How Stakeholder Capitalism Helps China and Harms the US

September 21, 2021 Updated: September 21, 2021

Commentary

If there’s one thing progressives love doing, it’s apologizing. They apologize for being racist, for white privilege, for polluting the planet; in short, they apologize for anything and everything. The word sorry, like the U.S. dollar, continues to lose its purchasing power. If everyone is sorry, then no one is sorry.

Vivek Ramaswamy, the author of “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam,” criticizes devotees of “stakeholder capitalism.” These are the type of people who can’t stop apologizing for the very thing that helped make them rich in the first place: capitalism.

Ramaswamy references President Joe Biden, a man who once called traditional, free-market (or shareholder) capitalism a “farce.” Corporations, according to the president, “have a responsibility to their workers, their community, to their country.” This is stakeholder capitalism in a nutshell. Unlike shareholder capitalism, which operates on the principle of ownership through shares of stock, a stakeholder, according to the finance specialist Caroline Banton, “has an interest in the performance of a company for reasons other than stock performance or appreciation” (emphasis mine). Now, it’s important to note that “for reasons other than stock performance or appreciation” can mean just about anything—which means it can also mean nothing at all. It’s a slippery, shapeshifting concept. “Here’s what stakeholder capitalists miss,” wrote Ramaswamy, “once corporations become vehicles to further an agenda other than shareholder value, they become vehicles to advance any agenda, including those of foreign adversaries.”

This brings us on to the Chinese regime, the main beneficiaries of stakeholder capitalism.

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping (on screen) delivers a speech during the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on July 1, 2021. (Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images)

In many ways, stakeholder capitalism sounds a lot like Xi Jinping’s idea of “common prosperity,” which, we’re told, seeks to address China’s wealth gap. Both stakeholder capitalism and “common prosperity” are misleading in the extreme. Both purport to benefit broader society, especially the most vulnerable, and both purport to be vehicles for positive change. In reality, they benefit no one but those who already have too much power. Although it might sound obvious, power is a finite resource. The more of its governments have, the less of its citizens have. The same goes for control. Stakeholder capitalism, similar to “common prosperity,” involves giving more control to those who already control society.

If free-market capitalism is about rewarding individuals who are prepared to take risks, stakeholder capitalism does the very opposite. This means innovators and entrepreneurs, the backbone of all prosperous societies, are punished. After all, what incentive is there to start a business if your profits must be shared with broader society, even with people you have zero interest in sharing your successes with and contribute little or nothing to society? It sounds a lot like communism when you think about it.

Stakeholder capitalism and “common prosperity” are essentially forms of virtue signaling, communication campaigns designed to signal moral goodness. What we are witnessing here is moral grandstanding in its purest form, where brands (or entire governments) superficially align themselves with “the people,” without actually aligning themselves with anyone in particular. It’s all about pretending. Who, out of all the countries in the world, is better at pretending than the Chinese communist regime? Pretending that the virus didn’t originate in Wuhan; pretending that people have not been murdered in Xinjiang; pretending that extreme poverty has been eradicated; pretending that it did not steal the personal data of tens of millions of American citizens; pretending that it is not using the Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig as a human bargaining chip. I could go on, but you get the picture.

American companies are enabling those in Beijing to perpetuate the lies. Of course, they are aware of this—but there’s money to be made, and lots of it. Who cares about doing the right thing when you can pretend to care about doing the right thing?

Take Nike, for example, a company that has gone to great lengths to show that it really cares about black people. In reality, though, Nike only cares about money. Colin Kaepernick, now the face of Nike, made the company $6 billion from just one advertisement. Nike’s opportunism was, and still is, worthy of criticism; however, the fact that the company continues to operate in China, a country where racism runs very deep and where blackface is considered art, deserves even more scrutiny. As you can see, stakeholder capitalism is similar to acting. It’s performative, largely empty, and highly hypocritical. Did the black community really benefit from Nike’s so-called commitment to black lives, or did its millionaire and billionaire executives reap the rewards? I’ll let you answer that one. By making Kaepernick its representative, Nike piggybacked on a movement, profiting handsomely in the process. Nike’s opportunism was shameless but not necessarily surprising.

Epoch Times Photo
A woman browses her phone while walking past a Nike logo inside a shopping mall in Beijing on June 2, 2021. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images)

Mastercard, another company that wants you to know how much it really cares about fairness and justice, is also fixated on penetrating the Chinese market. It also appears to be fixated on running a cartel and charging its customers excessive fees. Again, it’s all about pretending to care. This suits the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), a regime that pretends to care about human rights, perfectly well. The whole world is a stage, said Shakespeare, and everyone’s an actor.

In short, stakeholder capitalism is a distraction from what’s really occurring. It’s superficial and exploitative. Worse still, it harms the United States and helps the Chinese regime. By painting the United States as an inherently racist place, but failing to address the CCP’s history of racism and genocide, the hypocrisy is not just appalling; it’s harmful.

As the aforementioned Ramaswamy noted, “The Chinese Communist Party has become a key stakeholder of many American multinationals.” Because of this, “it’s now flexing its muscle in ways that—no surprise—strengthens China’s interests at the expense of American ones.”

One of the companies helping China is Airbnb. According to reports, the company shares an ungodly amount of data with the Chinese regime, including phone numbers, email addresses, and private messages sent by American citizens. 150 million Americans—almost half the population of the United States—are Airbnb customers. Chances are that many people reading this piece have had their data handed over without their consent. This is an unforgivable act. Again, though, not necessarily a surprising one.

The American diplomat Adlai Stevenson once defined a hypocrite as “the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.” This is exactly what’s happening in the United States. With the likes of Nike and Mastercard constantly highlighting the United States’ supposed flaws, but at the same time refusing to recognize the egregious violations of human rights being carried out by the Chinese regime, they are enabling the tyrants in Beijing. By constantly reinforcing the idea of racism in the United States, the likes of Nike and Mastercard have done everything in their power, either consciously or unconsciously, to drive a wedge between Americans. This is not to say that racism is not a problem; it most certainly is. But it is a problem everywhere in the world, not just in the United States. To pretend that the United States is a hotbed of never-ending hate and prejudice is to distract us from the truth.

The United States, like every country, has its issues. China, however, is home to “reeducation” camps and forced sterilization. For this, somewhat perversely, it is rewarded with a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council. It’s also rewarded with loyalty from American companies that are all too quick to turn their back on the United States—the very country that helped make them the juggernauts they are today.

Stakeholder capitalism, unlike genuine, free-market capitalism, helps no one but the very worst offenders in society. It is a charade, a clever ploy designed to fool the masses. Sadly, the ploy appears to have worked and the Chinese regime is the main beneficiary.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the likes of the New York Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, National Review, The Spectator US, and other respectable outlets. He is also a psychosocial specialist, with a keen interest in social dysfunction and media manipulation.