In the sixth episode of High Noon, Inez Stepman speaks with two guests uniquely situated to enlighten listeners on the increasingly pressing problems posed by Big Tech companies and corporate America going “woke.”
Vivek Ramaswamy is an entrepreneur and author with incredible insights from the belly of the beast on political discrimination, “shareholder” capitalism, and how big business is invading what was once rightly considered the domain of democracy and self-government. Rachel Bovard is the policy director at the Conservative Partnership Institute with years of experience working in the Senate on issues related to censorship, privacy, and technology. She’s the author of numerous unfortunately prophetic essays in the last several years blowing the whistle on the dangers of a developing private social credit system in the U.S.
The episode tackles and brings clarity to situations like Big Tech political censorship, corporate boycotts and interference with state policies on culture war issues, and more.
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. Inviting interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future.
Welcome to High Noon, where we discuss controversial subjects with interesting people. Today, I’m pleased to welcome to the podcast two people whose work I’ve been following with a lot of interest for a while now. Rachel Bovard is the policy director at The Conservative Partnership Institute. Prior to that, she worked in the Senate for years, including as a legislative director for Senator Rand Paul. For the past several years though, she has been writing incisive and unfortunately prophetic essays on the influence of Big Tech giants and the increasing political power of corporate America more generally in outlets such as The Federalist, Claremont Institute’s The American Mind, and others.
Vivek Ramaswamy comes at many of the same questions with a totally different background. He’s the founder of Roivant Sciences, which, correct me if I’m wrong because I’m way out of my depth here, a company that seeks to reverse innovation stagnation in pharmaceuticals by finding ways to better manage and encourage risk during drug development. But he has used his success in the private sector and experience in the entrepreneurial world to blow the whistle on the encroachment of corporate power into spaces that previously were reserved for the operation of democracy.
His book, WOKE, INC.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam comes out in August, and he’s co-authored numerous op-eds on subjects like anti-trust, political discrimination and so-called shareholder capitalism in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. Welcome both of you to High Noon. So glad to have you.
Thanks for having us.
I’m glad to be here.
One of the reasons I wanted to have you both on the program together is that you have converged on so many of the same questions, but you’re coming from totally different backgrounds. To start off, could you each tell me, starting with Rachel, could you tell me how your interest and concern about corporate political power began? What put you on track to thinking about these questions, and frankly, to worry about the encroachment of corporate power into the political sphere?
Yeah, it’s a great question. And I get it a lot from people who look at my background as raised in this Libertarian political world, and they’re like, “You? You? Why are you worried about this?” And honestly, what started me down this path was, way back in 2013 when I was working in the Senate and the Edward Snowden leaks emerged, all kinds of interesting things came out of that, but one that caught my eye in particular was the PRISM program. And you may recall this was the National Security Administration working hand in glove with the country’s biggest tech companies, which had basically thrown open the back door to the country’s spy state, passing on our emails, our photographs, our voice recordings, everything that we had unwittingly given to Big Tech not thinking about even where it would end up.
And that was the first, I think, flashing red light for me, that perhaps this blend of corporate surveillance power working with massive government power was something that we should be concerned about. And so it was a threat I started to pull. And the more it unraveled, it became increasingly clear to me that these companies were just really unprecedented in their nature of control. Because we think about them as speech platforms, but they’re far more than that. They’re digital advertising companies, they change the way we think and speak. Google controls 90% of the search market in America, which filters information for the world.
And so that was the first instinct or push to me that there might be something more here, and I’ve just been falling down the rabbit hole, I think, ever since, really worried about corporate power merging with state power in really unprecedented ways.
Vivek, what about you? How did you get involved in all of this instead of happily counting your millions and enjoying your success?
Well, look, I’ll tell you a little about my journey in a second, about my background, which is that I began as a scientist, got into the world of biotech investing. Three years in and having always been science background person including investing, I then decided I wanted to go to law school and scratch an itch that I never fully scratched. So I spent three years in law school from 2010 to 2013, and that’s when I began to think about a lot of the issues that inform my perspective today. I then came back to the private sector in my job as an investor and left to found the company that you described.
But during my time as a CEO, I had a chance to be in a lot of settings that I hadn’t been exposed to before, elite retreats, corporate conferences hosted by elite investors in the United States. And one of the things that struck me was not just the extent to which a lot of people who were in the elite echelon of the investment community and the corporate community felt standing to determine how dollars were invested in the marketplace for goods and services and capital, but also the marketplace of ideas. I got a great lesson when I took a stand-up comedy course about a decade ago, which was, find something that annoys you, and at the heart of that is every comedy show.
