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Vivek Ramaswamy Exposes the ‘Greatest Form of Institutionalized Racism in the United States Today’

“We have this victimhood metastasis where everyone wants to think of themselves as a victim,” says entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. “We have to recognize there is no winner in America’s oppression Olympics.”

Ramaswamy is the author of the 2021 bestselling book, “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam.”

“Affirmative action is the systemic racism that’s still here in America today,” he says. “And I’m sorry to say, it will then create the new kind of anti-black racism that we had spent so many decades moving on from.”

Ramaswamy’s new book, “Nation of Victims,” looks at America’s culture of grievance—on both the left and the right—and how Americans have lost a sense of purpose and identity. This, he says, has paved the way for the politicization of business and the rise of woke capitalism.

“I think a culture committed to excellence demands inequality of results—demands inequity of results. I’ll say the quiet part out loud,” says Ramaswamy.

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Jan Jekielek:

Vivek Ramaswamy, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.

Vivek Ramaswamy:

It’s good to be back. Thanks for having me, Jan.

Mr. Jekielek:

Vivek, I’ve finally managed to finish your book Nation of Victims. I had you on about a month ago talking about it a little bit. It’s an absolutely fascinating piece. You’re looking at the other side of Woke, Inc., which you argue is even the more important side, and we’re going to get into that in a moment. I want to get your opinion on something right now.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

Sure.

Mr. Jekielek:

There is an investor letter that Elliott Management, one of the larger hedge funds in the world, sent around. It’s basically talking about how the global economy is on a path to hyperinflation. It might almost lead to societal collapse. This is something in an actual letter. This is not theoretical. This is not sci-fi. What do you make of that?

Mr. Ramaswamy:

I write about this extensively in Nation of Victims as well. It’s deeply related to even some of these themes of excess, followed by victimhood. But in a nutshell, we are in a period of inflation. We might be entering hyperinflation very soon. The Federal Reserve has been late to raise rates.

But at a very high level, what’s going on right now is more scary than the last cycle of hyperinflation in the United States, because now you have to raise interest rates, not against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s deregulatory policies and Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts that otherwise stimulate the economy to balance out the effects of rising interest rates to curb inflation, but now you’re doing it against the backdrop of Joe Biden’s economic policies, which are not particularly favorable to private commerce or business—and his war on fossil fuels, which in turn is contributing to an energy crisis, a supply-demand imbalance for global energy that in turn contributes to inflation. 

That in turn, requires a greater raising of interest rates, which cools down the economy against the backdrop of those commercially unfavorable regulatory policies, and then you have a double whammy. That’s what is unique right now, relative to the 1970s to early 1980s in the earlier years of Paul Volcker raising rates under Ronald Reagan. It was at least a yin for yang, but now instead you actually have a one-two punch.

And so, I tend to agree. I’m very cautious about where we’re going as an economy for the next several years. I think we’re in for hardship. We have an era of hardship that’s waiting for us. We have been skiing on artificial snow for the last decade-and-a-half with free money raining like manna from heaven on high with the Federal Reserve printing it.

By the way, central banks around the world are doing the same thing. At some point, when that artificial snow machine turns off, as we’re starting to see in the United States, we realize that we forgot how to actually ski on the real thing.

In some ways, that’s the bad news. The good news is, in the long run, and I’m an optimist because I actually think that could be an opportunity for us. We can build the muscle memory that we have lost after a decade-and-a-half of losing it, which allows us to understand how to create things through actual ingenuity, actual productivity, and actual—a notion we forgot in our economy—hard work. In some ways, that has been covered up by the excesses of monetary policy over the last decade-and-a-half.

Mr. Jekielek:

By excesses of monetary policy, do you basically mean just printing insane amounts of money?

Mr. Ramaswamy:

That is correct.

Mr. Jekielek:

Okay.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

That’s correct. Yes. Exactly. It’s true in the United States. It’s true in much of the modern West. It’s true in most democratic societies around the world. Following the 2008 financial crisis, we had chronically easy money, and chronic low interest rates. You could look at the bright side. It fostered risk-taking behavior that resulted in innovation in sectors ranging from tech to biotech. The net cultural effect is that it has actually created a time of artificial ease, and we’re going to pay for a lot of those sins of excess in the next couple of years ahead of us. 

Whether that’s going to be a financial Armageddon, that’s not necessarily my view. Let’s just put it this way. Very few people have been consistently good at predicting financial Armageddon. Financial Armageddon been predicted many more times than it has actually materialized. There are all of those forgotten predictions by people who predicted financial Armageddon when it didn’t play out. We don’t remember those. I’m not saying that that’s exactly what we’re in for, like a 2008-style crisis or worse. We’re in for an era of some economic hardship, but that could actually end up being good for our culture if we learn from it.

