The Price of Principles

30 01 2017


The last few days have seen extensive online discussions of Trump’s Muslim ban. There have been verbal denunciations by the leaders of most democracies (the UK being the obvious exception) and lots of virtue signalling by private citizens on social media. Talk is cheap though.

I think that the willingness of Western governments to oppose what Trump is doing will depend mainly on their assessment of how far their electorates are willing to pay to do so. If people say, “I am willing to accept a lower standard of living” as the price of doing the right thing in the letters to their parliamentarians, the government may be slightly more resolute. If people signal through action such as consumer boycotts that they really care about this issue, the government will notice. Talk is cheap, but boycotting Esso products and refusing to visit the US until the ban is repealed shows that one is serious.

To be brutally honest, I’m not certain how much I am willing to pay to oppose Trump’s policies. I’ve decided that I will no longer to fuel up at stations owned by ExxonMobil, since Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (who owns $245m in ExxonMobil shares) hasn’t denounced Trump’s policy. However, that’s not much of a sacrifice since there are plenty of non-Esso petrol stations where I live and the Esso station isn’t even the closest one to my house. The price per litre is basically the same. Beyond that, I’m not certain how far I am willing to go.

I would probably oppose any action by the UK government that had enough of an impact on UK government revenue as to impair its ability to subsidize the university sector, where I work. I suppose I have the luxury of favouring the adoption of the moral high ground by the UK government because I don’t work for a company that exports to the US.

I’m going to go on paying membership dues to the Academy of Management, a US organization that has remained silent on Trump’s Muslim ban, because being a member of this organization is essential to my career.  I’m still going to attend the Business History Conference in Denver in late March, since I know the members of that organization HATE what Trump is doing. I’ll try to avoid spending more than in necessary when I am there though. 

I was thinking about these moral issues when I went for my run today and I’m guessing that my willingness to oppose Trump’s Islamophobia extends to about £100 per year or so– that’s a very rough estimate and I arrived at that (arbitrary) figure through no particular methodology. The number just sounds right.

I’m wondering what Chris Blattman and others who think about the economics of effective altruism have to say about this issue. I would appreciate their advice.



Update: I wrote yesterday that the American Academy of Management had remained silent on the issue of Trump’s Muslim ban. A few minutes ago, Academy of Management sent out the following message from its President, who teaches in Canada.

Dear Friends and Colleagues in the Academy of Management:
I’m writing to you today as President of the AOM in the wake of the Executive Order signed by President Trump to suspend entry into the United States of citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Thank you to those who have written to me and to other officers about the new restrictions on travel and their implications for AOM. Thanks as well to those of you who have posted on listservs and social media. The scores of messages that I have read reflect the diversity of our 20,000 members, and of the political, social and cultural traditions of the 127 nations where we live and work. Our members hold a range of views on the public policies that have recently been implemented. Many of you have expressed concern about travel to the Annual Meeting in Atlanta; many are interpreting the Executive Order as a direct attack on scholarship; and some are worried about the implication for pluralism on all sides of this issue. A number of you have asked the AOM to condemn the order as antithetical to scholarly values, academic freedom, and democratic processes. Yet because of our very diversity, the AOM has long had a binding policy that restricts any officer from taking a stand on any political issue in the name of the AOM.

I can affirm as President that the AOM stands behinds its vision, mission, objectives, and core values. The AOM fervently values all its members. We are committed to inclusion, supportive communities, and social and academic freedom as fundamental and undeniable tenets of scholarly association. Our values emphasize the full diversity of member backgrounds and experiences. The AOM Statement of Values expresses that “We respect each of our members’ voices and seek to amplify their ideas.” To enact our values, we are taking initiatives on several fronts. First, the AOM is suspending the requirement of attendance as a condition of inclusion in the program at the Annual Meeting for those affected by the travel restrictions. All scholars whose work is accepted to the conference but are not able to enter the United States from travel-restricted countries will have access to sessions in which they are presenting through virtual means. Second, we will also share with you, via our website, the best information that we have about Visa application processes for those who want to attend. We encourage any member from the affected countries who wishes to attend but cannot because of travel restrictions to contact us so that we can work with you toward participation.

Our mission is “To build a vibrant and supportive community of scholars by markedly expanding opportunities to connect and explore ideas.” To fulfill this mission, the AOM will soon hold specialized conferences outside the United States on topics proposed by and of interest to members. Please see our website for information on this initiative. I invite you to submit a proposal if you are interested in leading one. We also will continue working with our affiliates and associates around the world who convene meetings in support of management scholarship and teaching.

The vision of the AOM is to inspire and enable a better world through our scholarship and teaching about management and organizations. I encourage AOM members to double down on the scholarly agenda. Let us be more engaged, creative, and committed to scholarship and teaching on the issues of our day. Let us stand together in Atlanta in solidarity with our diverse membership as the world’s premiere association of management scholars and business-school professors. Academic integrity is our strength. Through our scholarly discussions and debate, we can find a way forward together. This is the AOM’s purpose and this cannot and will not change.

Anita M. McGahan
Academy of Management