Skip to content
Who's in the Video
No one knows more about life's ethical dilemmas than Randy Cohen. After spending over a decade answering readers' questions for the New York Times Magazine column The Ethicist, Cohen has[…]

If you choose to go to this other country, you really should obey the laws, including the laws about currency exchange.

Randy Cohen: To visit another country is not to endorse its every practice.  If that were so, well, no European could ever come to America with our cuckoo, you know, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you know, what with our little Guantanamo. . . .  

If you choose to go to this other country, you really should obey the laws, including the laws about currency exchange.  That if you in your heart of hearts thought your conducting economic business in this country was going to have dire consequences that you genuinely disapproved of, well, here’s a solution: don’t go.  But if you choose to go, then you really do have to honor the laws and customs of the place you are visiting. 

There are times when you should not go, and, in my view, that’s when there’s an organized boycott or when the people who live under such a regime are urging you not to come.  That was the case in South Africa for awhile.  Here in the United States, there were organized boycotts, for instance, of some states that were determined to display the Confederate flag -- which apparently had nothing to do with race, you know, just a lot of whiners, and any way, I can’t imagine how anyone could think that -- but so once there was an organized political movement and residents of the state were wounded by the flag and said please don’t come, you should respect that.  But if it’s simply your own fastidiousness, well, I think you make the decision, go and obey the laws or, if this truly offends you, then don’t go at all. 

I think it works at the consumer level, too, not just the border crossing level, that I may choose to get bootleg software because I don’t want to prop up, you know, the evil empire of Microsoft, but that’s morally very, very dubious.  If you think that Microsoft -- and I use them strictly as an example.  I am not asserting a case for Microsoft’s corporate conduct.  I’ll leave that to the courts in Europe to do -- that if you truly think a corporation’s behavior is beyond the pale, then don’t do business with them. 

You can’t work out these self-serving rationalizations that because the other is wicked I can treat them without any moral consideration.  You choose your moral principles because you believe them right, not because of how good or bad you believe the people you’re dealing with are.  So if you don’t like Microsoft, don’t do business with Microsoft.  But you can’t steal their products because you've decided they’re bad people.