Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Let a million boycotts bloom

The idea of boycotting the 2008 Summer Olympics has been raised in the Blogosphere and the MSM over China's outrageous conduct in Tibet. The fact that this conduct has been ongoing for decades should be no surprise to anyone, but China has received a pass until now for many reasons.

China's growth as a regional power has benefited us in the West. In the 1970's, they provided a potent counterbalance to the USSR, allowing the Western powers to maintain growing and vigorous economies in the face of Soviet power, rather than developing a full wartime economy with all the deprivations and dangers that would imply. The USSR's wartime economy paid to subjugate its empire and face against the Western alliance and China.Unable to sustain these expenditures, the USSR collapsed, ending the Cold War.

China's economic growth, powered as it is by supplying the West with inexpensive consumer goods has reduced the inflationary pressure that the huge growth of government in the West creates, allowing a large fraction of the population to maintain middle class lifestyles that otherwise would be unobtainable. (Only massive cuts in government taxation and spending would achieve the same result) The proliferation of inexpensive goods also powers the rise of the "big box" retail segment of the economy; providing jobs and opportunities to millions of people with limited prospects across North America.

But these goods for us are only temporary and situational. China wants the world to respect her and treat her as "The Middle Kingdom" (in the Chinese world view, the centre of the Universe), and uses foreign trade and currency as tools to achieve her goals. The Olympics are a giant propaganda fest for the Chinese, and they had seen it as their global "coming out party" to take their place on the world stage.

Given the strong incentives to maintain the status quo, Western government will not institute a full boycott of the 2008 Olympics. There will be the usual hand wringing and statements to mollify the masses, but the games will go on and China will attempt to capitalize on this opportunity.

Freedom, like Free Speech, is really a self help project. While the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the world talk about Tibet and China's human rights record, we the people can take concrete and effective actions starting now to change things.

First off, look at your purchases. What do you really need that is made in China? While it may be impossible to completely eliminate Chinese goods and services from your shopping list or portfolio, you can certainly cut down on your financial contributions to China's war chest. Retailers will respond to lessened demand by dropping or substituting Chinese products with ones from other sources.

Second, directly ask your retailers to substitute Indian goods for Chinese goods. India is cost competitive with China, but shares many of the values of Freedom, Property Rights and Rule of Law with Canada and other Western nations. We can maintain the benefits of low cost consumer goods and support our friends at the same time.

Third, let all your media outlets know you will not be watching, listening to or reading about the Olympic games. Let all their advertisers know as well. Limiting the coverage of the Olympics also limits the ability of China to send their spin over the air. The media will respond to threats to their viewer ship and advertising monies by airing other shows and covering something else.

If one million Canadians were to do this it would have a huge impact. One million people is a market share too big for any Canadian retailer to ignore, and their behavior and purchasing decisions would have to change because of the actions of you, the readers. If big and small retailers shift their purchasing away from China, it will start to hurt the Middle Kingdom in the pocket book. Even minor layoffs in China have the potential to create ripples of unrest, and for a brittle society like China, that is something the Communist Party cannot allow.

The cost to you is low, the risk is minimal, but the potential payoff is immense. If Chinese behaviour can be curbed in Tibet, then their intransigence and hostility towards the West in other areas (such as their support for the murderous regime in the Sudan, or human rights violations within China) will also be defanged; we can maintain the boycott until we are satisfied with their behaviour, and no one has to wait for the politicians.

Act now. Free Tibet.

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