Melissa Brookstone recently called on America’s small business owners to take the following pledge:
I, an American small business owner, part of the class that produces the vast majority of real, wealth producing jobs in this country, hereby resolve that I will not hire a single person until this war against business and my country is stopped.
This does, obviously enough, raise some interesting moral concerns.
On the face of it, urging small business to simply stop hiring during a period of significant unemployment would seem to be an immoral action. After all,if a small business owner had intended to hire someone and then decided not to on this basis, it is rather likely that someone who needed a job rather badly would remain unemployed through no fault of their own. Naturally, some might point out that some people who would have been hired might not actually need the job, but it seems rather likely that if this pledge is taken seriously it would affect people who do, in fact need jobs.
One obvious reply is that small business owners have the right to hire or not hire as they will. If a small business owner elects to not hire people on the basis of Brookstone’s pledge, then they are acting within their moral rights. After all, they are under no moral compulsion to hire people and people cannot, in general, claim that they have a right to be hired by a specific small business. This would, of course, show that the small business owner was acting within his rights.
However, it seems plausible to accept that a person can be acting within his/her rights, yet still be acting in a way that is morally dubious or even wrong. Using the job scenario, imagine that I am a small business owner and I was going to hire the very qualified Sally, an out of work mother of two whose husband was killed in Afghanistan. But, after seeing Brookstone’s blog I decide that I will not hire Sally as an act of protest. While Sally has no right to the job and I have the right not to hire her, I would seem to be acting wrongly-after all, I could help her in her time of need and I have elected to not do so on the basis of what seems to be an insufficient reason. After all, I was otherwise going to hire her and had good reasons for doing so.
An obvious reply is that the act of protest is a morally acceptable action even if it might cause harm. To use the obvious analogy, when workers go on strike, they can harm the business. To use another analogy, when people boycotted businesses for being racist, they could harm the business by denying them income and causing bad press. The people who worked for such a business, who might be innocent of wrongdoing, would also be harmed. However, strikes and boycotts seem to be morally acceptable and hence not hiring people would also seem to be an acceptable form of protest.
While this is a reasonable point, the morality of a strike or protest seems to hinge on whether the cause of the strike, boycott or protest warrants the harm that might be done to the target and innocent bystanders. If workers are going on strike because the company’s safety policies have resulted in needless deaths, then the strike would seem reasonable. If workers went on strike for something trivial or based on some grievance that was not even real, then that would seem to be an unjust strike.
If a boycott were put in place because a store had racist policies, then that would seem to be morally correct. However, if people boycotted a store and urged a boycott because the owner was Christian or on the basis of some untrue claim, then the boycott would seem to be morally wrong because harm would be inflicted on not justifiable basis.
In the case of the Brookstone “protest” the justification for not hiring people is that the protest is against a war on the country and business by Democrats. However, while the Democrats might be doing some things that Brookstone and others do not like, the burden of proof seems to be on them to show that they are engaged in a war on business and America and that this protest is justified as a means of protesting. Otherwise, Brookstone’s call could harm people needlessly and senselessly.
On the face of it, if the Democrats are waging a war on business, they are certainly doing a terrible job. Corporations are generally doing exceptionally well and CEOs are generally having a great year. Profits are high, executive compensation is high, and things look generally good for the businesses. However, things are rather bad for the rest of us-unemployment is high, wages are low, and so on.
For Brookstone to claim that there is a war on business seems rather like hearing a morbidly obese person screaming that someone is waging a war on his food and his eating and thus he must call on grocery stores and restaurants to stop selling food to the thin people who are making war on him. His enormous girth shows his allegations are a lie, just as the state of business shows the allegations of the war on business to be untrue.
One might suspect that this “protest” is actually an attempt to damage the economy more in the hopes of lowering the chances of Obama being re-elected. If so, this seems rather wicked.