Woke capital is perhaps the least visible and most dangerous iteration of wokeness that has pervaded the nation’s institutions, and the right has a daring strategy to take it on — do the same thing that has failed time after time against Big Tech.
Vivek Ramaswamy, entrepreneur and author of “Woke Inc.,” has teamed up with libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel to create a new fund manager that will emphasize profit over politics, persuading companies to stay out of contentious issues like environmentalism and social justice. The new venture, which has already raised $20 million, will be headquartered in Ohio — Ramaswamy’s home state and a recent bastion of working class populism after Trump’s double win in 2016 and 2020, as well as J.D. Vance’s victory in the state’s Senate primary.
The firm, called Strive, was created to challenge BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street Corp., which manage $20 trillion in assets. These fund managers have repeatedly pressured companies to adopt climate change initiatives and adopt explicitly racial policies.
The very smart and enterprising people behind Strive have correctly identified the problem and have done a great service by calling attention to woke capital, but their solution is fundamentally flawed and stuck in the same “build your own” mindset that has plagued the conservative movement for the last decade.
BlackRock is the largest asset manager in the world, with over $10 trillion in assets under management, and has become the leader of the woke capital movement on Wall Street.
But few normal Americans aside from those deep into the finance world are watching BlackRock’s moves very closely and fewer still ever see any headlines about them. A professor indoctrinating his students in gender ideology or a pundit saying something blatantly racist on air is flashy and usually gets ample attention on social media or conservative outlets. Even when companies like Disney, Delta or Coca-Cola take overt political stances they are usually exposed and called out for it.
But BlackRock is allowed to work from the shadows and subtly influence other public-facing companies to go woke while receiving minimal scrutiny itself. Its relative obscurity to the American public along with its gargantuan financial power make it one of the most dangerous entities pushing woke ideology.
In 2020 Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, proclaimed in his annual letter to CEOs that the firm “will be increasingly disposed to vote against management and board directors when companies are not making sufficient progress on sustainability-related disclosures and the business practices and plans underlying them.”
He also warned, “awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”
Fink’s 2021 letter called the 2020 George Floyd protests, which caused billions of dollars in damage and destroyed numerous businesses, “historic” and demanded that companies’ “disclosures on talent strategy fully reflect your long-term plans to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion, as appropriate by region.”
In April 2021, BlackRock announced that it would undertake a “racial audit” of its business to review its diversity and inclusion practices as well as study how the firm may have abetted racial inequalities within the financial system.
Later that year, it joined with Vanguard, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and others to craft a questionnaire on social justice for governments to fill out before new municipal bond deals are agreed to. Governments are asked to provide information on their policing procedures, the racial makeup of the government workforce and what they are doing to combat racial injustice.
Obviously, Ramaswamy and Thiel are on to something. BlackRock, Vanguard and other firms that have embraced the woke capital ethos have inordinate influence over companies and even governments.
The vast majority of Americans do not want corporations taking up political causes. Almost 90% of likely general election voters said they were likely to stop using the services of a company that openly advocated for a political cause they disagreed with, according to a recent poll from the Trafalgar Group.
Thiel and Ramaswamy propose to simply build their own version of BlackRock and outcompete it under the principles of free enterprise. A certain section of the conservative movement considers this a suitable solution to just about any political problem.
But the “build your own” mentality assumes that the pure, libertarian “free marketplace of ideas” still exists. In reality, massive corporations that have swung left in recent years have more than enough institutional power to crush any ideological competition.
Just look at what has happened every time conservatives try to make their own social media.
No one has dared challenge Facebook, and every attempt to create a conservative version of Twitter has either been ruthlessly crushed or has been unable to break into the mainstream.
After former President Donald Trump was removed from Twitter in January 2021, Parler shot up to number one on the App store under the premise that it was a conservative answer to Twitter. It was soon removed from the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store and Amazon Web Services, effectively crippling the site before it could pose a serious threat to Twitter. Parler eventually returned to Amazon, but it completely lost its momentum.
Other conservative sites like Gab, Gettr and Truth Social act as closed ecosystems with little to no hope of attracting anyone other than the most die hard right-wingers.
The fact that Big Tech completely controls the distribution system for apps, primarily through the App Store and Play Store, allows them to act as gatekeepers and strangle any competition.
The same can be said about woke capital. BlackRock undoubtedly has more than enough institutional power and influence to put up every conceivable roadblock to a conservative competitor. The firm almost certainly has the ear of like-minded government bureaucrats who could bury a conservative firm in investigations and red tape.
The main problem with a conservative version is that it is conservative to begin with. Both Wall Street and the agencies that regulate it are left-leaning, and potential clients know that. So, they’re less likely to do business even before BlackRock puts on the pressure.
A conservative asset management firm will not find a level playing field on Wall Street and playing BlackRock’s game by their rules will get conservatives nowhere.
The right has a few options. They could attempt the long strategy of infiltration that the left used to take over every institution in the country, but that takes years that the conservative movement doesn’t have and the left has an iron grip on the education system that trains future Wall Street tycoons.
The most realistic course is to use the full power of government, when conservatives retake Congress and the White House, to overhaul the regulatory system and put pressure on these massive asset management firms to become apolitical, if not conservative.
Lawmakers can ban these firms from pressuring companies to adopt their desired political stances and from doing business with a company or government based on its racial makeup. Companies could file complaints that BlackRock and others are pressuring them to adopt racial or environmental policies that they don’t agree with and have regulatory agencies investigate. Most companies don’t want to make an overt political stance, so use the power of the government to help them resist the coercion to do so.
Suggesting a government solution is usually verboten in the libertarian and moderate sectors of the Republican Party, the usual champions of the “build your own” mentality, but the luxury of having a choice has passed. If conservatives don’t act swiftly and decisively to curb the power of woke capital, the movement may be destroyed by the one thing it has traditionally defended: Wall Street.
Hayden Daniel is the opinion editor at the Daily Caller.