Like a lot of some Americans, I am thinking about purchasing a car/truck during this Memorial Day weekend. The question I’m confronted with is whether I should consider purchasing a vehicle built by one of the automakers who sought and ultimately took government money as part of the recent auto bailout. In other words, should I buy a GM or Chrysler product?
I’m torn. On the one hand, I think it is important to vote with your feet (or your dollars in this case) and punish corporations that act immorally even when it is in their self-interest. And rent-seeking is certainly immoral in my view.
On the other hand, it is in my narrow self-interest to purchase the vehicle that best meets my needs in terms of price, quality, reliability, etc. regardless of the behavior of the corporation (or at least within some bounds – I’d never buy a product if I knew it had been manufactured using slave labor. But this just begs the question of what the bounds are, suggesting that it is not narrow self-interest vs morality but a sliding scale about which acts one should punish at personal cost vs. those one is willing to overlook for pecuniary and other less-than-enlightened interests).
It would be nice – but easy – if Ford best fit the bill so that I could have my cake and eat it too (indeed, maybe I’d be able to trick myself in that case into thinking I was acting in a morally superior way when I was merely satisfying my narrow self-interests). But if Ford doesn’t, what should I do?
It would be a lot easier, too, if I were rationally ignorant about the collective action problem – then I wouldn’t have so much angst about taking a moral stand at possible individual expense knowing that it is likely to have no impact as a sole action. Indeed, the collective action problem is a huge difficulty for libertarians who believe that social change is best achieved without using the coercive power of the state.
So, I’m flummoxed at the agora!