A much debated subject of activism is boycotting. By some considered pointless and idealistic, by others seen as a kickstarter for a bigger movement of resistance. Not only in leftist circles it’s popular to not buy certain products as protest against policies or ethical questions. Also centrist or right leaning folks can take part in it from their identity as consumer. “Vote with your wallet” is a popular vehicle in capitalist-apologism. But the actual impact of whatever you decide to buy or not buy is limited.
Boycotting something, wether it’s a specific product or service or an entire company or country, is something that can clear your conscience or serve as an example to others. But it’s important to remember that it has no economic impact on said company or type of product. Even if it has, it’s not the impact you want. And before you start, no I’m not talking about how little your boycot means to the total amount of sales. Because of course saying “It doesn’t matter what I do because it’s so little it will never be enough” is highly cynical and fatalistic. If enough of us make a statement and encourage others to follow, of course it can make a signifcance. Don’t ever think that you can’t take on the big institutions of this earth, because you totally can.
No, the problem lies somewhere else. And this has to do with the system as it is now and the power structures that are keeping it in place. See, capitalists would like to tell you that their system is based on “supply and demand” – people want certain things, so the market will offer it. Not true. Capitalism is based on constantly making money. Industries in a capitalist system can only function if there’s constantly people being paid to keep them running. In order to keep these people paid, constant money has to be made, and for money to be made capitalism needs people to constantly buy things. This leads to inflation, which in turn creates the need for making more money, of which even more keeps flowing to an increasingly smaller group of wealthy people. It’s a circular process of money that works well on paper but fails in practise. (Now where did we hear that before?). Instead of pumping money into the economy or trickle down into the pockets of a middle class, the flow of wages and money spent runs thinner and the majority just exchanges hands between a select few.
Capitalism and Overproduction
This is because bosses approproiate a majority of the revenue and pay a minimum to their workers, whom then have too little to buy enough things for the company to earn money on. So we provide them loans to buy more things and we find ways to make production cheaper, sell more units (hence we had a dozen different iPhones in ten years, instead of one that just works) or create new markets. The point is: as long as capitalists are in charge, production won’t cease and their wages will never decrease.
Imagine you stop eating meat. And this is something I would wholeheartedly sympathise with. If you do it for personal reasons, because you don’t feel comfortable using a product that animals suffered for, that’s the most reasonable thing. But don’t believe that it will help to hurt the meat industry or force corporations profiting from it stop exploiting animals. Coming back to idealism and creating a mass movement; of course it’s theoretically possible. But it’s the slowest, most inefficient and most impractical way to do something about industrialised animal slaughter.
The meat industry, like many others, keeps people employed and uses them to make profits which are then appropriated by the business owners. Their entire system is based on a chain that keeps on running. Capitalism can’t change direction, slow down or stop, because then everything collapses. And that’s something capitalists will never allow to happen. Because as money loses value, and keeps draining the value of labour, more labour is necessary to produce more money.
If they notice their sales going down, they will do a hundred thousand things first before ceasing production or threating animals better. They will lower the prices so that the people that keep eating meat will buy more. They will invest in machines and systems to produce meat faster, cheaper or with less workers. They will imagine new meat-based products to be put on the shelves.
Because the overproductions has to continue! There was never a case of supply and demand. We don’t have 4.3 billion farm animals on this planet because there is such a demand for meat. We have 4.3 farm animals on this planet because that’s how many we need to make enough money for meat industry business owners. First we run overproduction, and only THEN we start adressing demand. Which is hard enough as it is. We need marketing for that. Why are hamburgers in America so big? Because Americans eat so much? Nope, it’s the other way round. Americans eat so much because their meals are so big. Because we need the enormous amounts of food that we produce to be sold somehow.
Let’s step away from meat for a moment and take a look at another example: pirating music, films and software. Is it a criminal activity that hurts creators? Or a noble protest against the insanely hight prices in the entertainment industry? Pirating is an understandable act for consumers, especially those in lower income groups. Does it hurt the musicians and movie makers when we hurt their sales by pirating their work? Hardly. The system behind it will make it so that the managers and CEOs in the industry and the biggest stars will still earn millions. They will make more albums, create bonus songs that are exclusive for iTunes, re-release remastered albums or special editions. More likely the price is paid by ordinary workers like the people in retail, the studio technicians, programmers and designers that can be laid off. Everything for less costs and more profits. Again, the capitalists will do a thousand things before considering better conditions for workers, the environment and the consumers.
So, I hear you think, if you have sucha big mouth about how things do not work. What in your opinion DOES work? And I understand your reaction, because sitting here and just critising activism without offering an alternative would be just plain cynical and pointless. So let’s move on to different solutions. Which, I stress, should not come INSTEAD of boycotting. Not eating meat, avoiding products from certain companies or countries or illegally acquiring certain products suits your ideology, you should not stop doing it. But there’s more we can do.
The easiest and most straightforward way: forbid it. Just as racketeering, slavery and theft, it’s not unthinkable that as a society we would impose a ban on industrialised exploitation of animals. Our realistic demand and supply of meat products can be easily fulfilled by local farms where cattle can be threated humanely and without any forms of industrialisation.
The biggest reason this hasn’t happened yet, is of course economic impact. Millions of farmers, workers in meat packing plants or meat processing factories would be without a job. That’s the reason why the masses would never push for such a ban. The small clique of capatalist that can’t earn millions anymore over the meat industry can be easily overruled. No, it’s the majority that needs to be convinced.
And for that reason it’s important to REPLACE the system with a proper alternative. People that are now forced to work 40 hours a week in the industry, must be able to retain a wage that earns them a living, while working less. Because forbidding industrialised farming and go back to small local farms and a enormous reduction of meat consumption is only going to work if we dial down the production of it. The only ones that can force this to happen are the workers themselves. They have to force their bosses to keep paying them the same wage (or in many cases even a higher wage) and let them work much less, or in a different job altogether.
If workers can seize control, and as a majority forbid exploitation of animals, and demand a living wage in exchange for the exorbitant salaries of their bosses, then they can effectively shut down the meat industry as we know it. If this sounds idealistic and impossible to you, think what is more likely to work: convincing a majority to stop consuming and earning money over a widely available product, or convince a majority to take steps in securing more influence over their own work and income and stop animal cruelty in the process?