Mr. Jekielek:

You argue in both Woke, Inc., your first book, and in the second book as well, that this situation that you just described allows for a situation where people in the corporate world focus on things that are very different than the creation of actual value.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

That’s right.

Mr. Jekielek:

Yes.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

That’s right. The case I made in Woke, Inc. was that the politicization of business is bad both for business and for our body politic. It’s bad for business because every business has a unique and worthy purpose. Usually, that’s true, because if you don’t have a worthy purpose, people aren’t going to pay you for the service that you provide. They’re not going to pay you more than it costs you to provide it. Almost by definition, there’s a presumption in favor of most businesses having a worthy purpose when they serve their customers.

But when we impose these top-down political and social agendas on those businesses, they’re less good at making the widgets that people can buy from them, which in turn creates less valuable businesses, which in turn creates a less prosperous society that holds everyone back. That was my critique, but it also was Milton Friedman’s critique, so that part wasn’t original. If I may say so myself, the part that was a different spin, a different moment of progress in the conversation that I aimed to add in Woke, Inc., was that it wasn’t just a threat to capitalism, it was also a threat to democracy.

The reason why is because in a democratic society, citizens are supposed to decide how we settle our political differences through free speech and open debate in the public square, where everyone’s voice and vote counts equally. When we delegate the authority to make those political decisions, social decisions, or whether and how to fight climate change or systemic racism, what we’re really saying is that those guys get to make those decisions behind closed doors.

Those are the business elites in corporate boardrooms, according to a one-dollar-one-vote system, not a one-person-one-vote system, but a one-dollar-one-vote system, which sucks the air and the lifeblood out of a democracy, where every citizen’s voice and vote ought to account equally on the political, normative, social questions that a citizenry ought to decide, rather than a corporatocratic class in the boardrooms of corporate America. 

That was where I was with Woke, Inc., but the thing that compelled me to write the second book that you just finished reading is that it really does take two to tango. And so, in Woke, Inc., I take a look at the top-down phenomenon, the merger between government and private enterprise doing together what neither one could do on its own. I even trace the ways in which government is using private companies to do through the back door what government couldn’t do through the front door and the Constitution.

I look at things like Big Tech censorship, and things like the climate agenda that major financial institutions are pushing through their banking arms, and through their asset management arms. But at the same time, the question I ask in the second book is, “What is it about our culture right now and our national psyche that still creates an entire generation that’s buying up this nonsense?”

Mr. Jekielek:

Yes.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

What about the demand side of this? In some ways, Woke, Inc. was about the supply side, the supply of the BS. And the second book, Nation of Victims, is all about the demand side. What is it about a culture that actually eats up these one-sided narratives? In a way, why is it that corporate America is dancing to that tune? So, they go together.

Mr. Jekielek:

This is very interesting. Let’s stick to Woke, Inc. just for one more moment.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

Sure.

Mr. Jekielek:

The supply side, so to speak.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

Yes.

Mr. Jekielek:

It’s not obvious. It’s not obvious, and this is very powerful, and your book is making this case. It’s not obvious that corporate America with their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders would take this path.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

It’s far from obvious.

Mr. Jekielek:

Right.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

It’s counterintuitive. Yes.

Mr. Jekielek:

Completely counterintuitive. And you make the case that it has to do with these very loose monetary policies. That’s part of it.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

That’s part of it.

Mr. Jekielek:

Please give me the whole picture.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

Yes. The whole picture takes the whole book to read, but I can give you a couple of underappreciated elements of it. All right? One of the stories I do trace in Woke, Inc. is the story that goes back to the 2008 financial crisis. We’re here in New York City. I actually was working in New York City starting in the fall of 2007 on the eve of the ’08 crisis. I was working at a hedge fund here in New York, so I had a front-row seat to what happened then.

What happened was, in the aftermath of the ’08 crisis, you had large government bailouts to the big banks here in New York and on Wall Street. I was an opponent of those bailouts. As a side note, I remain an opponent of those bailouts. That was a bad mistake. We continue to pay for those sins to this day in ways that are not just economic, but also cultural. I’ll come back to that.

But anyway, in the aftermath of the ’08 crisis, what happened was that the guys on Wall Street went from being the heroes that you were supposed to emulate if you were a young guy coming out of business school to becoming the bad guys. Occupy Wall Street was literally occupying Wall Street. It was at Wall Street’s doorstep.

And the capitalist class in this country, they were on their back heels. What they recognized was, “Look, Occupy Wall Street, that is a tough pill to swallow. They want to take our money and redistribute it to poor people to help poor people reform and reorder the system of who controls the keys to power over the market. That’s a tough pill to swallow.”

