dismissive to alarmist.
Wolfers told MSNBC:
“[If] Target caves into this, then it says that the moment you threaten the employees of even a very large corporation, you get to control its policies. This is economic terrorism, literally terrorism, creating fear among the workers and forcing the corporations to sell the things you want, not sell the things you don’t.”
Wolfers did not object to past boycotts of companies like Twitter after Elon Musk sought to dismantle its censorship bureaucracy. He did not object to boycotts of Republican states over their laws concerning abortion, election integrity, or gender transitioning.
In fairness to Professor Wolfers, he acknowledges in the interview that “we do have groups all the time that protest by boycotting, and that’s their democratic right to do so.” However, he still considers aspects of this boycott to be “literal terrorism.”
Most notably, Wolfers was one of the figures leading the mob against UChicago economist Harald Uhlig, who was discussed earlier. I quoted Wolfers as one of those seeking the removal of Uhlig from a leading economics journal because he criticized Black Lives Matter and the movement to Defund The Police.
Yet, Wolfers now claims that some boycotts can amount to “literal terrorism” and objects that they are “forcing the corporations to sell the things you want, not sell the things you don’t.”
Boycotts have long been an important form of political speech extending back to the colonial protests against the British stamp and tea taxes. Indeed, the left has targeted advertisers and boycotted companies to pressure corporate officials to change their policies. Twitter was targeted when Elon Musk sought to dismantle the company’s massive censorship operation. Now, however, boycotts are acts of terrorism when used against some of those policies.
The problem is that the media and these commentators cannot force customers to buy beer or other products. Consumers have found a way to express their views through the invisible hand of the markets. These advertising and public campaigns were designed to closely associate the brands with particular causes. That association has triggered a market response, including consumers and shareholders who object to campaigns that seem more political than commercial.
Alissa Heinerscheid, vice president of marketing for Bud Light, pledged to drop Bud Light’s “fratty reputation and embrace inclusivity.” She certainly succeeded in changing the entire view of the brand in less than a year on the job. Heinerscheid knew that the brand image sells the beer. That image is now unpalatable for some consumers. The social value of these campaigns is lost if consumers reject beer with the branding message.
Even Adam Schiff creating his own public endorsement of Bud Lite appeared to backfire. It is not clear that Anheser Busch was eager to have one of its labels pegged as the beer of choice by Adam Schiff as more than Dylan Mulvaney. Indeed, the company now appears to be in a death spiral. After it tried to distance itself from the Mulvaney controversy, it was then boycotted by liberal groups for not staying the course with its earlier campaign. Those boycotts, however, are not being denounced as terrorism by Wolfers.
Update: Professor Wolfers contacted me after this posting to explain that he was only referring to the intimidation of Target workers as terrorism and that he supported boycotts as political speech. He insists that “it’s the (possibility) of threats of violence that I describe as terrorism (ie the use of terror), not the boycott.” He added:
“It’s false to say (as you do) that “Wolfers now claims that boycotts are “literal terrorism” because they are “forcing the corporations to sell the things you want, not sell the things you don’t.””. I distinguish between consumers boycotting, and folks like DeSantis who use the machinery of the state to bully corporations, as the latter concerns me more. (This used to be a standard conservative position.)”
I have tweaked that line and added an additional quote in light of Wolfers objections.
You can see the full interview here.