“The biggest threat to liberty and prosperity in this country” is the “new marriage of big government and big business,” says Vivek Ramaswamy. “It is this new woke industrial complex… a new Leviathan.”
Ramaswamy is the founder of several successful companies, including Roivant Sciences, and author of the new book “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam.”
It’s crony capitalism 2.0, Ramaswamy argues. And the biggest beneficiary of all is the Chinese Communist Party, he says.
Jan Jekielek: Vivek Ramaswamy, it’s such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Vivek Ramaswamy: It’s great to be here. Thank you for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: You make a pretty interesting case, and in some ways it’s kind of counter-intuitive. You basically say that stakeholder capitalism is supposed to create accountability, but it actually does the exact opposite and empowers America’s enemies in the process. Incredible.
Mr. Ramaswamy: It is counterintuitive because stakeholder capitalism is the philosophy that a business ought to serve not just its shareholders, by pursuing profit, but also ought to serve other societal interests, including those of not only employees, but other societal stakeholders ranging from minority communities to the climate. Now on the face of it, that sounds pretty benign.
But the argument I make in the book is, first of all, it is actually a violation of American democracy to concentrate in the hands of a small group of investors and executives the power to not only decide what products get voted to the top, but also what ideas get voted to the top. And that’s the role our democracy plays, where everyone’s voice and vote counts equally.
What I say is that once we delegate that responsibility to a small group of elites and executives, we actually look a lot more like old world Europe, where a small group of church leaders and business elites used to decide what the good was for everybody else—as opposed to the American system, which was supposed to delegate that to the American people at large, in a democracy where everyone’s voice counts equally.
Now, one of the things I also described in the book, and you alluded to this, is that once corporations become vehicles for advancing progressive agendas, as many of them do today, they become vehicles to advance anybody’s agenda—and nobody has gotten in on that game more effectively than the Communist Party of China by becoming the strongest stakeholder of all in many of these corporations—that stakeholder is now flexing its muscle in ways that I unveil in the book.
Nobody has really talked about the geopolitical implications of wokeism or woke capitalism like I do in this book. But at the end of the day, it’s less about just offering a critique and more about seeing the problem with a clear-eyed lens so as to offer a better way forward.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s actually quite fascinating to learn some companies do have the Chinese regime as a major stakeholder but don’t really disclose that very much and instead focus on all the much prettier looking stakeholders here in America.
Mr. Ramaswamy: The great policy error over the last 30 years in the United States was thinking that we could use capitalism as a vector to spread democracy abroad, that we could export Big Macs and Happy Meals and think it would somehow spread democracy in places like China.
What we’ve learned over the last 30 years is that China has actually turned that model on its head. Instead of using our money to get them to be more like us, they have now used their money to get us to be more like them. They’ve sent back Disney sneakers and Nike movies as Trojan horses to advance their values.
I’ll tell you what I mean. Companies relentlessly criticize the United States for social injustice, as the woke brand of stakeholder capitalism or what we call woke capitalism does—Nike criticizes racial injustice, Disney criticizes injustices ranging from transphobia to United States policy on abortions.
As these companies criticize the United States, they also don’t say a peep about actual human rights abuses in China, such as what’s happening in Xinjiang province today where over a million Uyghurs are enslaved in concentration camps, and subjected to forced sterilization in some of the worst human rights abuses committed by a major nation since the Third Reich in Germany. These companies don’t say a peep about it.
What that has the effect of doing is creating a false moral equivalence between the United States and China. That actually erodes our greatest geopolitical asset of all, which is not our nuclear arsenal. It is our moral standing on the global stage.
When the new international arbiters of moral justice become multinational corporations, the people who are known to criticize injustice in the United States, when they don’t say a peep about China, that actually empowers China.
If you have any doubt that that’s intentional, you can actually listen very carefully to what Xi Jinping is saying or what China’s other diplomats are saying. Last year when Xi Jinping was pressed by the EU on the Uyghur human rights crisis, the first thing that he said was that, “Hold on. Black Lives Matter shows that the United States is no better.”
Their top diplomat came to Alaska earlier this year. He said that China wanted to see the United States stop slaughtering black Americans, and that China wanted to see the U.S. do better on human rights.
Now, this would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that unfortunately you don’t have to take it from Xi Jinping, you could just take it from Disney or Nike or the NBA or BlackRock and you would actually see some validation for what he’s saying, even though it’s based on a false premise.
That’s the other thing that liberals and progressive liberals and conservatives ought to fear equally. The Communist Party of China represents the single greatest threat to not only the United States, but to the modern liberal democracies of the West. The idea of modern liberal democracy itself, the model of liberalism itself is threatened by the rise of nihilism in the avatar of China.
They realized how to use the kinks in our armor ranging from wokeism, which is a culture of self-criticism in the United States to woke capitalism, where companies are able to use their corporate muscle to supercharge that wokeness while supplicating to the CCP in order to do business there. That’s actually one of the great dangerous geopolitical aspects of this game as well that I unveil in the book.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s very interesting. In the woke ideology, essentially everything boils down to being the fault of white heterosexual men. That’s a very oversimplified version, and you can also correct me if you feel I’m saying anything wrong, but that also creates this kind of smoke screen that you’re describing. There’s an ideological positioning to always bring it back to America.
Mr. Ramaswamy: Yes, the heart of wokeism is to take the essence of Marxist thought, which is to say that the social universe is governed by these invisible social relationships, but to make one crucial change. And that change is to say that instead of economic power relationships, the real social relationships that govern power structures in the universe are based on the genetic characteristics that you inherit on the day that you’re born: your race, your gender, and your sexual orientation.
On the basis of those criteria, which intersect with one another, in the theory of intersectionality, you have a ranked-order hierarchy based on who’s disempowered and who’s empowered in the structure.