But it turns out that there was a birth of a new wing of the Left right around the same time that had a slightly different theory of the case than the Occupy Wall Street Left. What the new Left said was that it really wasn’t about economics, but it was about racism, misogyny, bigotry, and climate change. That’s what actually presented the opportunity for big business in this country to bail itself out culturally.

It wasn’t just the government bailouts. They bailed themselves out culturally a second time over when they said, “Look, here’s what we’re going to do. We will embrace those demands of the new Left. We will talk about systemic racism all you want, just as long as you don’t talk about systemic financial risk. All right?”

“We will muse about diversity and inclusion. We’ll appoint some token minorities to your boards. We will pontificate about the racially disparate impact of climate change, after flying in a private jet to Davos. We will do all of those things.” But privately they said, “But we won’t do it for free. We effectively expect that the new wing of the Left looks the other way when it comes to leaving our corporate power structure intact.” And that is how you get it.

 It was kind of the joke of the last book. You have a bunch of big banks that got in bed with a bunch of woke millennials. Together, they birthed woke capitalism, and they used that to put Occupy Wall Street up for adoption. All right? That was the trade they made. 

It worked so well for the capitalist class here downtown, in New York City, that Silicon Valley then got into the act. What they realized was, “Okay. It worked for the Wall Street guys. The threat to our monopoly power right now if we’re sitting in Silicon Valley comes from the Left, even the Obama Left.” Right? They wanted to break it up. Big Tech was cool on the Left, before it was cool on the Right.

What they realized was, “Look, we can defang that threat to our power structure if we agree to lend some of that monopoly power to advance your substantive ends. We’ll censor speech you don’t want to see online. We’ll take down misinformation as you define it.” But privately they said, “We won’t do it for free. We effectively expect that the new Democratic Party look the other way when it comes to leaving our monopoly power intact.”

And so, that’s how the game was played. The rest of corporate America starts copying the act. Coca-Cola gets to make statements about new voting laws in Georgia, so-called systemically racist voting laws like requiring voter IDs, and muse about how to teach their employee base to be “less white.”

That was the word they used, how to be, “less white,” to get off the hook on their own products’ impact on the nationwide epidemic of diabetes and obesity, including in the black community that they profess to care so much about.

Nike condemned slavery 250 years ago in the United States. But don’t say a peep about actual slavery in China today in Xinjiang province, or using labor abroad to generate $250 sneakers that you sell to black kids in the inner city who can’t afford to buy books for school. This is great. It works out for all parties, but it was a cynical, arranged marriage. The reason it was counterintuitive was neither side really had too much respect for the other. It was a marriage in which each partner had secret scorn for its bed partner.

It was closer to mutual prostitution, but it worked as long as each side got something out of the trade. That was the story of the birth of this illegitimate child, the woke industrial complex, that I argued was far more powerful than either big government or big business, because it was this chimeric, almost monstrous hybrid of the two that was, in many ways, crushing the will of the everyday citizen and diluting the voice of the everyday American and the economy as well.

Mr. Jekielek:

Many people of this ideology started to populate the HR departments of these big corporations.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

Sure.

Mr. Jekielek:

They started hiring people that were similarly inclined, because they knew the right code words and so forth.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

The way I look at it is, it is when wokeness met capitalism that it got supercharged with the full force of green pieces of paper behind it. Before that time, wokeness in America was basically a fringe philosophy in the halls of some academy somewhere at some liberal arts college. It was supposed to be a challenge to the system. If you ask the question about when did this go from being about being a challenge to the system to becoming the new system, it’s when wokeness met capitalism that it became supercharged with the potency of market power that effectively made it ubiquitous.

Mr. Jekielek:

This is the case you make in the new book, Nation of Victims, that we’re in the midst of a national identity crisis, and it’s not just among the Left.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

That’s right. This is where I get to the bridge, to the second part of what I was talking about, which is it takes two to tango. On the flip side, this corporate trick wouldn’t have worked if there weren’t a consumer base and an employee base that effectively demanded that same behavior of the companies. I didn’t treat that issue enough in Woke, Inc., because it’s a separate and complicated question. Yes, there’s this cynical top-down institutional marriage between government and big business, but what about the millennial generation, my generation, and younger? 

In fact, increasingly, most people, even under the age of 40 in the United States are demanding this sort of virtue-signaling behavior, and even encouraging it through their consumer buying behaviors and their employment work patterns. It’s a cultural question, and less to do with corporate America and big government, but more to do with our culture as we know it. My net diagnosis, and this bled from the end of Woke, Inc. into the beginning of Nation of Victims, is that we live in a moment in our country where our entire generation, Jan, is hungry for a cause.

We are so hungry for purpose and meaning and identity at this point in our national history. The kinds of things that used to fulfill that purpose, things like patriotism, hard work, family, faith, national identity, whatever it might be, the kinds of things that used to fulfill that purpose have slowly receded, if not disappeared, from modern life.

