March 31, 2005
Taco Bell reply
I’d like to thank the number of people who seem to be joining in on the Taco Bell debate. I’d like to take this opportunity to write up some off the cuff remarks regarding the comments that my posts have generated thus far.
I have been asked to clarify why I view the Taco Bell boycott as anti-capitalist. First, let me say that my initial opinion editorial pieces about the boycott were in direct response to a meeting I attended at Loyola University New Orleans, held by the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. At this meeting the individuals running the show continually blamed big business and corporations for the moral depravity of Immokalee worker conditions, and made direct references to the Marxist view that labor wages are set through exploitation. Email notifications for the meeting contained the phrase, “Want to bring down corporations?” I do not rule out the possibility that the individuals at this meeting do not represent the majority of the Boycott supporters and perhaps I received a biased sample, as Charles Johnson has accused, claiming that I have painted a misrepresentation of the CIW. However it explains my experience of interaction with the boycotters, which I have made into a short film and hope to be capable of streaming through this websit sometime this summer.
The second qualm that has been raised about my stance on the issue is the role of government. The Austrian school and libertarianism alike are against government control of market transactions, but the CIW appears to be refraining from such tactics, so what’s my problem anyway? Simply put I believe, there are more ways to be anti-capitalist than just using government. Mainly promoting ideas that capitalism is evil or claiming it resorts to rampant market failure are, in my view, anti-capitalist.
To summarize Mises in Theory and History; ideas matter and shape the course of human action. Actions may be ends in themselves or they may be performed as means with the intent to promote certain ideas and greater ends. This is known as a means ends framework. Satisfaction and value obtained from action is subjective. No objective quality or quantity of value can be inferred out of another persons actions. I cannot claim that you brushing your teeth produced X amount of utility. But if an end is claimed, there is a possibility of objectively determining if a mean was successful in obtaining it. Flapping my arms did not permit me to fly. Means are successful if they achieve their ends.
It is the means ends dichotomy which bothers me so much about the Taco Bell boycott. I would argue that their means (boycotting) are not efficient in obtaining their ends (higher real wages and living conditions for the Immokalee workers). In the direct sense the boycott strategy ignores the effects that a drop in demand for tacos will have on wages related to the production of tacos. If this is the case it leaves me skeptical about their intentions to promote the ends which they claim to promote (higher wages and living conditions).
I argue that alternative means would be more effective at obtaining the ends of higher wages and living conditions for the Immokalee workers.
1. Any form of productivity. Allegedly the housing prices in the Immokalee area are exorbitant, and contribute to the poverty conditions of those who live there. So this is an entrepreneurial area that could host the energy of riled activists that is instead being diverted by this boycott. If these activists were instead producing houses, clothes, and consumable goods to be exchanged with the Immokalee workers they would be more successful in improving their quality of life. They don’t produce anything tangible in their boycott efforts that can lead me to understand an end which it satisfies. For example, food satisfies hunger. Instead these actions produce a rallied group of activists which may provide satisfaction in its own sake but of what kind?
2. Buying more rather than fewer Tacos. I explained this already in my piece on mises.org.
3. Supporting competing industries that purchase Tomatoes. Boycotts in general are not anti-capitalist, but I think this one in particular is for one simple reason; there is no viable or suggested alternative. Competition is the best mechanism for increasing product quality and lowering costs to consumers. If more firms were bidding for the labor that the Immokalee workers are providing we would see an available mechanism to make this boycott work. It wouldn’t just be a “boycott Taco Bell” campaign, but a “buy brand X instead of Taco Bell” campaign. This strategy would protect the migrant workers wages against the fall in demand alluded to earlier. So when analyzing a strategy, we should ask how will this affect competition? The Taco Bell boycott doesn’t make it more attractive for firms to hire Immokalee workers.
After looking at these preferable alternatives we are left to doubt the proposed ends (higher living conditions) that the CIW asserts. It is my claim that they hide behind such benevolent intentions and are seeking after the ends of power and authority received by bullying large companies. Look at some of the results that have developed out of their alleged restrain of using government involvement.
“The Company indicated that it believes other restaurant chains and supermarkets, along with the Florida Tomato Committee, should join in seeking legislative reform, because human rights are universal and we hope others will follow our company’s lead.”
Posted by djdamico at March 31, 2005 3:34 PM
I go to Taco Bell every Sunday for lunch. I think I have done this pretty much every Sunday I have been for the last 4 semesters at school. Unfortunately, the majority of tacos I order don't have tomatoes.
Posted by: Pete Canning at April 2, 2005 7:40 PM