And so, I took that to the realm of entrepreneurship, the thing that annoyed me about pharma was its inefficiency, that’s what allowed me to start a company. But the thing that annoyed me about this phenomenon was something different than what Milton Friedman had to say, because I didn’t think this was really actually making companies any less efficient. I didn’t think the ways in which CEOs were necessarily proclaiming their social values on a stage necessarily made them that much worse at running their company, which was the Friedman I critique from four decades ago that politics influencing business would make businesses less efficient, it was something else.
And as I iteratively reflected on the heart of what annoyed me about that, it was actually the reverse. It was the way in which the private sector, capitalism was actually going to infect democracy. And I don’t think anyone had really, as of when I started writing about this a year and a half ago, had really put their finger on that pulse. I think with the business roundtables change in its position in late 2019, I began to think about it, but I would say a year and a half, the way it’s unfolded since then into the expansion of corporate power into the marketplace of ideas, wasn’t necessarily something I even foresaw when I started writing about these issues a year and a half ago, and that’s ultimately what led me to write an entire book about it.
A friend and a colleague over at The Federalist, Ben Domenech, he recently had a monologue on Fox News where he basically points to the fact that we on the Right, and here I’m speaking Rachel and I, I know that you don’t define yourself quite politically, but people like Rachel and I, we overestimated the greed. So you say that going woke has not really impacted their bottom line. Why not? And why would a corporation wade into, for example, the culture wars, things about voting, issues of protecting women’s sports or all those kinds of hot button culture issues? Why don’t they worry about the fact that “Republicans buy sneakers too”? Why are they not worried about splitting their customer base and wading into the culture wars?
I meant that in aggregate. In specific cases, it might actually enlarge their bottom line, in specific cases they may be trading off their bottom line and there’s different phenomena at play. So the way I think about it is there’s two kinds of stakeholder capitalism or what we now call in the current progressive-driven era of stakeholder capitalism woke capitalism. The first is the scammy, what I think of as inauthentic stakeholder capitalism, where companies are effectively using these social values as a smoke screen to deflect accountability from the kinds of issues that might go to the heart of their business. That’s the Wall Street Edition, it’s Goldman Sachs declaring from the mountain tops of Davos in January, 2020, that it would not take a company public in the United States if that company didn’t have a sufficiently diverse board, as of course, defined by Goldman Sachs.
And what I think is going on there is just the modern form of chronic capitalism, because if you were back in the pre-2008 era, the way you did it as Goldman Sachs was put your alumnus in the seat of U.S. Treasury Secretary with Hank Paulson, have him pick favorites in determining who gets a bailout and who doesn’t. That model worked pretty well. It actually works pretty well in Republican administrations in general, even Steven Mnuchin served under president Trump. But the difference was at a time when Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren or the front runners at that point in time in the Democratic Party, and there’s a new progressive Left, this was effectively a new currency, a new way of tithing to the new temple of their regulator.
And this is the thing that you see in the Wall Street edition, as it pertains to placating the far Left in government. But yet you see it in popular culture as well, even Coca-Cola issuing statements that make it sound more like a super PAC than a soft drink manufacturer. That’s a lot easier to comment on a voting law than it is to talk about your contribution to the nationwide epidemic of obesity and diabetes, including in, above all, the black community. So I think that this is in many cases, the scammy kind of stakeholder capitalism is creating what I call woke smoke as a way of deflecting attention from the kinds of issues that might be more threatening if attention were actually brought to issues that related to the core of that company’s business.
That’s different from what I think of as the authentic kind of stakeholder capitalism, where an executive actually is using his or her seat of corporate power to influence social norms and moral values, regardless of whether or not it actually benefits the company’s bottom line. That’s what I think of is happening in the case of something like Twitter, where I think Jack Dorsey doesn’t really care about the marginal dollar that he makes. He has plenty of dollars such that the marginal dollar doesn’t really make a difference, but this is a different way of influencing and exerting political power, not through the front door, through our democratic process, but through the back door instead.