But crucially, unlike Marxism, it’s somewhat disconnected to the amount of money that you have, or the economic class that you’re a member of—connected solely to the attributes that you’re born with. And so you can be a rich black woman like Oprah Winfrey and still be disempowered, according to the rules of wokeism and intersectionality, relative to a poor white male in the rust belt or in my neighborhood or in my greater neighborhood in central Ohio.
That’s the central tenant of wokeism: that your race, your gender and your sexual orientation govern who you are and what you’re allowed to think.
And it also conflates your race with the views that you’re allowed to have. You don’t have to take that from me. You can take it from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of The Squad who famously said about a year ago, that, “We don’t want any more black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t want any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice.”
Now, personally, I probably don’t fit her description of what counts as a brown voice, but we’ll put that to one side.
What that means is once wokeism is able to convert your race from being not just about your skin color, but about your voice and your identity and the thoughts you’re supposed to represent. Then that means that if you disagree with those thoughts, by definition, you’re actually a racist whether or not you know it.
This is the intellectual jujitsu that has created this new culture of fear, where if you disagree with any of those claims, it actually means you’re racist, and there’s no greater damnation in modern America than to be called a racist.
You’re faced with the choice between bending your knee to this new religion or being tarred with the scarlet R of racism. Everyday Americans are choosing to bend the knee and that’s what’s created this culture of fear in our country, that has completely replaced our culture of free speech. It’s completely replaced our culture of free and open dialogue—you fear of losing your job, you fear of your kids getting a bad grade at school, and you fear becoming a pariah in your own community.
That’s actually defining what is the best test of any democracy, which is the percentage of people who are willing to say what they actually think in public. I have no doubt that today we are doing abysmally on that metric. A lot of the survey data that I lay out in the book backs that up as well.
This is a time of effectively living in a modern Red Guard revolution in America, except instead of the Chinese Red Guard pushing the philosophy of Marxism, the new Red Guard is pushing it through all of our major institutions, from the private sector to the public, they are pushing this new philosophy of wokeism.
Someone inside needed to sound the alarm bell. That’s why I wrote the book, and that’s really what unveils the scam for what it is, which is even elites in corporate America are pretending to care about this new woke agenda about something other than profit and power, precisely to accrue more of each.
I’m not a journalist writing about this from the outside. I wasn’t born into elite America, but I’ve lived it for the last 15 years from places like Harvard and Yale to elite hedge funds to founding a multi-billion dollar company, I’ve seen in the corridors of elite America, how this game is played, and someone needed to blow the whistle on it. That’s the role I decided to take up in writing this book.
Mr. Jekielek: You also have a pretty fascinating background. Your father made a point of you going back to India regularly to immerse yourself in living in that culture in all sorts of ways. It’s a little bit like my background. I ended up living in actually what was communism. My parents escaped from communist Poland, but as a kid, without them, I was able to be there for a while and live in that, in this very, very different culture.
It gave me a kind of a unique perspective on the world. As you were describing this and as I saw you develop in your book, I was thinking this is the product of someone who has actually lived in a few different realities, because it kind of comes through as you go through the book.
Mr. Ramaswamy: Yes, no doubt about it. It did. And one of the points I make—this is relatively early in the book, in the first half of the book where I lay out the place where I fell in love with capitalism—was actually as a kid when we used to spend those summers in India, because one of the things I learned about capitalism is that it is inherently expansive. It has the potential to reorder social systems sometimes for the better.
Where in India, you had a caste system about 40 years ago, even 30 years ago when we used to visit when I was a kid. And I talk a little bit about those experiences foreign to the untrained American eye—being born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but spending our summers during summer break in a small village in Southern India where the differences in the culture, in the social norms, in the hierarchies that you create on the basis of the characteristic you inherit on the day you’re born, that’s the caste system. That was somewhat arresting to me and it stuck with me.
One of the things I loved is as we kept going back over the years, by 10 years later, 15 years later, 20 years later, that system’s mostly gone. You could get pizza; you could get air conditioning; you could get clean water, all things we didn’t have when we visited there, as recently as the mid-1990s.
Yet along with the spread of capitalism, it reordered not just the caste system, which was an undesirable part of the old social fabric, it also had an uncanny way of eroding, maybe some things that I actually loved about the family relationships that we used to have in our extended family, which just aren’t the same as what they used to be. That’s in part due to the spread of capitalism too.
And so one of the things I talk about in the book is that actually capitalism has the potential to reorder other social systems, potentially even democracy. Even though I’m a lover of capitalism, I’m also wary of capitalism when it spreads into infecting domains that it shouldn’t touch, including family life, civic life in a democracy, and religious life in ways that I talk about from India to the United States.
My net solution—there’s a lot of practical solutions in the book, but philosophically, all of them are grounded in the idea that capitalism and democracy work best, not when they’re co-mingled, but when they’re kept apart. That’s a message that both classical conservatives and classical liberals actually share in common in this country. They believe in the integrity of each of these institutions by keeping them apart.
We may disagree about how to distribute wealth, and about how to apply that vision into reality. But that’s what, at least in principle, a classical liberal and a conservative can both agree on.
And yet today we live in a moment where in this post-modern version of America, some conservatives, and some Republicans who are business-friendly Republicans, and a lot of newly business-friendly Democrats somehow seem to agree that actually the right model is for capitalism and democracy to be co-mingled, where businesses are supposed to decide what is the social good on questions from climate change to racial justice.
I say that should be decided in the public square, through free speech and open debate, wherever we land. I certainly don’t want Larry Fink who runs a trillion dollar asset management firm at BlackRock or the CEO of Goldman Sachs, from the declarations they make from the mountain tops of Davos, to be the ones who have a disproportionate say.
