Opinion

QUAY: ‘Go Woke, Go Broke’? Not So Fast

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Grayson Quay News Editor
Font Size:

The phrase “go woke, go broke” has become widespread on the American right. Surely, we tell ourselves, a class of elites educated in social justice absurdities will eventually collapse through sheer incompetence.

The New York Times ran a story Monday about how Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) ideas are infiltrating top business schools. The old Milton Friedman idea that corporations should worry solely about maximizing profits for shareholders is falling by the wayside. Instead, students are reading Vladimir Lenin, talking about postcolonial theory and exploring critiques of capitalism. 

It’s tempting to claim that these ESG-brained Wharton grads will inevitably lose out to their less woke competitors, that practicality will trump ideology. But top business schools aren’t going woke out of the goodness of their hearts. If Harvard Business School is teaching ESG, it’s because companies like McKinsey want to hire people who know ESG. (RELATED: It’s Time To Pull Back The Curtain On The Left’s Radical ESG Movement)

Woke students from elite institutions don’t suffer rude awakenings once they enter the “real world.” Instead, they become the “real world,” at least within their own elite circles. In many institutions, they already have.

The purpose of elite education is to make you conversant with other elites, not to teach any particular skill. “Narrowness at the top is not necessarily a bad thing … In battle, when the heat is on, one needs a shorthand. A shared language and understanding,” British Prime Minister Anthony Eden says in a second-season episode of “The Crown.” 

Britain provides a perfect example. In the 18th and 19th centuries, an island the size of Alabama became master of the world. Its empire stretched around the globe, comprising a quarter of humanity at its height. Its economy became an industrial powerhouse. Its navy ruled the oceans and stamped out the slave trade. Its military won dozens of international conflicts.

And who were the elites who kept this empire running? What did these military officers, colonial officials, titans of finance and members of Parliament study in school? They certainly didn’t study colonial administration or political science. They studied Greek and Latin. A less practical course of study could hardly be imagined. 

According to one history of Oxford University, that was the whole point. Classics were a “mind-sharpener,” and it was considered impossible to “combine, to any considerable extent, mind-sharpening with the acquisition of useful knowledge.” Any talk of “practical applications” was “viewed with suspicion.”

And yet, this impractical education produced some of the most effective elites in world history. My point isn’t that woke nonsense sharpens minds as effectively as classics. It’s that practicality doesn’t matter. If reading Homer and Virgil can prepare you to run the East India Company, then studying ESG and Critical Race Theory (CRT) can prepare you to run Goldman Sachs. 

Disgraced former crypto billionaire and “effective altruism” advocate Sam Bankman-Fried was dead right when he described the “dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shiboleths [sic] and so everyone likes us.” It might be dumb, but it’s how you get ahead.

Picture it this way. It’s 1873. You’re up for a promotion to run a lucrative trading post in the Punjab. The administrator interviewing you quotes half a line of Ovid in Latin. You finish the quote. Jolly good. Our type of chap, wot wot. You get the job. Fast forward to 2022. Some hedge fund boss keeps mentioning “equity” and “sustainability” during your interview. In response you say something about “reproductive justice.” You’ve proven that you’re a good culture fit. Same result.

The wokeness regime may collapse eventually, but there’s no guarantee that’ll happen anytime soon. Buckle up for the long haul.