Business awakening is everywhere. Today, every brand under the sun shows its support for Black Lives Matter. Every large company affirms its “ally” with LGBT + people and pride. Big companies constantly tell us that they are fighting the climate crisis. Capitalism was once considered the domain of profit-hungry businessmen. So how and why did he get so awake? And are these companies really as “progressive” as they claim to be?
Vivek Ramaswamy is the author of Woke, Inc .: Inside the Social Justice Scam. sharp caught up with him to talk about how virtue signaling has become big business.
sharp: When did you start to notice that capitalism was waking up?
Vivek Ramaswamy: I started to see the first trends around the time of the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. I was at the forefront of the crisis, working in an elite hedge fund in New York. Business was on the defensive. The left wanted to take money from rich corporations and redistribute it to the poor. The capitalists were afraid that the pendulum would turn against them and that they would face retaliation.
The retribution never came because they did something smart. They saw an opportunity in the existence of a new fringe on the left, which said the real problem was not economic injustice or poverty – it was racial injustice, misogyny and bigotry. Capitalists realized that if they said the right things, applauded diversity and inclusion, and reflected on the racially disparate impact of climate change, they could look like the good guys without really changing a thing. This meant that the bosses could shift the blame for the crisis and create a new model of apologist for capitalism – but one in which the winners were still the same people as before.
Then things really came to a head after the tragic death of George Floyd last year. That’s when it got supercharged.
sharp: What are the most egregious examples of corporate awakening that you have encountered?
Ramaswamy: There’s Goldman Sachs, which announced from the top of the Davos Mountains that it would not list a company on the U.S. or Europe if its board of directors was not sufficiently diverse. At the same time, Goldman Sachs was being criticized for playing a role in defrauding the Malaysian people into the 1MDB scandal. Or there’s American Express, which told its workers that capitalism was racist at a time when it itself was under federal investigation for defrauding small businesses across the country. There’s Nike, who decried the history of slavery in the United States and released his Betsy Ross flag sneakers at the behest of Colin Kaepernick, but relies on slave labor in the Third World and sells shoes dear to poor inner-city black children. And there’s Coca-Cola, which has taught its employees to be “less white” while helping fuel a national epidemic of diabetes and obesity, including in the black community it claims to care so much about.
The list is lengthened increasingly. Hypocrisy is everywhere. It’s ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. I could go on for hours.
sharp: What are “stakeholder capitalism” and “ESG investing”, and how do they fit into the larger picture of awakened capitalism?
Ramaswamy: They are at the heart of it. Stakeholder capitalism is the idea that companies should promote not only profit, but also particular values. ESG stands for environmental, social and governance factors. These are the other values that now guide business decision-making.
It’s just a joke. The ESG movement is basically a pretext to raise capital under a virtuous banner. It is nothing more than dressing the old fashioned way by investing in new age clothing. It’s a similar story with so-called stakeholder capitalism.
A small group of investors and CEOs determine what should be done by democracy. Issues such as the fight against racism and climate change are now decided by business elites cloistered in a corner office. It is a betrayal of democracy for the benefit of the corporatocracy.
sharp: What role does Big Tech play?
Ramaswamy: Big Tech decides what is acceptable to say in the public debate. It’s about deciding which stories can and cannot be shared. The blatant shutdown in the history of the Hunter Biden laptop was just one example.
The scientific pursuit of truth – and the integrity of democracy itself – depends on free speech and open debate, free from corporate interference. And it’s not just in the online world. Whatever your opinions, you shouldn’t have to choose between voicing your opinion and putting food on the table. If you have to make this choice, you are living in a perverted form of democracy.
Businesses exercise their commercial power in the market for ideas. Life is sucked out of democracy.
sharp: Are companies waking up for cynical reasons or do they really believe in the causes they promote?
Ramaswamy: I think it’s 75% cynical and 25% genuine. In most cases, it is only self-interest disguised as progressivism. But take someone like Jack Dorsey. He doesn’t really need another dollar. The only limit to its power is the extent of what money can buy. In fact, he uses his seat of corporate power to defend values in which he genuinely believes.
I started writing the book with an indictment against the cynical form of stakeholder capitalism and ended up being most concerned with the authentic form. This type actually involves the most widespread corporate abuses of power.
sharp: Are consumers partly responsible for awakened capitalism?
Ramaswamy: Many companies are just responding to what consumers really want. This indicates a deeper cultural problem. We have a whole generation hungry for a cause, purpose and identity. But in the absence of the kind of things that filled that moral hunger – faith, patriotism, and hard work – we now have postmodernism.
We are not going to fill the void by mixing morality and commercialism. You can’t cultivate true virtue by going to Ben and Jerry’s for ice cream with a little morality apart. This is what stakeholder capitalism offers. It is a siren song, an opium for the thousand-year-old soul. Changing that will not come from law or business, but from a renewal of ideas like faith, identity and patriotism.
sharp: How can we push this back?
Ramaswamy: True leaders will need to step up at all levels. I offer some symptomatic therapies in the book – including legal changes, such as making political beliefs a protected characteristic along with race, gender, and sexual orientation. You shouldn’t be fired, misrepresented, or censored just for being an outspoken liberal or conservative.
What we really need, however, is a cultural remedy and a renewal of our identity – of who we are both as individuals and as a people – that dilutes the postmodern agenda. until it is no longer relevant. The first step towards this is to be able to speak openly again. Wherever we are on the underlying debates of our time, the key is to preserve an environment to freely debate these issues, as citizens in the public square.
Vivek Ramaswamy was talking to Paddy Hannam.