That is not America. That is not the country my parents came halfway across the world to join. It is not the country I want to see America become. And that’s a big part of the case I lay out in “Woke, Inc.”
Mr. Jekielek: Speaking of BlackRock, that’s a very interesting case study because on the one hand, BlackRock has massive investment in China. There’s a lot of divestment happening, as you see these IPOs basically being crushed, arguably stealing potentially billions of dollars from U.S. investors.
BlackRock is doubling down and investing even more heavily in China. I’ve heard it from a reputable authority that it’s over a hundred million dollars that Larry Fink gets himself for managing Chinese stocks. It’s incredible to learn that BlackRock is so central to this whole stakeholder capitalism model.
Mr. Ramaswamy: It is. One of my strongly held views is that the American system actually works pretty well when the American people actually know what’s going on. But here the system of asset management and capital allocation in our country is now so opaque that if people actually knew what was going on, their blood would boil, but they just don’t know it.
BlackRock is a trillion dollar plus investment firm, arguably one of the largest, if not the largest asset manager in the United States, potentially in the world, depending on how you define it. And yet people whose pension fund money, people whose savings are invested in BlackRock’s funds, are having their own shares, the shares that they own under their name, voted by BlackRock in ways that completely defy their own moral values.
BlackRock uses its seat at the investment table to be able to say that the companies in investing must abide by the standards of its Sustainability Accounting Standards Board on matters ranging from racial justice to diversity to quotas to environmental change or climate change.
They’re using their position in the marketplace to flex their muscle, not just in the marketplace of products—which I’m okay with, that’s how capitalism works—but also in the marketplace of ideas. And Larry Fink is treating the assets of the other people to whom he is a fiduciary—he owes them the highest possible duty—he is able to betray that and instead use it to foist his views on the companies that he’s investing in, and concomitantly the society that he’s a part of.
It is a real violation of basic democratic principles, and also a violation of basic fiduciary principles. And to top it off, while preaching about injustice and implicitly waxing eloquent about the so-called ESG or environmental social governance movement here in the United States, doesn’t say a peep as he gets a charter to do business in China and actually lobbies on behalf of China in the United States for companies to be able to have differential listing standards in the U.S. if they’re Chinese.
These kinds of actors who act as the man behind the curtain, pulling the strings, like this is a puppet master game. They’re responsible for this crisis of institutional mistrust permeating the United States because our institutional leaders have given the public very little reason to believe any of what they have to say. They’re constantly manipulating the public.
If he was pushing anything other than an ESG progressive agenda, many people would be coming after him for the kinds of claims he’s able to make about superior performance for ESG investing and the kinds of things that he says. And yet, because it is dressed up in the veneer of the modern, progressive dogma—and because by the way, they’re quite adept at placing their senior alumni, the Biden administration are basically infiltrated by BlackRock and the likes of BlackRock—they end up being celebrated and even getting favorable regulatory treatment instead.
This is how crony capitalism 2.0 works. Crony capitalism, at one point, was really simple. Goldman Sachs was a master of this game, effectively using some combination of lobbying dollars and placing their alumni in seats of governmental power to win favors in return. Pretty simple, it’s crony capitalism 1.0.
But crony capitalism 2.0 is actually a lot more complicated. It’s actually a bilateral relationship between government and the private sector where certain members of the private sector are able to capture government and to be able to use that to generate a competitive advantage. But government actors now are using those private companies to be able to do through the back door, what they can’t do directly through the front door. So they’re scratching each other’s backs.
I lay out numerous cases of this, ranging from Big Tech censorship to the so-called climate pledge that represents features of the Green New Deal that they couldn’t pass through Congress, that they’re now implementing through banks that are refusing to lend to projects that might have otherwise run afoul of the Green New Deal.
This is the unique challenge of today, this new marriage of big government and big business. Worst of all, they blow this new brand of woke smoke to cover it up with the veneer of progressivism so that people can’t actually see what’s going on.
I personally think that both liberals and conservatives need to wake up to the fact that the biggest threat to liberty and prosperity in this country is not just a big government alone. It might have been in 1980. It is not today. The biggest threat to liberty and prosperity, in my opinion, is this new marriage of big government and big business that is far more powerful than either one alone, because it can do what each can not on its own.
That is far more scary than what Thomas Hobbes envisioned 400 years ago. It is far more frightening than even what our founding fathers envisioned 250 years ago. It is this new woke industrial complex that is a new Leviathan, that is one of the most powerful forces we have seen in modern American history.
Neither liberals nor conservatives are really willing to do anything about it. Liberals are duped into submission because they love the progressive causes that this new industrial complex is pushing. But conservatives, many of them certainly conventional old school Republicans, look the other way and recite slogans they memorized in 1980s saying that the free market can do no wrong—without recognizing that that free market, when it’s co-mingled with government, does not exist today. So both sides are actually duped into submission.
The heart of the new conservative movement in particular in this country needs to revolve around the idea that we have to recognize what that new threat is and be able to revise our old dogmas or even come up with new ones that are able to meet and pinpoint that unique problem today.
As I say, we’ve defended the castle of capitalism from the front door for 40 years, without realizing that the castle was invaded through the back door by forces ranging from the woke progressive Left to the Communist Party of China.
What we need to do is not pretend like we’re still in the idyllic 1980s, when you defend that castle from the front door and look the other way. Neither can the solution be to just burn the whole castle of capitalism down, as I think some newly nascent wings of the populist conservative movement all want to do.
The right answer is to figure out how we sterilize that castle, but without burning the whole thing down. I don’t really see anybody stepping up to do that. That’s a big part of what I believe. At least I did my best to step up with the book with some of the solutions that I offer.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to go back to this idea that we touched on at the beginning. You argue that having corporations be solely focused on making money—which from a lot of people’s perspective is actually the problem—the counterintuitive solution to the problem is to get them back to focusing on that. Break that down for me.