That leaves a black hole of identity in its wake. When you have a vacuum that runs that deep, that is when poison begins to fill the void. That is what allows wokeism to find its home in the heart of the American soul. That is what allows for scientism, as distinct from science. The scientism, and the different secular religions, one at a time, are preying on that soul. What causes it?

It’s the vacuum that actually creates the attraction to that poison. I looked in the mirror after I wrote Woke, Inc., and went on a national tour across the country. Before this, I was a biotech CEO. But this is when I became much more vocal on these issues, pointing out what I quickly came to find was an infinite list of the hypocrisies of business, of universities, of government’s relationship with business, and of this new woke cancer infiltrating nearly every major institution. The hypocrisies were endless. It was almost too easy by the end. 

But I looked myself in the mirror and I asked myself, “Okay. How are we solving the problem?” There’s some value, sure, in shining a spotlight on the problem and educating people on it to the extent that you know how. But we’re not really moving the needle unless we fill that black hole, that vacuum for purpose, with something more rich, something more meaningful that dilutes the poison to irrelevance. That’s the project I took up in this second book, “Okay. We’ve got this void of purpose. Where do we go from here?” 

If we don’t fill that void for purpose with affirmative values, like excellence—that’s the case I make in the book, a vision of American identity centered on the unapologetic pursuit of excellence, individual self-actualization, the destiny of realizing your journey as an individual, which is part of what it means to live the American dream, and part of what it means to be American—if we don’t fill the void with something more affirming, that’s when you get the victimhood that fills the void instead. The case I make in the first half of the book is that victimhood has become our new national identity.

The call to action I make in the second half of the book is that we need to fill that identity vacuum with something else, based on the shared pursuit of excellence as part of what it means to be American. But the path from getting from A to B is a complicated one that runs through some uncomfortable terrain.

Mr. Jekielek:

I want to touch on something that I thought was really interesting in Nation of Victims. It’s related to exactly what you’re talking about now. You point out that some surveys were done on the people objecting to inequality, something very reasonable for people to object to. But it’s really unearned inequality that people have the big issue with. They don’t mind so much if they feel like someone has done the hard work, or has demonstrated the excellence to get higher status. Please tell me about this.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

All right. There’s a couple of dimensions to this, Jan. One is from Woke, Inc., and the other is what you were talking about with respect to Nation of Victims. One of the first things that we can do in the debate about material inequality is to just lower the stakes in the debate. The green pieces of paper that you and I have, or someone else has or doesn’t have, are really just green pieces of paper that buy things. In the scheme of things, if you have a nicer car than I do, or I have a nicer watch than you do, I probably want the nicer watch, or you probably want the nicer car. But in the scheme of things, that’s one category that matters.

If it’s just, “Okay. You’ve got more green pieces of paper in your bank account. Maybe your tie is more of a name brand than mine.” But who cares? They’re just things. It’s just materialist, superficial stuff in the context of what the human experience really is, and in the context of what it means to be a coequal member of a society. We can each be coequal citizens in society, even if your tie is more of a name brand than mine.

Part of the problem with this new trend of so-called stakeholder capitalism or ESG-informed capitalism is that it’s not just the fact that you have more green pieces of paper than I do, and it’s not even the fact that you have a luxury car, when I only have a mid-tier sedan. It is also the fact that your voice counts more than my voice in our body politic, because your say on how we fight climate change if you have a seat in a corporate boardroom is more impactful than my seat at the ballot box, because that’s all I get. 

It’s all about your view on how we should fight systemic racism or racial equity or racial injustice through implementing quota systems in who gets promoted. The company where I work imposes that agenda on me, that political agenda on me, when all I have for my voice is the voice of the ballot box, because I don’t have the same dollars that you do.”

This is the first step in this debate, and this terrain is all covered in Woke, Inc.. We skip to the inequality debate, talking about inequality in dollars, without first asking ourselves whether we’ve already just made a mistake by even over-fetishizing the green pieces of paper, by allowing them to be too important in terms of what they represent. So, we’re already in a smaller, lower temperature zone of this discussion, but let’s get to the bottom of it even further. 

People would have a less begrudging attitude towards successful capitalists if they knew and had faith in a system that the person was rewarded for the value that they uniquely and individually created, rather than many who happen to get that head start for the mere act of being born. This is a conversation I tease in the book a little bit. Forget about whether you favor high taxes or low taxes. I’m more in the low tax camp. I don’t trust the government to manage money, as much as I do through the decentralized allocation of resources, but put that to one side. That’s not the debate I’m touching on here.