And while I began my book, you could even tell from to subtitle, WOKE, INC.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam, concerned with the scammy kind of stakeholder capitalism, because I do think it’s a scam. I think at least consumer’s worse off. It preys on consumers’ insecurity about who we really are, where right now there’s a moral vacuum in the American citizenry and our populace that companies are able to exploit by filling that moral vacuum with these cheapskin, deep social causes and woke values, kind of like a Virginia Slims commercial targeted at a teenage girl in the 1990s, that’s effectively what’s going on with the scammy stakeholder capitalism.
I’ve actually come to believe that even worse than that is the abuse of the corporate form to be able to inject one’s actual ideology and implement that in action by subverting or averting the democratic process to doing so. I think that’s a lot of what we’re seeing in Big Tech and in Silicon Valley today. So long response, but in part, because it’s such a nuanced issue that there’s not just one phenomenon, there’s a couple of different things going on at the same time.
Yeah. I think that framework is really helpful, just generally, when we talk about the wokes or the elect or whatever phrase social justice warriors were using today, I really do think there’s a separation between the scams and the true believers that is important. But Rachel, how is exactly that shift in how corporate power and how influence from corporations as wielded in politics, how has that shaped or will shape the Democratic Party and the Republican Party and the futures of the Left and Right in this country? Because there seems to be a certain amount of overlap between the populous Left and the populous Right on some of these issues, you have some strange combinations in Congress, Conservative Republicans actually agreeing with AOC on some of these issues. How is this going to shape our politics?
First of all, in the realm of ideas, what it means to be on the Right or on the Left in this country, but also to what we were just talking about with the idea that in fact, how corporations, the specific way they’re wielding power has shifted from suggesting a nominee for perhaps for an agency to some of these other forums. So how is that going to influence politics and the future the two parties?
Well, it’s been a driving force, I think, in some of the realignment that’s going on in our political parties, because very much Republicans for years have been the party of big business. And in ways that are top policy priorities have been to benefit corporations with this idea of trickle-down economics. If business is doing well, and big business in particular, everybody’s doing well. And I think corporations have come to rely on Republicans for that. They know that we aren’t really the punitive party. We are not going to use power against them. And I think to some extent, they’ve taken advantage of Republicans in that way.
But the flip side of that is you’re seeing a lot more establishment-leaning Democrats now come out and say, “Yes, big business, as long as it’s aligning with our causes, is good.” And I think this gets to a point that Vivek is making, which I think is very well said, which is this idea that, if you are paying this tithe, if you are now lining up to genuflect in front of the Right regulators and the Right politicians and the people that will use their power to benefit or hurt you, which traditionally is not Republicans, that is something that you have to now build into the baseline of what you’re doing.
And if you do it loudly and proudly enough, the regulators will not look beyond the surface. Apple comes to mind in this regard. Apple is constantly tweeting about amnesty for illegal immigrants, LGBTQ issues, all of these social justice issues so nobody will look at the slave labor they’re using in their supply chains or how their App Store distorts the small business app marketplace. These are the things they don’t want you to look at. So they’re going to jenny-flock to these Right causes and no one will question it. But I do think you’re seeing a shift on the Right that cynically, some say is performative, but I think personally in some ways is actually quite transformational, which is this idea that for the first time, I think people on the Right are waking up to the fact that the only threat to liberty does not just exist in the government, it can exist in a concentrated corporate form as well.
And I can’t underscore enough what a massive ideological shift that is for some people on the Right, because 30 or 40 years ago was when the Right really said, look, it was that Reagan quote, “The most dangerous phrase in America is ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” It’s shifted a little bit to it’s not just that anymore, it’s now, “I’m from the corporate elite and I’m here to subjugate you.” But the Right wasn’t able to acknowledge that for a long time. So I think they’re now seeing multiple threats to liberty come, not just at the typical government gun, but from this concentrated corporate power as well, and that is going to change their policies in the long run. And that again is a very transformational shift from a policy perspective.
What about when government and corporate power are working in sync? I know, Vivek, you have an editorial on this. And then we’ll hear from Rachel as well on this question. What is the relationship between people in the government in power and what is being implemented, because it often seems like corporations are lending themselves as a cat’s paw to the point that Rachel made right in the beginning of this podcast, as a cat’s paw to actors in the government relationship there. Vivek, I know you have some legal theories on this.