Mr. Ramaswamy: Sure, yes. The case for stakeholder capitalism is, in my opinion, compelling at its core, even though I disagree with it. It’s that at the inception of the corporation, there was a grand bargain where society gave corporations these great benefits, like limited liability, would say that shareholders are not liable for the acts or even debts of the corporation. That’s a great gift that society bestowed on corporate shareholders.
And in return society made an ask to say that implicitly, you have to take societal interest into account when making decisions, not just maximizing profit for your shareholders.
Milton Friedman never responded to that claim. Milton Friedman was an advocate of the classical shareholder model. Yet he never said anything about those great gifts of limited liability that society bestowed upon corporations. That’s what makes the stakeholder capitalist view so compelling by comparison. Well, I finished up the work that Milton Friedman never finished 50 years ago. And that was to provide an answer to that charge.
What I say is through a careful review of corporate law over the last couple of centuries, through a careful review of the American context of corporate law and corporate history in particular, [we can] identify the fact that there was a grand bargain at the inception of the American corporation, but it wasn’t an implicit one. It wasn’t an unspoken one.
It was an explicit one, an explicit grand bargain. It was that in return for these great gifts of limited liability and other related gifts that would create really powerful corporations, we’re going to make an ask in return, but it’s not implicit. It is explicit. It is that corporate boards look after maximizing profit for their shareholders, not to protect those shareholders, not just to protect those shareholders, certainly, but to protect the rest of American society from corporate overreach outside the sphere of the market.
We said, “If we were going to create a Frankensteinian monster that was so powerful that it was going to create a monster far more powerful than what any individual outside of the corporation would be able to wheel in without the corporate gifts, then you better stay in your cage. You better stay in your lane in the sphere of the market, rather than roaming free over other institutions that span American democracy.” That was the grand bargain.
And so to me, when corporations are able to use their cloaks of immunity, their special class of corporate privileges, to be able to wield power, not just in the market, but in the democratic marketplace of ideas, that is actually the greatest abuse of corporate power of all.
That is the one that both liberals and conservatives ought to be equally worried about because it can turn on both of them on a dime. Today it happens to be disfavored in conservatives, but that’s beside the point. On principle, we ought to be adjudicating our most fundamental questions through free speech and open debate in our democracy.
Mr. Jekielek: Of course, you talk about Big Tech as actually having that scenario that you just described even to the next level, with an extra set of immunities, and an extra set of benefits.
Mr. Ramaswamy: That’s right. That’s right. And a lot of my solutions begin with identifying the ways in which—you think we are operating in a free market? We’ll actually government regulation has actually created a lot of these special classes of corporate privileges that allow us to participate in anything but a free market.
Big tech, for example, enjoys Section 230 immunity, which says that if you remove otherwise constitutionally protected speech as a tech company or an internet company, you are immunized from any liability in state courts, including for state non-discrimination statutes, and for political discrimination.
You’re immune from liability because you happen to be an internet company because of this quirky law that was passed in 1996 called the Telecommunications Decency Act or the Communications Decency Act.
Well, guess what? If corporate America, or a segment of corporate America benefits from a special class of federal immunity, then when it’s acting in coordination with the government—as I believe these social media companies are today, and there’s increasing evidence of that, a lot of which I lay out in the book—then if it’s just state action in disguise, the Constitution still applies.
The government cannot use these companies to do through the back door what it cannot directly do through the front door under the Constitution. And one of the things I argue for is saying that, in that case, if you’re gonna give these companies Section 230 immunity, it comes with strings attached, namely the same constraints as the federal government.
They will be bound by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Normally the first amendment only applies to public actors, not private actors. That’s great when the private actors are actually behaving as private actors.
But when the private actors are in bed with the government, doing the bidding of the government, censoring content that government does not want to see, taking orders and threats from them, and by the way, is immunized by the government by this special statute called Section 230, then in that case, you can’t have it both ways.
Either you operate as a real private company without that special form of immunity, or you operate as a private company in the way these private companies are in bed with the government. But in that case, they’re bound by the same constraints as government as well, because we cannot live in a society where the government dispatches private agents to do what the government cannot do through the front door.
Mr. Jekielek: Since we’re here, I want to cover this, because this was also really interesting. You basically argue that trying to use antitrust law to reign in Big Tech is actually playing right into the Big Tech playbook.
Mr. Ramaswamy: That is, and it’s really counterintuitive. A lot of Republicans are falling for the trick because what antitrust law is supposed to protect against is the use of market power to beget more market power, to gouge consumers for price, to charge them a higher price than they otherwise would pay, and to be able to use market power to achieve market extortion. That’s the kind of problem that you might have had a century or two ago with large corporate behemoths.
The problem is that, and it may be a good thing, today’s Silicon Valley titans in the United States are doing the opposite. They’re actually making more and more of their products available for free, for very low cost, a diverse consumer choice of products. Those are all good things.
That’s also part of the reason why they’re able to run circles around regulators when they’re pressed on the basis of antitrust, because at the end of the day, they’re not actually using their market power to get more market power. These guys already have more money than God.
What they really care about is now using that market power and their money to be able to exercise power that they or any other corporation in human history would not have wielded, which is actually the power to determine what is and isn’t acceptable in the bounds of discourse in our public society at large, in the public square and in our democracy.
That’s actually the real and most dangerous monopoly of all. It is not a monopoly of products. It is a monopoly of ideas. It is not a product cartel. It is an ideological cartel.
If you break up four big companies into 40 small companies, if those 40 small companies still adhere to the same ideological dogma, as I believe they would—you could even look at startups in Silicon Valley, small venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, large venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, they almost all adhere to that same ideological dogma. That’s actually an ideological cartel, which punishes the defector, but that’s not something that antitrust law is actually set up to police.