Let’s say you want high taxes, or you want low taxes. Whichever it is, do you prefer to get more of those tax dollars into the system through taxing income as you earn it, which actually makes it harder for someone who’s starting from the ground floor to work their way up, or do you want to take a closer look at how one generation transfers wealth to the next generation, if you had to pick between the two? 

Let’s say the government only needs a tiny amount of revenue to run, or let’s say the government needs a ton of revenue to run. I prefer the tiny model. But whatever it is, there’s a conversation to be had about weighting it much more heavily towards picking it up on intergenerational wealth transfers, than on picking it up on income that you tax every year along the way.

More importantly, it would have the effect of making good on the promise of true equality of opportunity, while completely shedding our collective insecurities about the inequality of results. A culture committed to excellence demands inequality of results. It demands inequity of results. I’ll say the quiet part out loud, because I think we need to.

Not everyone is going to reach the finish line at the same time. Not even everyone is going to get to the same finish line, whether that’s on the basketball court, whether that is in the classroom, or whether it’s in the system of free-market capitalism. We’re not going to have a system where everyone wins and loses equally if we have a true culture of excellence. They don’t go together.

But against the backdrop of at least starting on or around the same line, and also against the backdrop of saying that even if somebody does get to that destination, it’s just a question of things. It’s just a question of materialistic differences, but not normative, moral differences, and citizen self-worth differences. In that sense, we’re still all equal. That’s the way to weave our way through what is the otherwise thorny thicket of the debates that we’ve had for over 100 years in this country about inequality.

Mr. Jekielek:

I’m thinking about this idea of unearned inequality, and we have so many examples, especially over the last few years. I’ll give one example. I was just looking at a thread written by Vinay Prasad, professor of epidemiology at UCSF, looking at all the ways in which the CDC, which provides the public health guidance for the nation from the most elite of the public health officials, has utterly failed. It’s quite the list to read.

You might think to yourself, “My goodness, these people are in charge. They’re essentially setting the tone for everything that we have to do, because everyone says, “We have to follow these guidelines,'” but they’re themselves are not demonstrating excellence, and that’s unfair, and I’m angry.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

Yes.

Mr. Jekielek:

I agree with you there is this narrative of victimhood, but there’s also this narrative coming from this anger at the fact that many really incompetent people are in charge, and you’re forced to live by their edicts. What do you think?

Mr. Ramaswamy:

Yes. That’s a broader discussion than just the unearned rewards. There’s a separate issue relating to the mistrust and earned mistrust of institutional leaders in our country. That builds on the theme that we were just having about unearned status in the context of inheritance, but more broadly it builds on the theme in terms of people who ascend and occupy positions of authority in institutions, who are increasingly put into those positions in ways that are decoupled from this idea of merit. Merit is defined as a system of allocating rewards exclusively according to principles of excellence. Excellence, in turn, is an internal system for self-actualization of purpose in any institution.

From institutional purpose follows excellence, and from excellence follows merit as a system of distributing those rewards. Increasingly, the people who are in charge of those institutions are not only behaving in ways that dilute the purpose of those institutions, but are also put into those positions in ways that betray the principles of merit. That’s a different situation where the public correctly senses that there’s an unearned status, an unearned reward. It’s not even financial in nature, but there is a certain reward of status that was unearned.

Does the diversity, equity, inclusion cancer in this country play a role in creating that unearned status? Of course, it does. Many people are put in those positions for reasons that have little to do with their job qualifications. It’s not just that it was a racial or sexual minority that wasn’t as competitive as the person who otherwise would’ve gotten that job in a color-blind system. It’s the idea that when you do it for that reason it opens up the possibility that, “If we weren’t going to do it for merit, we can do it for DEI reasons. But if we’ve thrown out merit, it can be somebody else’s self-interested reason too.” 

It could be, “I’ll just put someone there because they’re going to be less of a threat to me. If I’m a coequal, or if I’m on the board, I’ll put someone there who isn’t going to threaten my power structure in the organization.” There could be other unmeritocratic reasons for doing the same thing too. So, it’s a double whammy.

You’re getting unqualified people from certain underrepresented groups, and that itself undermines the entire justification for merit at all. And there’s all other kinds of self-interested corrupting forces that then fill that void too. That’s a big part of what has sown the seeds for this public mistrust in the idea of merit, because they’re right. It doesn’t really exist in the way many institutions practice their behaviors.

Mr. Jekielek:

At this point, I have to ask you, the Supreme Court is looking at affirmative action as we speak. What do you think should happen based on your thinking here?

Mr. Ramaswamy:

The Supreme Court should strike down affirmative action, and finally put a nail in that coffin. This was a mistake that was made decades ago. Let’s recognize the mistake for what it was, and at least move on to a better way of rectifying alleged racial inequities in outcomes. There are racial inequities in outcomes, but what accounts for that starts at a very young age in the family, and in broken public schools starting as early as kindergarten or preschool.

