May a Coffeehouse Boycott Its (Trump-Loving) Customers?

business_ethics_highlights_2Some people think ethical consumerism – incorporating one’s values into one’s purchasing decisions – is a form of enlightenment. It uses the fear of foregone sales to motivate retailers and manufacturers to adhere to the customer’s values and thereby make the world a better place. But what about when the shoe is on the other foot? Is it similarly enlightened for retailers or manufacturers to apply values litmus tests to their customers? In the linked news item, Minneapolis coffeehouse Urban Bean isn’t actually boycotting supporters of U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump, but its owner is strongly discouraging them from patronizing his store. If he were actually refusing service to Trump supporters, the less interesting question is whether he could do so legally. (Public accommodations law likely precludes it.) The more interesting question is whether it would be ethical to do so.

If you think the answer depends upon whether you agree with the values the owner seeks to promote, you don’t understand liberalism and the role of commerce within liberal societies. Political liberalism recognizes that people have rival conceptions of the good and that their disagreements about the good are likely to be insoluble. It seeks to overcome the resultant hostility by committing political authority to neutrality among conceptions of the good; instead creating a political framework within which people are maximally free to pursue their own conceptions of the good, with a minimum of violence where their pursuits conflict. This makes tolerance – the willingness to coexist peaceably with other people pursuing values and ways of life with which one does not agree – a crucial virtue in citizens of a liberal society.

Tolerance, however, has a commercial aspect. It is practiced commercially by being willing to trade with anyone whose interests touch one’s own at a point. “Their money is as a green as anyone else’s” is a tolerant person’s creed. This is important to the maintenance of liberal societies because trade is perhaps the most important form of social cooperation: it is social cooperation on the most minimal of terms. If we get into the habit of declaring people outside the realm of trade because they don’t share our values, we are by extension in the habit of declaring them outside our community—because any other form of social cooperation will require greater agreement among its participants than will trade. The point of this observation is that whether on the part of consumers or merchants, boycotting those who do not share one’s values is a dangerous game. Threatening people’s livelihoods because they don’t share your values tears at the fabric of liberal community. At the extreme, it is an invitation to war. It’s right and proper that we register our moral disagreements with one another – in conversation, in social media, and at the polls – but doing it through the withdrawal of commerce should be pursued, if at all, sparingly and with careful deliberation. >>>

LINK: Urban Bean coffee shop tells Trump supporters: ‘Do not spend money in our stores’ (by HANNAH SAYLE for Citypages)

It’s not often that a small, locally owned business can afford to turn away business. But if it means shunning Donald Trump and his fans, Urban Bean coffeeshop will forgo the cash.

On Sunday, with the country still reeling from the aftershock of the largest mass shooting in American history, Urban Bean posted on Facebook that supporters of Trump were no longer welcome to “like” or “follow” the shop’s page. In fact, they were no longer welcome to spend money at either of its south Minneapolis locations.

“I don’t know that it’s even that controversial,” says owner Greg Martin. “We just don’t feel like there’s room for that kind of BS in our store.”

Nor is Martin’s anti-Trump stance the marketing nightmare that some Facebook commenters would have you believe.

“We’re an independent coffee shop. A very high percentage of the people who come in on a regular basis are going to support what we said.”

What do you think?

SEE ALSO: Alexei Marcoux, “Is a Market for Values a Value in Markets?

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  1. Pingback: What’s Wrong With a Coffee Shop Boycotting Trump-Supporting Customers? | What's Wrong?

  2. Matthew LeBar

    Saying that “if you think the answer depends upon whether you agree with the values the owner seeks to promote, you don’t understand liberalism and the role of commerce within liberal societies” seems to me a rather strong statement. You can understand liberalism and think it ought to apply to political action but not commercial action, right? The article gives a argument for why that’s wrong, but it’s not prima facie absurd to think that and I don’t think it’s incoherent by any means.

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