That’s a sort of false lightning rod that Big Tech has actually set up, sort of like Br’er Rabbit, pretending to be scared of being thrown into the patch only because he wants to be thrown into the patch. That’s where Big Tech’s relationship to antitrust laws were actually the real problem.
It’s the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey effectively creating a monarchical corporatocracy that displaces democracy in determining the outcomes of elections or how elections can be swayed through what they do and don’t allow for open discussion on the internet.
It ranges from the Hunter Biden laptop story last year to the open discussion about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. As of nearly six months ago, you could have said on Facebook that this comes from a lab in China and you would have been censored, you would have been deactivated, you would have been kicked off the platform. Yet today that’s now the predominant theory for where this virus came from.
That is a betrayal of democracy. It is a betrayal of the scientific method. It is a betrayal of the pursuit of truth itself, and that makes these companies the most powerful companies in the history of humankind.
They’re the modern equivalent of the Dutch East India Company in Europe, which had its own militia, and had its own currency. It reminds me of Facebook’s aspirations for cryptocurrency. But it could not control what people thought or what people discussed, and yet that’s exactly what Google and Facebook and Twitter are able to do today.
American corporate law was built on the idea that for all of these corporate privileges that we give you, to spawn an industrial revolution and then the second and third version of it, we did it with an explicit demand that you stay in your lane in the marketplace, but now we’ve created the Dutch East India Companies on steroids in modern Silicon Valley.
It’s going to be really hard to put that genie back in the bottle. Our best chance of doing it is through recognizing that state-action-like relationship behind closed doors which we need to disentangle.
A lot of the policy solutions that I lay out the book could be the beginning of a new movement that at least restores the balance of power, to be able to determine what ought to be decided through our democracy versus what ought to be decided through the market.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned that so many of these companies would have the same ideological orientation because the people being hired into these companies have this woke ideological orientation. You describe that it functions like a kind of secular religion in the vein of what Professor John McWhorter has been saying, and is in fact is writing a book on that as we speak.
You even get to the point where—I think it’s the in LA Times—Larry Elder running for governor was described as the black face of white supremacy, an unbelievably preposterous claim. Yet for the people advocating for this ideology, and I think you described this, he’s a kind of apostate of the ideology. He convincingly argues against it. It makes him the target of a particular level of ire reserved only for such people.
Mr. Ramaswamy: Yes, exactly. Wokeness is colloquially a religion, and everything we think about a religion, except that it lacks a path to redemption. There are certain words you can’t say, certain clothes you can’t wear, cultural appropriation, and certain apologies you must recite. There’s an excommunication process once you have sinned. Ultimately it actually views the worst type of sinner not as the person who actually never belonged to the religion, but the person who once did, but then became an apostate, and is guilty of apostasy, often the greatest sin.
J.K. Rowling, who was hailed as the woke hero when she came out and said the Dumbledore was gay, suddenly decided that she stood for feminism over transgender militancy. She suddenly was now a pariah receiving a special vengeance from the newly transgender-obsessed woke movement.
That describes, colloquially, how we can see the many of the ways in which woke ideology is reducible to the tenants of modern religion. It’s no coincidence that it arises at a time where conventional religion is on the decline and conventional faith is on decline.
When people lose faith, they don’t lose the ability to experience faith, they ultimately relocate that faith-based impulse to something else. Even if it’s not towards a faith in God, it’s towards the faith in a new church. That’s what the church of wokeism represents, or the church of diversity in many institutions today represents.
However, we may debate that colloquially. Wokeness is something different than the works of John McWhorter and others—I cite him and others in the book, and I make my own arguments as to why wokeness meets the test of a religion—but the unique feature of this book is that I actually make the argument of how this woke religion meets the Supreme Court’s test for what counts as a religion, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
And that comes with benefits for the woke movement, by the way. So if somebody is in school and want to express themselves or say something on their own time that involves intersex theories of intersectionality, they can’t be fired for it. I’m okay with that, but it also means that employers cannot force their employees to bend the knee to this religion, any more than they can to any other religion.
Because when Title VII Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination on the basis of religion, it doesn’t just mean you can’t discriminate against employees for their religion, it also means that an employer cannot force their religion down the throats of their employees. If wokeness meets the Supreme Court’s test for religion, as I argued extensively in the book that it does, secular humanism has been deemed by the Supreme Court to be a religion.
Creativity, a religion that professes white supremacy, has actually been deemed by the Supreme Court to be a religion. Well, if white supremacy is a religion, then the anti-white supremacy woke culture ought to be a religion too. And for all the reasons I more rigorously and legally lay out in the book, that means that employers cannot do what most employers across the country in large corporate settings are doing today, which is to force their employees to bow down to the new DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] agenda, which has all the trappings of modern religion without actually being held to account for it under Title VII of our civil rights statute.
So those are actually some actionable steps that I lay out that people could take today. To be clear, I lay out a policy solution that’s even cleaner. We should add political belief and political speech right up there next to race, sex, religion, and national origin in the Civil Rights Act. To say that if you can’t discriminate against somebody or fire somebody or de-platform somebody just because they’re black or gay or Muslim or white or Jewish or Christian or whatever, you shouldn’t be able to discriminate against somebody just because they’re an outspoken conservative, either.
Yet that’s happening every day in this country. It’s rampant. If it can happen to the 45th president of United States, it can happen to anybody. There’s a policy solution we ought to bring to bear, which is to make political belief and political speech, a protected class, just like race, sex, religion, and national origin.