Go upstream and fix those problems, instead of using this cosmetic band-aid on the back end of the process. Because if affirmative action worked, then you wouldn’t have the same racial minority groups who needed it to get into boarding school, who then need it to get into college, who are then the exact same racial minority groups that then need it to get into graduate school, who are then the exact same racial minority groups who need it to get into the workforce—if it was working, you wouldn’t need to double-count or quintuple-count at every step of the cascade.

I was at Harvard for college. I was at Yale Law School. I saw it firsthand. It’s the same groups, the same people that require the same affirmative action programs every time through. That means it’s not working. It’s a pretty good sign that it’s not working. It’s also a disservice even to qualified members of those minority groups who do get those positions because of merit, because no one can tell the difference.

At the end of the day, if they’re going to reward people of certain races, even if somebody scored highly or was excellent in their performance, they’re going to be judged in an unfair way by their non-favored peers.

In the first instance, it is this form of anti-white and anti-Asian racism. One of the things that I talk about in Nation of Victims was the last rigorous study that was conducted on this. It was by Thomas Espenshade, who found that when you looked the top 10 elite colleges, or 10 of the elite colleges, there was an over 400-point gap between SAT scores that an average Asian applicant would have to score, versus the average black applicant.

Let’s keep in mind, this is a 1600-scale test, where I believe you can’t score less than a 400 literally. 400 is the lowest score you can get. The difference between the Asians who apply to those colleges, and the black people who apply to those colleges is an over 400-point delta. 

Now, nobody talks about affirmative action for the NBA or the NFL, but if you were to apply this to the NBA or NFL, it would be the equivalent of asking someone who’s black to make a half-court shot, but someone who’s Asian gets a stair step right up to the hoop to go do a slam dunk. It’s something that would ruin basketball, and nobody would want to watch basketball or watch football if it was informed by principles of affirmative action.

We shouldn’t think it’s anything different in science or engineering classrooms either. It’s an assault on merit. It’s an assault on excellence. I’ve said this before, I said in the book, and I’ll say it again. An assault on merit and assault on excellence is an assault on the American soul. Part of the essence of what it means to be American is to be able to pursue excellence unapologetically.

Affirmative action, I can confidently say, is the single greatest form of institutionalized racism in the United States today, it’s anti-white, anti-Asian racism, which then creates a backlash wave of a new anti-black racism that we otherwise would not have had, the grievance that affirmative action creates amongst the people who were penalized by it. So, that’s what I say.

Mr. Jekielek:

Do you ever think the creation of the grievance is intentional?

Mr. Ramaswamy:

There’s a lot that happens behind closed doors that is explained by cynical motivations. I just don’t think this is the one case that fits that description. I don’t think the creation of the grievance was intentional. The creation of the white savior complex that is indulged by creating a system that gives back to black people who supposedly couldn’t hack it on their own, that’s an indulgence of a white savior complex, but I don’t think that they intended to foster grievance. They intended to foster gratitude.

Instead, what happened is that they created new grievances in other members of the disfavored races in this game we’re talking about, the whites and Asians, that then created new forms of racial animus towards the people who were perceived to have taken their spots. You get on an airplane, and you see a black pilot and you say, “I know that they just eliminated testing requirements because of a mandate to achieve racial equity.” Many people won’t say it out loud, but they will think twice when they see the black pilot in the cockpit, wondering if they’re in the hands of a slightly less-qualified pilot than there otherwise would have been in a world without affirmative action. 

That is no one’s fault other than the people who created the system that allowed one to make that inference even possible. That is what I call true systemic racism. Affirmative action is the systemic racism that’s still here in America today. I’m sorry to say it will then create this new kind of anti-black racism that we had spent so many decades moving on from.

Mr. Jekielek:

I want to shift gears. Essentially, you make the argument that it’s not just the Left that is basically thinking of themselves as victims. It’s also the conservatives very much so. You have a whole chapter dedicated to this, and then, you end up in this arms race of victimhood. Please talk about this. You also issue a challenge, and the challenge is that we have to lay down our arms. But then, there’s a lot of people that might not think it has been a fair game, a fair battle. So, please tell me about this.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

Yes. The chapter is entitled Conservative Victimhood, and this is one of my reflections. One of my concerns is that this culture war that we are in ends not with a bang, but with a whimper, where both sides are infected with the same cancer, yet still continuing to fight each other not knowing that they’re actually members of the same victimhood tribe. One of the points I make in this chapter is that there are legitimate reasons for conservative victimhood. We could spend hours talking about them.

Some of them I even lay out in Woke, Inc., by the way. Others of them I didn’t lay out in Woke, Inc., but are more economic in nature. Let’s take the policy decision that we made in this country for the dollar to be the reserve currency of the world. By the way, that is a good thing for the United States for the dollar to be the reserve currency of the world.

