Buycotts and Boycotts to Encourage Tax Resistance

Tax resistance campaigns have occasionally utilized buycotts and boycotts to give businesses incentives to support tax resisters or withdraw support from tax collectors. Today I’ll summarize a handful of examples:

The Addio-Pizzo Movement

Boycotts and buycotts are the signature tactic of the Addio-Pizzo movement in Sicily, which is trying to encourage businesses to stop paying taxes to the mafia. The movement launched when one hundred Palermo businesses announced that they would no longer pay the tax (another 100+ businesses later joined them), and 9,000 residents signed a pledge to only buy goods from businesses that joined the refusal.

The movement also launched its own supermarket — “Punto Pizzofree” — that stocked nothing but products grown or manufactured by resisting suppliers, and it held a “pizzo-free” street festival. It called the strategy “Critical Consumption” and encouraged consumers to break the back of the “pizzo” (mafia tax) by changing their shopping habits.

Poll Tax Rebellion

During the poll tax rebellion in the United Kingdom in (see ♇ 6 September 2012) the government tried to recruit newsstands and convenience stores to be collection points where people could pay the tax. Poll tax resister Danny Burns recalls:

In Bristol, the city council identified twenty newsagents who they hoped would collect the Poll Tax. Within weeks of the list being circulated six pulled out. Local communities made it plain that they would no longer use the shops if they continued to collect.

Liberty Bonds

The United States government raised money to fight World War Ⅰ by selling “Liberty Bonds.” Some Americans who opposed the U.S. entry into the war were alleged to have threatened to boycott banks that handled the bonds. According to one newspaper account:

Efforts to prevent banks from handling the bonds have centered chiefly in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Missouri and Oklahoma. The President of a Wisconsin bank has advised the Treasury that his depositors, mostly Germans, or of German parentage, have withdrawn many thousands of dollars from his bank because he aided the First Liberty Loan.

These depositors, he added, had taken their accounts to two rival banks on the understanding that those banks would not aid the second Liberty Loan. The two banks, he reported, were not aiding the loan in any way.

The Carrotmob Model

A new buycott model has been developed in recent years that, though it has not to my knowledge been used by a tax resistance campaign, may have some promise. In this model, an organization holds out the promise of a mob of buycotting activists swarming a business on a certain day to buy its products, then it asks a number of businesses to bid for the right to be the targeted business by promising to use the profits from that day’s business in a particular way.

For instance, one liquor store won a bid by promising to devote that day’s profits to improving the energy-efficiency of the store’s refrigerators. Customers lined up around the block to make their purchases at the targeted stores on Carrotmob day, and everybody came out a winner.

Tax resistance campaigns might use a similar approach to encourage businesses to stop stocking goods with high excise taxes, or to stock alternative tax-free goods, or to stop collecting or remitting certain taxes, or to stop participating (as in the Poll Tax Resistance campaign above) in tax collection.