I’m not holding my breath to see happen from either the Democrats, or the Republicans for that matter, who I think are in many cases too spineless to actually stand for a solution that ultimately makes life more difficult for their historical brethren and big business that used to fund the Republican party. A more realistic solution is that people can actually take their case to court if somebody was fired, as we saw last year, for wearing a Trump hat at a Virginia dockyard or if somebody was fired from Google for expressing personal perspectives on why there was a fewer number of female engineers in the engineering department that was different than Google’s explanation for why—they actually have a case in court and could be suing these companies based on the legal theories that I offer in the book.
Mr. Jekielek: This is a kind of a cynical marriage, the corporate side and the woke side viewing each other as useful idiots until they gain more power, and then they can dispense with the other. But there is this element, like in Silicon Valley, where so many of the people that are staffers, managers, or perhaps even founders and CEOs actually do subscribe to this.
Mr. Ramaswamy: That’s right. There’s two versions of this woke capitalist philosophy. One is the cynical, inauthentic, scammy kind, that’s like 75 per cent of it. Then there is the 25 per cent that is actually authentic.
The scammy kind is effectively born out of the 2008 financial crisis. After the 2008 crisis, what happened was that corporations were the bad guys in the eyes of the old Left. And what the old Left wanted to do was to redistribute money from those wealthy corporations to poor people, to help poor people. Agree with it or not, that’s what the old Left wanted to do.
And this new woke Left actually said, “No, the real problem wasn’t economic injustice or poverty, it was racial injustice and misogyny and bigotry.” And that actually presented the opportunity of a generation for Wall Street, and for much of big businesses in our country to say, “If we just start saying the right things, applauding diversity and inclusion, putting token minorities on boards, musing about the racially disparate impact of climate change after flying in a private jet to Davos, this is actually a pretty good life. We could use this to put Occupy Wall Street up for adoption.”
That’s what they did. That was the arranged marriage. It’s really not even a marriage, it’s more like neutral prostitution. The net result was the birth of this woke industrial complex, where the rest of corporate America followed suit.
It’s a lot easier for Coca-Cola to preach to their employees about how to be less white or to pontificate about a new voting law in Georgia—that makes it sound more like a Super PAC or a software manufacturer—that’s a lot easier to do than to contend with the impact of your own products on the nationwide epidemic of diabetes and obesity, including in the black community that they profess to care so much about.
It’s like United Airlines putting a quota system in for the number of pilots who were supposed to be in the cockpit being women or persons of color, while getting rid of the tests they once used for pilot competence. Or like Nike criticizing injustice here while saying nothing of its reliance on slave labor today and its Asian supply chain. This game just plays out repeatedly time and again. That’s the scammy kind. I put a lot of Wall Street in this category, and I put a lot of consumer-based goods companies in this category.
And there is that minority, though, as you were alluding to, that actually is authentically doing this not to make another buck, but to be able to exercise more power than they otherwise would have been able have without this model. I put someone like a Jack Dorsey in this category, where he has more money than most people can imagine, tens of billions of dollars. He doesn’t need another buck. He doesn’t care if Twitter makes another buck per share. Whatever it does, that doesn’t matter to him.
What does matter to him isn’t the amount of green pieces of paper he has from here on out, but it’s rather the scope of what green pieces of paper can buy. Now, that guy would never be elected in a century if he tried to run for federal office. But why do you need to run for federal office when you can actually exercise power indirectly by using your market power instead? ”I’m going to use my market power to decide what my conception of the good is and to make everybody else live by it.”
I actually began the book much more focused and much more critical of the scammy, cynical, first kind of stakeholder capitalism. I’m still critical of it. I still think that alone is a threat to democracy in its own way. But if I had to pick, actually the far scarier kind is ironically the authentic kind, because that’s actually what allows us to experience the true throes of dictatorship here in the modern United States.
One way to think about woke ideology itself is to look at the two most murderous ideologies of the 20th century; Communism, which ultimately took the battle of invisible class structures to a permanent warfare between people of different classes that related to each other on the basis of power relationships; and Nazism, which effectively took a deeply seated identity politics view of what your basic identity was determined by your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, and your genetically inherited characteristics.
If you merged the two what you get is wokeism. What you get out of that marriage isn’t just the toxic philosophy that’s born of Nazism and Marxism, which effectively is wokeism, the illegitimate stepchild of those two murderous philosophies from the last century which becomes the singularly murderous one in our current century. But you also get it through a model of corporatism that resembles a new form of fascism that subverts democracy and effectively pervades institutional life today.
I am curious about the Left’s obsession with white supremacy in the United States. I’ve lived in elite America, and I can’t remember the last person who believed in or professed white supremacy, the idea that white people are inherently superior to black or brown people. But I do think that nearly every institution, from our universities, to our schools, to our companies, to our philanthropies, to our non-profits, and to our military now does adhere to the wokedom.
That’s why I often argue that today woke supremacy is, counterintuitively, a much bigger threat to America than white supremacy—and not because white supremacy isn’t toxic. Of course it is, but there’s no serious person who’s in charge or holds any key of institutional power in America who is a self-professed white supremacist.
But you do have folks ranging from Larry Fink to CEOs of other major Wall Street firms, from Goldman Sachs to much of Silicon Valley, and to much of corporate America bending the knee to this new woke ideology. Ironically, that has become the new power structure, the invisible power structure that we need to wake up to, or to bring it full circle, and become woke to ourselves.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s interesting. This idea of white supremacy, it means something to you and I. But to the wokes, they’ve redefined it as something different and therefore they can believe that you and I just having this conversation would make us some kind of white supremacists.
Mr. Ramaswamy: I would make a very curious brand of white supremacist for those who are able to see the screen. You’re right, this new definition of white supremacy effectively says things like the institution of math is racist. The practice of two plus two equals four that you teach in schools, that’s racist because there’s racially inequitable outcomes.
It basically says that any institution or practice or method that results in racially disparate outcomes is by definition, inherently racist or a vestige of white supremacy. White supremacy isn’t about invidious attitudes from one person to another anymore, but about invidious systems that create inequitable outcomes between races.