It gives us control of the global financial system. It is what allows us to freeze the terrorists’ assets on demand. It is what lowers borrowing costs for the United States. But if the dollar is the reserve currency of the world, that means that there’s a little bit of artificial extra demand for the dollar above and beyond what would’ve existed under market conditions where the dollar was not the reserve currency.

What does that mean? That’s an artificial buying pressure that pushes up the average price of the dollar, so we then have a strong dollar. But a strong dollar is actually bad for exporters, because that means their goods are incrementally more expensive, and artificially more expensive on the global stage. It’s great for importers in the United States, but it’s bad for exporters, and bad for manufacturers. They’re left holding the bag. It’s a great policy that grows the size of the pie for everyone in the United States overall, but leaves this one group of people, the people who live in today’s Rust Belt, holding the bag.

Then, go to the next policy. Think about student loan forgiveness. That’s recently in the news. Again, somebody who borrowed money to go buy a truck and build a career as a trucker in that industrial Rust Belt didn’t get their loans forgiven for buying that truck, even though somebody who went to Bryn Mawr College did for being a humanities major. We can question the merits of that policy. I personally think that policy was a boneheaded policy, but put that to one side. It’s the same group of people then left holding the bag.

Look at where military enrollment is coming from. It turns out that we do need a military to defend this country. We don’t get to live the free lives that you and I live without having people who are willing to defend it. Again, it’s same group of people holding the bag.

Then, you look at the intellectual property system. The intellectual property system is effectively a government-created subsidy to knowledge-based industries, and no subsidy is free. It effectively comes at the cost of the manufacturing industries, the same manufacturing industries and people who worked in them who were penalized by the dollar-as-reserve-currency policy framework that created the strong dollar.

Anyway, I could go on and on in as rigorous a way as one could want, hopefully, and paint the case for conservative victimhood, Trumpian victimhood. They are justified reasons for victimhood that resulted in the election of Trump in 2016 as the expression of that frustration. Got it.

But you know what else we could do? Go to the Left-leaning version of this conversation. We’re here in New York City. I’m sure there are a lot of them happening. There’ll be the same sob story told by somebody else about the black victimhood narratives, about redlining in this country, and how literally there were laws written that prevented black people from living in a certain neighborhood. 

Take the war on drugs. Again, it’s trite because everyone has talked about this stuff ad nauseam, but there is a difference in arrest rates for crack cocaine versus non-crack cocaine. One is more disproportionate and prevalent in the black community. They’ll say, “You blame us for having unstable family structures. Well, you’re the guys who took the father figures and put them in jail.”

The black victimhood epidemic is now creating a new epidemic of white victimhood culture in our country. Second-generation Asian kids are now grown up in this country trying to describe themselves as persons of color, inventing hardships for themselves that they didn’t actually go through, but their parents or their grandparents actually did in coming to this country.

We have this victimhood metastasis where everyone wants to think of themselves as a victim. At some point, we must recognize there is no winner in America’s oppression Olympics. There is no gold medalist. If there was a gold medalist, maybe it’s China. China may be the gold medalist of America’s victimhood Olympics, our assault on merit over here.

But it is America as a nation is who loses in the end. At some point, we’re going to have to get past the grievance tug of war and say, “You know what? You have a grievance? You think you were oppressed? Guess what, I was oppressed by even more.” Right? That’s the white victimhood complex in response to black victimhood.

At some point, we’ve got to stop, guys. We’re done. That’s the part where I say, “Lay down arms. Okay?” Everyone might have real valid reasons for their claims of victimhood, but start to forget about your claim on victimhood and reclaim your claim on excellence. That is what we need to revive in our culture or else we’re not going to have a nation, and certainly not a competitive one, in the end. We’ll just have a hollowed-out husk of America as a geographic space. 

What are we? A bunch of higher mammals roaming around a common geographic space? We’re not animals. We’re human beings, free agents who came together to found a nation built on principles of excellence. We’re going to have to return to reviving that national spirit if we were to have a chance of passing the torch onto that next generation, which is why I even bothered to write this book.

Mr. Jekielek:

Each side needs to forgive the other. This is what you argue. The response to that is in my ears because I hear almost it every day. For example, there was this recent article in The Atlantic calling for pandemic amnesty for everyone that did poor things or vilified others in the pandemic. People are saying, “Well, okay, but there needs to be accountability for these terrible behaviors. Oh sure, maybe we can even do forgiveness.”

Mr. Ramaswamy:

Yes.

Mr. Jekielek:

But what about accountability?

