[This article is taken from chapter 18 of The Ethics of Liberty.]
A boycott is an attempt to persuade other people to have nothing to do with some particular person or firm — either socially or in agreeing not to purchase the firm’s product. Morally a boycott may be used for absurd, reprehensible, laudatory, or neutral goals. It may be used, for example, to attempt to persuade people not to buy non-union grapes or not to buy union grapes. From our point of view, the important thing about the boycott is that it is purely voluntary, an act of attempted persuasion, and therefore that it is a perfectly legal and licit instrument of action.
Again, as in the case of libel, a boycott may well diminish a firm’s customers and therefore cut into its property values; but such an act is still a perfectly legitimate exercise of free speech and property rights. Whether we wish any particular boycott well or ill depends on our moral values and on our attitudes toward the concrete goal or activity. But a boycott is legitimate per se. If we feel a given boycott to be morally reprehensible, then it is within the rights of those who feel this way to organize a counter-boycott to persuade the consumers otherwise, or to boycott the boycotters. All this is part of the process of dissemination of information and opinion within the framework of the rights of private property.
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Furthermore, “secondary” boycotts are also legitimate, despite their outlawry under our current labor laws. In a secondary boycott, labor unions try to persuade consumers not to buy from firms who deal with non-union (primary boycotted) firms. Again, in a free society, it…