Having a Standard Policy on Government’s Consumer Leverage

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The Town of North Smithfield has entered into a “boycott” of Nike over the company’s elevation of the controversial football player Colin Kaepernick as its poster boy.  As a general rule, I’m not a fan of the government’s use of its economic power to push political positions — not so much because politics is inappropriate to government, but because of the government’s responsibility to be a good steward of public dollars.

Of all the reasons a town government might select a shoe, a ball, or a shirt for purchase, politics ought to be vanishingly minor.  Buy the product that best suits the town’s needs.  That said, if the people of North Smithfield have a different political philosophy, the importance of my opinion, standing at my desk over here in Tiverton, is also vanishingly minor.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island isn’t quite as circumspect:

“The Town Council’s passage of this inflammatory resolution over the objections of the many residents who came out to oppose it is shameful,” the ACLU said in a statement. “By punishing the right to peacefully protest and refusing to recognize the racial injustice prompting that protest, the resolution shows a disdain for both freedom and equality. Rhode Island is better than this.”

Lamentably, neither the ACLU nor journalist Linda Borg mentions that Kaepernick was more specifically insulting at the beginning of the whole controversy, notably with socks depicting police officers as pigs.  Be that as it may, I don’t happen to recall the ACLU’s shaming of either of our last two state treasurers for the long list of corporate decisions for which they wish to use our public investments as leverage.  Raimondo’s preferred activism was to hurt gun companies, while Magaziner has preferred environmentalism and identity politics.

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In these instances, again, I’d suggest that government officials should just buy the products and make the investments that best serve within the narrow range of what the products and investments are for.  If a Nike product suits a town’s needs, go ahead and buy it.  If the best candidate to run a company in which the state has invested happens to be a white man, don’t stand in the way of the company’s hiring him.

Making decisions on some other basis comes with a cost, and as a general matter, that cost will be larger than the benefit of an activist’s statement.



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