Yeah, 100%. I can get to the legal theories in a second, but let’s go to the underlying phenomenon that those legal theories map onto, which is that the private sector under the model of stakeholder capitalism is proving to be a convenient pawn for effectuating through the back door what the government cannot directly do under the Constitution. I actually think that is what I call the heart of the woke industrial complex. It is perhaps the greatest threat to individual liberty and prosperity in our time. And you guys have thought a lot about the Conservative movement, even Ronald Reagan, when he hit the scene in 1980, hit the scene in a way that, imagine big government, and at the time he was probably right, as the singular threat to liberty and prosperity for everyday Americans.
And he did what he needed to do to target the government. Today, that is only half the equation. And back in the ’80s, the legal question on the table was something like the non-delegation doctrine, the idea that Congress could not or should not be able to delegate its lawmaking authority to the alphabet soup of administrative agencies, FTC, FDA, SCC, FCC, you name it. Well, I think the thing that’s happening today is they’re now delegating their responsibilities to a new alphabet soup, GOOG, FB, AMZN, MSFT that are able to do, really through the back door without constitutional constraint, what government can’t do directly.
Let’s talk about the field of Big Tech censorship, for example. A lot of times, what we’re seeing is they’re calling these companies up to testify before them saying that if you don’t take down hate speech or misinformation, as we, the party in power, today, the Democratic Party, define it, then we’re going to come after you, we’re going to regulate you, we’re going to break you up. We’re going to make it swift. We’re going to make it aggressive. Almost all those are actually exact quotes from testimonies that we’ve heard over the course of the last year. So then these guys go back to the other coast and do exactly what they were kind of in code told to do.
And by the way, there’s even a special statutory protection to top it off in the form of Section 230 immunity, which says that you can’t be held liable in state court for doing exactly what they threatened you to do. And my view is, there’s longstanding Supreme Court jurisprudence on this. The government cannot use threats as a vehicle for causing a private party to do what the government couldn’t directly do under the Constitution. And here the constitutional constraint is the First Amendment. We’re seeing the same thing with respect to financial settlements as well.
Under the Obama administration, we saw a new trend, what I think is actually really frightening trend of DOJ settlements that were used to fund causes that they couldn’t get funded through Congress. So let’s take certain nonprofit groups like LA Raza, etc, Left-wing nonprofit groups, that they tried to get funding through the Congressional budgeting process, couldn’t. So when the DOJ then hits up a corporation with a fine, a multi-billion dollar say that belongs to the American public FISC, instead they engage in a backroom deal and say, “Hey, this other nonprofit that we couldn’t get funded through the front door via Congress, as part of your settlement, we’ll give you more than a dollar for dollar offset. So instead of having a billion dollars, you can just pay half a billion dollars. If you write another $200 million check, for example, to this Left-wing nonprofit.”
Corporations win that game, the Left-wing nonprofits win that game, the government and party in power wins that game. But the real losers are the American people who actually owned and had an ownership interest as citizens in the amount that was owed via a DOJ suit that was brought against the company. And it’s even done via settlement so it avoids the court mandated process as well. So this is the woke industrial game that I think the American people actually need to become awake, or we may say woke to in their own right, because I think that is actually the real threat to everyday liberty and prosperity. And here’s the trick, that Liberals are duped into loving it, despite the fact that the principles don’t align with it, they’re duped into loving it because today, they’re smitten with these woke causes.
But meanwhile, Conservatives are duped into submission because the inner conscience of every Conservative says, the free market can do no wrong without recognizing that the free market that in some sense, I do identify myself on the Right, but we idealize isn’t actually the marketplace that exists today when it’s merged with the interests of big government. And that I think is the unique feature of our moment in this part of the 21st century, that the dogmas, the quiet dogmas of 1980 are ultimately inadequate to address in the stormy present of 2021, if I’m drawing from Lincoln’s verbiage on that same topic in his area.
Rachel, I don’t know if you want to comment on what we just said.
Well, I think the idea of Democrats in particular, in this instance, using political power to circumvent the Constitution is spot on. And there’s been two very good examples of this recently. And what I’ve been shocked by is just how bold they are in doing it. And the first is House Democrats holding a hearing in which they hold before them Verizon and Comcast and AT&T and a host of ISP and said, “Why are you still hosting Newsmax? Why are you still hosting One America News? This is misinformation and hate speech, and you should drop this.” They’re not hiding it. That is government power telling private business to drop content and censor more.
