Boycotts are all around us

There has been quite a bit of talk lately about boycotts, in the academic world, in the foreign policy world, and in the consumer world.

Academics are signing on in rather large numbers to a boycott of the journal publisher Elsevier, for practices they view as stifling to creative and innovative thought, and access. The original call to boycott is here, the Chronicle article is here, and if you Google the thing, you’ll find dozens of blogs and articles talking about it. It doesn’t seem to have hit economists too hard yet, but I imagine it’s going that way.

In foreign policy, all the talk is about boycotting oil from Iran in order to ensure that they don’t get the bomb.

Finally comes the Apple boycott, rocking the consumer world. The NYT came out with a an article last week exposing exploitation of workers and unsafe working conditions in China by Apple. Combined with the conflict minerals stuff, some people are hoping to end their iAddictions. Others, of course, want to point out that the whole thing is ridiculous.

Of these, Iran is definitely the silliest. Oil is a fungible commodity. If we don’t buy it from Iran, we have to get it from someone else, say Norway. Thus, another country who formerly bought from Norway, will now buy it from Iran. Iran will sell it to someone else, perhaps at slightly higher transportation costs, but they still will sell it. (Update: Off the wire blog goes into this in a bit more detail here.)

I’m not entirely sure what to make of the Elsevier boycott. I am all for voting with my dollars, and my time, but I guess this feels big because it is inextricably linked to my profession and my sense of self. As graduate students, we are shown over and over again that the path to success is publish, publish, publish, get tenure, and be satisfied. But I can’t help but think that all of this is changing. It’s like the rug is being pulled out from underneath me. It’s not the end of the world surely, but I’m not sure what an open-access academic content world is going to look like. I’m sure that functionally, it won’t change much for most people. But for academics, it’s likely to change a lot. And that’s scary on some level, even if it’s also exciting and desirable.

I’m going to mull over my thoughts on the Apple boycott a bit more, but they certainly seem to be all around us, don’t they?

Update on Fun Wednesday Reading: I’m in the midst of Innes, Rob. “A Theory of Consumer Boycotts Under Symmetric Information and Imperfect Competition.” The Economic Journal, 116 (April) 355-381.

h/t @mflbellemare

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One thought on “Boycotts are all around us

  1. The Elsevier boycott is delicate for grad students and junior faculty members, who often don’t have the luxury of selecting when and where their publications will appear, and for whom an Elsevier publication on the CV can be an important professional identifier. I’ll dig around for some thoughtful posts about this; my general sense is that while many academics are supportive of the Elsevier boycott, those same individuals are also reasonable and gracious in recognizing that such a boycott is something that younger faculty members may not be able to afford. The terrain is changing quickly, so perhaps the shine of Elsevier lines on the CV will be dulled after all this calms down, but it’s hard to know yet what a successful academic CV will look like ten or fifteen years from now.

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