The Good Professor's Epic Blunder
After Epic Systems decided to pull its business from any vendor with ties to Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, it was to be expected that someone would proclaim Epic's action un-American or un-something or other.
What was unexpected is that such an unthinking view would be expressed by a professor at a major university. Howard Schweber, a professor of law and political science at UW-Madison, took exception to what he called Epic's "secondary boycott" of companies that support WMC. Professor Schweber told the Wisconsin State Journal, "putting pressure on a person or business not to associate with another person or business is ethically dubious in my mind. If people have the power to coerce others to remain silent or change their views, that's a threat to personal liberty."
Ethically dubious? How's that? And how does Epic choosing which companies it wants to do business with constitute a "threat to personal liberty?"
Aside from Epic being totally within its rights, has Professor Schweber ever heard of the Montgomery bus boycott? Does he believe Rosa Parks was "ethically dubious" or a "threat to personal liberty" when she refused to give up her seat? Was the boycott that Dr. Martin Luther King and his allies organized soon thereafter unethical? Most Americans don't seem to think so, because there's a national holiday named for King, for crying out loud.
How is Epic's economic noncooperation ethically different than the tactics Mohandas Gandhi and his followers employed to end British rule and win India her independence? For his efforts, Gandhi came to be known as the Mahatma, or "Great Soul." Not the kind of nickname normally given to the ethically challenged.
King and Gandhi were hardly the first to use economic leverage to advance a cause. Ever hear of the Boston Tea Party? Weren't the colonists coercing the British to change tax and trade policies?
Does Professor Schweber teach his students that strikes are unethical? How about trade embargoes or other economic sanctions one nation (often ours) imposes on another whose behavior is deemed unacceptable? Sure they're staple tools of foreign policy, but applying Dr. Schweber's Epic test, aren't they over the line ethically?
Far from a sin, Epic's actions put the company in very good company. If there is a discernible shortcoming, it is this: WMC does not have clean hands when it comes to elections in this state, but neither do many others. It's not that Epic is doing anything wrong. And it's not that WMC doesn't have it coming. It's just insufficient. Many more deserve the Epic treatment.