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  Books   16 Sep 2023  Is the woke-industrial complex anti-merit and detrimental to growth?

Is the woke-industrial complex anti-merit and detrimental to growth?

THE ASIAN AGE. | VIVEK RAMASWAMY
Published : Sep 17, 2023, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Sep 17, 2023, 12:00 am IST

Once corporations discovered wokeness, the inevitable happened: they used it to make money

Woke, Inc.: Inside the Social Justice Scam by Vivek Ramaswamy. (Image: AA)
 Woke, Inc.: Inside the Social Justice Scam by Vivek Ramaswamy. (Image: AA)

There’s a new invisible force at work in the highest ranks of corporate America, one far more nefarious. It’s the defining scam of our time—one that robs you of not only your money but your voice and your identity.

The con works like a magic trick, summed up well by Michael Caine’s character in the opening monologue in Christopher Nolan’s movie The Prestige:

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called The Pledge. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. . . . The second act is called The Turn. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call The Prestige.
Financial success in twenty-first-century America involves the same simple steps. First, the Pledge: you find an ordinary market where ordinary people sell ordinary things. The simpler, the better.

Second, the Turn: you find an arbitrage in that market and squeeze the hell out of it. An arbitrage refers to the opportunity to buy something for one price and instantly sell it for a higher price to someone else.

If this were a book about how to get rich quick, I’d expound on these first two steps. But the point of this book is to expose the dirty little secret underlying the third step of corporate America’s act, its Prestige. Here’s how it works: pretend like you care about something other than profit and power, precisely to gain more of each.

All great magicians master the art of distraction—flashing lights, smoke, beautiful women on stage. Today’s captains of industry do it by promoting progressive social values. Their tactics are far more dangerous for America than those of the older robber barons: their do-good smoke screen expands not only their market power but their power over every other facet of our lives.

As a young twenty-first-century capitalist myself, the thing I was supposed to do was shut up and play along: wear hipster clothes, lead via practiced vulnerability, applaud diversity and inclusion, and muse on how to make the world a better place at conferences in fancy ski towns. Not a bad gig.

The most important part of the trick was to stay mum about it.

Now I’m violating the code by pulling back the curtain and showing you what’s really going on in corporate boardrooms across America.

Why am I defecting? I’m fed up with corporate America’s game of pretending to care about justice in order to make money. It is quietly wreaking havoc on American democracy. It demands that a small group of investors and CEOs determine what’s good for society rather than our democracy at large. This new trend has created a major cultural shift in America. It’s not just ruining companies. It’s polarising our politics. It’s dividing our country to a breaking point. Worst of all, it’s concentrating the power to determine American values in the hands of a small group of capitalists rather than in the hands of the American citizenry at large, which is where the dialogue about social values belongs. That’s not America, but a distortion of it.

Wokeness has remade American capitalism in its own image. Talk of being “woke” has morphed into a kind of catchall term for progressive identity politics today. The phrase “stay woke” was used from time to time by black civil rights activists over the last few decades, but it really took off only recently, when black protestors made it a catchphrase in the Ferguson protests in response to a police officer fatally shooting Michael Brown. These days, white progressives have appropriated “stay woke” as a general-purpose term that refers to being aware of all identity-based injustices. So while “stay woke” started as a remark black people would say to remind each other to be alert to racism, it would now be perfectly normal for white coastal suburbanites to say it to remind each other to watch out for possible microaggressions against, say, transgender people—for example, accidentally calling someone by their pre-transition name. In woke terminology, that forbidden practice would be called “deadnaming,” and “microaggression” means a small offense that causes a lot of harm when done widely.

If someone committed a microaggression against black transgender people, we enter the world of “intersectionality,” where identity politics is applied to someone who has intersecting minority identities and its rules get complicated. Being woke means waking up to these invisible power structures that govern the social universe.

Lost? You aren’t alone. Basically, being woke means obsessing about race, gender, and sexual orientation. Maybe climate change too. That’s the best definition I can give. Today more and more people are becoming woke, even though generations of civil rights leaders have taught us not to focus on race or gender. And now capitalism is trying to stay woke too.

Once corporations discovered wokeness, the inevitable happened: they used it to make money.

Consider Fearless Girl, a statue of a young girl that suddenly appeared one day in New York City to stare down the iconic statue of the Wall Street bull. It was apparently a challenge for Wall Street to promote gender diversity: the placard at Fearless Girl’s feet said, “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a differ ence.” Feminists cheered. The trick? “SHE” referred not only to Fearless Girl but to the Nasdaq-listed exchange-traded fund (ETF) that her commissioners, State Street Global Advisors, wanted people to buy. State Street was battling a lawsuit from female employees saying it paid them less than their male peers in the firm. Fearless Girl was a line item in an advertising budget.

But it’s not enough to spend money on a PR trick. No capitalist would applaud yet. You have to bring the money back. For its final act, its Prestige, State Street is suing the statue’s creator, Kristen Visbal, saying that by making three unauthorized reproductions of Fearless Girl Visbal damaged State Street’s global campaign in support of female leadership and gender diversity. A master class on the trick itself. Some feminists still adore Fearless Girl. I doubt many of them know about her ETF or the fees State Street charges on it. She now stands guard across from the New York Stock Exchange. Yes, SHE makes a difference—to the bottom line.

An essential part of corporate wokeness is this jujitsu-like move where big business has figured out that it can make money by critiquing itself. First, you start praising gender diversity. Next, you criticize Wall Street’s lack of it, even though you’re Wall Street. Finally, Wall Street somehow gets to be the leader in the fight against big corporations. It gets to become its own watchman and, even better, get paid to do it.

Sincere liberals get tricked into adulation by their love of woke causes. Conservatives are duped into submission as they fall back on slogans they memorized decades ago—something like “the market can do no wrong”—failing to recognise that the free market they had in mind doesn’t actually exist today. And poof! Both sides are blinded to the gradual rise of a twenty-first-century Leviathan far more powerful than what even Thomas Hobbes imagined almost four centuries ago.

Excerpted with permission from Woke, Inc.: Inside the Social Justice Scam by Vivek Ramaswamy

Woke, Inc.: Inside the Social Justice Scam
By Vivek Ramaswamy
Penguin
pp. 484; Rs 999/-

 

Tags: capitalism, vivek ramaswamy, corporate deception, wokeness, social justice scam, identity politics