Agree or not, that’s what they have to say. The net solution, and you don’t have to take it from me, is from the folks like Ibram Kendi who preach atop of the new woke church. They are the high priests of this new religion who say, and this is nearly an exact quote from his book, “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
Agree or not, that’s what he has to say. That’s the woke version of the solution. I come from the John Roberts school of thought where I say the best way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. That’s the fundamental question for people to make—do we think that heightened race consciousness and action on the basis of race consciousness is going to cause more or less racism in this country?
It’s going to cause more racism. It’s going to divide us as a country. It’s going to leave us worse off. It’s going to sacrifice the pursuit of excellence irrespective to the color of your skin, irrespective of your background, which defines what it means to be American. The woke vision is the opposite of that view.
Mr. Jekielek: You describe wokeism as this fusion of communism and Nazism. That’s very interesting. I haven’t heard that construction before. You must be talking about its murderous potential because we certainly haven’t seen it be murderous like it was in those regimes.
Mr. Ramaswamy: That’s right. Of course, not yet. And I hope we don’t get there. I do worry about what is the natural consequence of creating the right response to this. Okay, major league baseball wants to defect. Well, I’m worried we might then get two forms of baseball. Starbucks goes woke. Now we have black rifle coffee. You have two brands of pillows.
Once we have two economies, that gets closer to becoming the beginning of the end or the unraveling of the American experiment as we know it, because one of the roles of the private sector is to bring us together. That’s part of how capitalism tore down the caste system in India. It brings people together, irrespective of where they were born, irrespective of who their parents were, and irrespective of the color of their skin.
A divided body politic like ours today depends on these apolitical sanctuaries to bring us together. The baseball stadiums of this country, and the football stadiums of this country used to provide those sanctuaries. But once we lose that, we lose one of the foundations of democracy itself, because democracy depends on the apolitical spaces that can otherwise bring us together, even if we’re politically divided in the democratic sphere of our lives.
That’s actually one of the things that worries me most about the infection of the private sector by these political values. Whether you’re on the Left or the Right, I worry that by the end of it, when the Right then decides, their options may be limited. “Okay, well, we’re going to use the same weapons in return to create our own version of this or our own version of that, or go out some consumer boycott.”
That might be a great opportunity if this were a show of “Shark Tank,” I would say that’s probably a reasonable market opportunity to bet on if you have a half competent conservative entrepreneur that wants to jump on that opportunity to create an alt-version of whatever just went woke most recently. There’s a real market for that.
But I worry about what that means for America in the end. Is that going to leave us on the first of our steps towards dare I say it, a civil war? That’s what we saw in the first Civil War in this country actually, two economies that drifted apart. We require one economy to be able to hold us together. That’s one of the things I worry about when I see the politicization of our private sector.
Mr. Jekielek: Vivek, frankly, I have the same worry, deeply. There’s a famous quote, “The issue is not the issue. The issue is the revolution.” We’ve heard this a lot. In all of these Marxian systems that we’ve seen over the years, the issue is the revolution. The division is actually a major part of the purpose of the ideology, even if many of the people participating in it don’t fully realize that is the case.
Mr. Ramaswamy: You’re spot on. I heard a really dark joke, but it reveals the way in which foreign actors have recognized that very fact, to be able to divide us from within. I talked earlier on the show about how China is using wokeism. By the way, they even have a Chinese word for wokeism, baizuo. They’re using that to divide us, using that as a kink in our armor to divide us from within, by getting corporations to criticize injustice here, without saying a peep about injustice over there and deflecting accountability for their human rights abuses.
I talked about that earlier, The joke was that let’s say that Mao Zedong suddenly wakes up from the dead and returns to China in his second coming, and he’s talking to a farmer in the countryside. He asks the farmer, “Oh, do we have a food shortage? Do we have enough food for our people?” And the farmer first tells him, “Oh, yes, the food shortage ended a long time ago. Now we have so much food. We have too much food that our people are actually starting to get sick from diabetes.”
And Mao Zedong goes, “Oh, okay, very good. Very good. But weren’t we supposed to produce more steel than Britain within a few decades?” This is something that Mao Zedong actually laid out as part of his central plan as well. And they said, “Actually, even one of our provinces today alone produces more steel than all of the United Kingdom put together.”
And he says, “Okay, very good, very good. But most importantly, what about the Cultural Revolution led by the proletariat in the field? How is that going?” To that the modern Chinese farmer says, “Oh, we don’t do that anymore. We outsourced that to America.”
There’s something dark in that joke, but that actually reflects the essence of what’s going on. Ironically, communist China has embraced our capitalist worldview, the American pursuit of excellence, and the inner American animal to be number one. They’ve now imported that as their own and have exported their modern wokeism which is really the avatar of the old school Chinese communism—the Red Guard was effectively sent over here to undermine us from within.
And I’m sorry to say it is working masterfully for them. This becomes the beginning of the end of American greatness and the American empire, unless we’re able to actually turn that around and harness and rediscover our own culture of excellence, our own culture of the unapologetic pursuit of excellence through our system of free enterprise, and through our democracy in ways that require seeing past the superficial demands of the woke movement.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s actually a very dark joke and fascinating and on point. I would argue that they imported the version of crony capitalism at best. This would be actually be quite an interesting discussion for another time. As we close up here, I do want to hear from you a little more about why you identify China as this particular external threat that’s harnessed the baizuo (白左), as you describe it.
Mr. Ramaswamy: So they have something that the USSR never had, and that is our own companies and institutions in their pocket. Because while operating under the name of a communist regime, they actually co-opted capitalism and actually imported capitalism as their way of being able to generate growth.