Mr. Ramaswamy:

Forgiveness and accountability are two separate conversations, and one is not a substitute for the other. What I actually worry about is we might be in the worst of all worlds where we wallow in grievance without accountability. In a certain sense, I worry that we’re in that worst-case scenario where everyone experiences grievance, but we’re not actually doing the things to hold the people who erred to be accountable.

I argue for the exact opposite of that, where we should have forgiving attitudes to one another as fellow coequal citizens. But that doesn’t mean if you commit a crime, you don’t do your time. That doesn’t mean that if you fail as a leader, that you aren’t put out of a job so that somebody else is put in that spot in return.

It’s a very different balance we need to strike, not the double whammy combo of both grievance without accountability, but a forgiving view of human nature as coequal citizens, as coequal partners in building a nation, while still recognizing the fact that if you were put in a leadership position and you failed, you deserve to be held accountable.

If you broke a law, we would rehabilitate you through our criminal justice system and through our rehabilitation system. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not held accountable for bashing in a storefront in the summer of 2020. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you don’t bear some level of punishment and go through a rectification system, but we can do both of those things at once. Not only can we do both those things at once, but they’re also actually even synchronous with one another.

Part of respecting someone’s humanity is to recognize that they deserve a level of being held accountable for failing to act in the way that we would expect them to comport themselves. This is the stuff of Russian literature, Crime and Punishment. Okay? This is the essence of actually respecting someone’s humanity.

Mr. Jekielek:

Vivek, I could speak with you for hours. Any final thoughts as we finish?

Mr. Ramaswamy:

The path from victimhood to excellence runs through a lot of complicated terrain, and that’s probably the most important part of the book. The path from victimhood to excellence runs through forgiveness. It runs through hardship. I also think that there are good reasons to be optimistic. There’s a lot of analogies that people draw today between the rise and fall of the American experiment and the rise and fall of Rome.

That’s why I spent a couple chapters in this book detailing the history of Rome. I had to brush up on some of my Roman history. Actually, I had studied Latin in seventh and eighth grade. Most of the Roman history I learned came from those years in middle school. One of the things I reminded myself of is that here was no one rise and fall of Rome, as it turns out.

There were many rises, and there were many falls. And you know what? There are many rises and many falls of the American experiment too. And yes, we may be at a low point. We may be at a nadir, but we’re not done with this one yet. We have many generations yet left to go.

If we can take the hardship that we’re going to encounter in the next couple of years, and remind ourselves that hardship is not the same thing as victimhood, this hardship can be what reminds us of who we are both as individuals and as a people. Then, we will be stronger for it as individuals and as a nation on the other side of it. I’m optimistic that that’s exactly what’s going to happen. It’s just that we’re going through a rough patch in getting there.

Mr. Jekielek:

I’m like you. I’m very bullish on the U.S. and I think the U.S. can handle a lot and people can figure things out. But what if we get so weak that this nefarious power, the Chinese Communist Party, can really take advantage and take over?

Mr. Ramaswamy:

That is one of the risks we need to guard against, which is why I have been as vocal as I possibly can on this issue. It is the single greatest threat to the future of America, to the future of free Western civilization, free countries, and democratic freedom around the world as we know it. 

They’re deeply aware of some of the kinks in our armor. I talk about this extensively in Woke, Inc., about the relationship between stakeholder capitalism and ESG applying asymmetric standards in the West that they don’t apply in China, that are actually in service of China’s own agenda.

There are kinks in their armor too. As long as we educate ourselves to become more aware of it, we might be able to come out on the winning side of this. Because history teaches us that it is the ego, the hubris of dictators and autocrats that eventually proves to be their Achilles heel. I have no reason to believe that it will not be the same for Xi Jinping.

He’s just taken over that third term. We just need to prepare ourselves to be as excellent as we possibly can. Rome fought that Punic War with Carthage over the small island of Sicily. I asked the question of whether Taiwan might be the Sicily of our time. But the real question is, “Are we Rome or are we Carthage?” 

That’s a question for America to answer through decisions we make in our culture, through decisions we make in our economy, and even decisions we make in our military. As I point out in the book, we’re in the middle of this divest-to-invest program, an ill-thought, ill-conceived military policy where we are decommissioning ships precisely during the window where China might make its move on Taiwan.

This is a complete rethink of institutions ranging from government to military, to our economy, and to our culture. If we can revive our path back to excellence in each of them, then my bet is still on America leading that way, not only for you and I, but for our children and for the free world as we know it.

It’s going to take real work, and it’s a big part of why I wrote these books. It’s a big part of why I hope we can educate our fellow citizens to do what needs to be done to take that hardship that we’re about to go through, that we’re already going through right now, and to be strengthened by it, rather than to be defined by it.

Mr. Jekielek:

Vivek Ramaswamy, it’s such a pleasure to have you on again.

Mr. Ramaswamy:

Thank you, Jan. It’s a pleasure.

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