And then there was a second example recently with a CNN story, of all places, which quoted on the record DOD officials saying, “We need to monitor more aggressively social media, but the constitutional constraints of the Fourth Amendment prohibit us from infiltrating chat rooms and not saying who we are. So we’re going to contract that out to other firms who are not so constrained by the Fourth Amendment.” They’re just saying it, they’re just saying it out loud. And that I think, again, to the point Vivek made, on the political Right, we are almost ideologically constrained. We don’t even have the language, I think, to be able to say, “No the free market working hand in glove in this way is actually a manifest threat to liberty, and we have to act to push that back.”
It’s almost like we’re learning to speak in the language because it’s not something we were raised to observe and.
I just to jump in, Inez. These aren’t just one off examples, this is rampant. This is ubiquitous today. I can just take the news of today, just today, I wake up and I read about Facebook deciding that it is actually no longer going to send some stories as it has for the last year about the origin of the coronavirus, which in my opinion has been a plausible theory since day one, that this was a manmade lab-origin virus, the virus that originated in a lab, likely in Wuhan, at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Today, what changed? The difference is the Biden administration says that they are now, after a year and a half of ignoring this credible theory and even laughing at it, now are saying that this is a theory that needs to actually be more thoroughly investigated.
Well, guess what? Once the overlords in Washington D.C. have said so, that then becomes the conception of truth. So it’s not even that Facebook or Big Tech is the arbiter of truth, which is bad enough and I think culturally a problem enough, but it is literally, as George Orwell imagined, the party in power that decides what can and can’t be true. The ministry of truth is actually originating in the government, but the United States, we have this great thing called the Constitution that proves to be a pesky constraint for those who are in power. And now they’re evading the Constitution by delegating it to extra constitutional actors like Big Tech. That’s one example.
The other day, last week, or a couple of weeks ago, John Kerry boasting about the fact that he has relationships with the CEOs of big banks and that he’s leveraging those relationships to get them to sign into a climate pledge that never would have in any plausible scenario in the foreseeable future ever passed through Congress. Do we really want, whether you’re Liberal or Conservative, do we really want to live in a world where a climate government czar is using, on his own terms, personal relationships with CEOs on Wall Street to effectuate an agenda that the rest of the American people have no say in? That’s not the free market, it is a reverse form of crony capitalism. It is ubiquitous. It is rampant today.
And it’s a problem that neither the Left nor the Right have really put their finger on each for their own reasons. And I think that this is the unique calling card for a new American movement to recognize that actually capitalism and democracy are both beautiful things, but they may work best not when they’re intertwined with one another, but when they’re, if I may say, socially distanced from one another to actually protect each from infecting the other and to leave the integrity of each intact, because by merging them, we are actually left with neither.
Yeah. Can I just add one final thought on that? And I deal with a lot of this on the political Right from people who are like, “Well, these are market problems that just need market solutions. And if you don’t like Facebook, you don’t have to use Facebook and you aren’t threatened if you aren’t using these platforms,” which I think as we have just both demonstrated, this is far more than just you using or not using a certain platform. Society is actually changing and our values are being shifted and violated, I would say, by this fusion of corporate and government power that’s going on effectively without our consent. But what I will say is, the Right should have woken up to this threat. Our traditions have talked about this idea that just like democracy can be tyrannized by an unchecked majority, capitalism can be tyrannized by massive corporate power.
Classical Liberal thinkers, like John Stuart Mill, libertarian thinkers like Friedrich Hayek, Alexis de Tocqueville, even Michael Oakeshott, all these people recognize that this threat could exist and that it was incumbent upon our policy and our self-government to put it back in check. But we’ve just lost that tradition, I think, on the Right. the Left, I think, has been, to Vivek’s point, so captured by this the romanticism of big business working for their priorities that they’ve completely lost the plot. And I think we’re both infected by this ideology that is, we’re so clinging to it that we’re letting our self-government literally be changed under our noses, and this is a massive, massive threat.
So we’ve mostly been talking about essentially corporate influence in the political process, and I think that the best examples of that are, for example, the 100 or more major corporations that signed on to this voting rights thing. We saw many, many more than 100, virtually every recognizable major American corporate name signed on to a letter in support, for example, of The Equality Act, which is something that Conservatives strongly oppose, but we’ve touched on, but glanced away from the censorship question directly. We know it’s not just a matter of having a Facebook account or a Twitter account, what really worries me are examples like Laura Loomer, who obviously I don’t agree with anything she says, I think a lot of the things she says are heinous.