Now it’s not actually our idyllic version of capitalism, but it’s something very different than the USSR ever embraced. They’re allowing people to become multi-billionaires. They’re happy to embrace people who are able to harness human selfishness as a way of amping up productivity.
That’s allowed them to generate enough wealth from poor policies from policymakers in both Republican and Democratic administrations over the last 30 years. They made the mistake of thinking that by engaging China, by lending them money, by effectively sending them investment that we were going to somehow change their way of being. We actually got it wrong.
They used that initial investment to beget more wealth for themselves, and they now command enough market power to be able to build a great Chinese wall. Any company or institution that criticizes China, you can’t get in. But if you actually criticize or undermine the United States, they’re rolling out the red carpet.
You see that with Airbnb, criticizing injustice in the United States and putting a nice little statement about #BlackLivesMatter on their Instagram, but that just builds trust with progressive consumers. That’s unearned handover data that Airbnb now literally hands over to the Chinese communist party, private messages between people using their platform, geolocationally, they’re handing it over to the CCP as a condition for, and in my opinion, a dirty bribe for being able to do business in China.
And it’s not just one company. That is just how this game is played. The way in which they have turned our own companies into Trojan horses to undermine us from within is the flip side of the modern Battle of Troy. They’ve sent the Trojan horse in. Like a virus, they’ve infected America and America is the host of the virus. Modern capitalism has turned into the vector.
What we need to figure out is how we ultimately turn this ship around when actually their own weapons have already made it inside the mothership. The question is what do we about it. That’s something that the USSR could never have managed to do. If you had the USSR criticizing social injustice in the United States, without saying a peep about Stalin killing millions where he is, that would have elicited laughter and skepticism. I don’t think the Ford Motor Company in 1960 or 1970 would have gone along with it.
Whereas today, Nike, Disney, the NBA, BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, Apple, these companies are just going along with it and playing the game in a way that’s actually bolstering China at our expense. The scariest part about it is, that’s not happening on two sides of the Pacific. The battle’s already being waged on the home front. And what we do about it is a lot more complicated by way of a solution.
Mr. Jekielek: As we finish up here, you actually have a very interesting idea about how to create a common U.S, identity again, and this is through civic engagement. You argue for mandatory civic engagement. I find that a pretty fascinating idea. I want you to talk about that, but also how would that idea not become something that would again be co-opted by wokeism? You could have all these people whose civic engagement would be going out indoctrinating other people with wokeism.
Mr. Ramaswamy: So you’re asking the right question. That’s one of the things I talk about in the book. The solution here has to be one that dilutes the woke agenda to irrelevance. We can’t just practice cancel culture in reverse and use the tools of intellectual terrorism back against itself.
Think about Jihadism in the 2000s. I hope we don’t see a new rise of it now in the 2020s. One thing that makes Jihadism very difficult to fight is that if you adopt the methods of terrorists, killing civilians, and killing innocent children, that might be easier in the short run. The other side has no compunctions about doing that. Yet we ultimately lose our sense of identity about who we really are if we adopt those methods as our own.
The same goes for fighting intellectual terrorism. Part of the reason I’m skeptical of things like critical race theory bans in schools is that I don’t think we should be talking about banning an ideology. I think we should focus more on what we do want to teach, rather than what we don’t want to teach. I think we should focus on transparency.
In the schools, by the way, I’m a big fan of transparency legislation that says that if you’re teaching in schools, you better put it on the website. And if you’re ashamed to put it on the website, it probably means there’s something wrong with it. I actually even think that we ought to be having a conversation about cameras in the classroom. That alone, combined with the school choice, would actually kill the critical race theory problem in school as we know it.
We have to be really careful not to co-op the methods of the other side and use them in reverse. Because at the end of the day, we might just join the woke church under a different name, the cancel culture church under a different name without realizing that we had done it.
One of the ways I talk about doing that is weaving civic service into primary education. For example, taking the institution of summer break itself, you don’t have to change the thing about life structure. You don’t have to change a thing about infringing on the liberty of free adults, because taking children to school is already mandatory. But let’s weave into school the component of civic service, of actually serving your country.
I’m increasingly drawn to the idea of including some military component to that, or at least military preparedness or a military education component. Look at what happened even in recent weeks where the 13 troops, 11 of whom were Marines, were killed on a humanitarian mission. What makes them so different than the rest of us or the people who went the day after the most recent hurricane in Louisiana, to be able to lift people out of that catastrophe? What makes those national guardsman so different than the rest of us?
I’m perfectly fine living in a world where certain people have more green pieces of paper than someone else, because they did better in our system of capitalism and free enterprise or they worked harder or even got luckier. I’m okay with that. That’s part of what capitalism and exceptionalism is all about.
But I think that our civic duties ought to be shared equally, and that applies to serving this country. It even applies to fulfilling our civic duty as in recent events, such as bringing our Afghan allies back home. We do have a civic duty to stand by the people who stood by us when we were in their land and bring them back. We have a civic duty to stand them up here, but I don’t think we have a civic duty to only bring them to places like Ohio or Wisconsin. Let’s bring them to Beverly Hills, let’s bring them to Martha’s Vineyard, let’s bring them in the Hamptons, and let’s bring them to Silicon Valley.
Our civic duties ought to be shared equally. That’s something we can instill starting at a young age that builds solidarity around the idea of a shared American identity, rather than a fractious group identity, which is the woke way.
Now there are challenges to implementation, one of your questions pointed that out. Reviving that shared Americanism and that shared American identity dilutes the woke agenda to irrelevance. That ought to be the defining calling card of where we go here as a country. If our last decade was about our decade of celebrating our diversity and our differences, so be it, it’s done.
Now we need to move on to a decade where we revive our shared sense of who we are as a people across that diversity. That’s what I care about doing well.
Mr. Jekielek: Vivek Ramaswamy, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Ramaswamy: Thank you for having me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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