Paul Jacob

Boycotts are as American as apple pie . . . with whole wheat crust.

Granted, the term boycott comes from Charles C. Boycott, an English land agent who got in a fracas with Irish tenant farmers over rents in 1880. Laborers refused to harvest Boycott's potatoes. Shopkeepers in the towns wouldn't trade with him. Even the postman declined to deliver his mail.

To bring people in to harvest the potatoes cost the British government, Boycott, and others over £10,000 — for spuds worth £350. In December of that year, Boycott left the Emerald Isle.

So, apparently, 100 years earlier, when American colonists boycotted English tea and other items in protest of British policies — most importantly, direct taxation without colonial representation — they must have called it something else altogether.

But whatever the name, it worked. The world's freest republic — ours — was fertilized through boycotts. And nearly two-hundred years later, the boycott proved instrumental in winning equal rights for black Americans.

Today, I won't buy gas at CITGO. A couple years back, a neighbor passed the station to pay a penny more a gallon somewhere else. When I asked why, she said she didn't want to fund Hugo Chavez. CITGO is a Venezuelan state-owned company. I was an easy convert. And we must not have been alone: The local 7-11 recently posted signs telling customers that their gasoline is no longer obtained from CITGO.

Boycotts are cool. As I've often told subscribers to my Common Sense e-letter, the impact of our financial decisions — even from us poor folks — is, for better or worse, usually greater than that of our votes.

But certainly not all boycotts make sense. Too often, they oppose common sense.

Ten days ago, John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods — a grocery chain self-dubbed as "selling the highest quality natural and organic products" — made the miscalculation of embracing President Barack Obama's call for more ideas on how to fix our medical care and health insurance systems. Mackey wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal offering eight specific solutions that could be implemented at little or no cost to taxpayers.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.