But it’s not just that she lost her Twitter account, it’s that she lost all of her social media accounts and it started to bleed into what we might call real life, where she was rejected from using private companies that are part of normal, modern life. It doesn’t seem to me that you need at the end of the day, to your point about corporations acting in lieu of government. It doesn’t seem to me that you need a law that says you cannot say X, Y, and Z if we can build an entirely private social credit system, which effectively punishes people for speech in a way that is just about as effective as passing a law, let’s say, that you would take a fine or 30 days in jail, let’s say for saying the wrong thing.
I think a lot of people are just as influenced by the idea of never being able to take Uber and Lyft ever again, never be able to bank in a major bank ever again, to lose their jobs and their livelihoods in totally unrelated to politics careers or work, all of those threats are quite persuasive and getting people to shut up.
This is I think the really insidious part of the debate that we’ve now reached, which is this idea that your online behavior can affect your offline life. And it’s creeping up in a lot of ways. Laura Loomer, where you point out, I would also mention Alex Jones were leading indicators of I think, what could happen. And we’re now seeing this across the board, because the most, I think recent example, maybe most famous example was what happened to Donald Trump. He wasn’t just the platform from social media, that was probably the least of his problems. He was cut off from two of his banks.
His credit card refused to work with him, Shopify and online retail platform would no longer sell his campaign in wares. Stripe, the credit card processing company wouldn’t work with campaign either. His email service provider dropped him. I think the insidious nature of this is that this isn’t just Twitter or Facebook, this is ripping the guts of capitalism away from people because they think in the wrong way, because they’re not aligned with your ideological group thing. It is saying to people you can’t access the infrastructure to raise money in this country because you have committed the sin of wrong thing. What I think is really troubling again, is this idea of unbanking, which you’re already seeing the major financial institutions engage in.
They will not provide access to services for people who sell or purchase certain kinds of firearms. They won’t provide services to people who work with our federal immigration services. You’re already seeing financial institutions to the Vivek example, bend the pressure from Secretary John Kerry to not provide services to the fossil fuel industry. This is, again, this isn’t Twitter, this is a fundamental access point to the market for millions of Americans. And it is a social credit score, to use your phrase. It is saying if you commit a crime, a thought crime in the online virtual world, it now has trickle down effects into your real life as well.
The real phenomenon, Rachel’s absolutely nailing it, but the real phenomenon in our cultural moment is that we have completely accepted in our democracy that force is an appropriate substitute for open debate and deliberation. And the heart of democracy, not just about casting a vote every November, it’s an important part of the process, but the fact that much of today’s progressive movement has fixated on, that has fetishized on that even as we think about debates like the Georgia voting wall, at the expense of the democratic norms of free speech, open debate, even solidarity in realms of our lives that extend beyond politics, like say in the baseball stadiums in our country.
The fact that we have sacrificed our true democratic norms in the name of democracy itself has actually created this new perverted form of democracy in which the use of force, first market force, and increasingly I’m worried that we’re marching towards physical force as a substitute for open debate and deliberation is actually the biggest threat to democracy of all. And it’s not just a right-wing or left-wing, that’s a fundamentally American principle issue. And that’s ultimately what lies at the heart of not just the top down paternalistic forms of woke capitalism when executive or CEO uses a corporate platform to stuff her favorite values down our throats, or not even the same thing that happens when investors like BlackRock or other institutional mutual funds tell companies that they have expectations of what social values they’re supposed to push.
But it’s even what happens when consumers in a so-called bottom-up way are now demanding that companies actually take sides on one political question versus another. Because the thing that we’re then doing is we’re taking a one person, one vote marketplace of ideas and converting that into a $1, one vote marketplace of ideas. And whether you’re on the left or the right, I don’t think we actually really want to live in that corporatocracy, we’d rather return to a one person, one voice, a one person, one vote system, which is, if anything, for better or worse, the heart of what America was supposed to be as a departure from the old world European model.
I get a lot of heat for saying this, but I think it’s an actually app description. So I’m going to say it here, but it’s almost like as Michael Lynn has framed it, there are two constitutions in America right now, there is the political constitution and there’s the corporate constitution. And when you violate the political constitution, you have a right to due process. You have at least the veneer of it, you have rights that you can claim. When you violate the corporate constitution, you’re done, you have nothing, you are stripped of all of these different services. Again, the basic infrastructure of how we live in this country is good cut off from you. And that’s the end.
And I think just to build on that with a couple of points, I think Michael Lynn actually made a lot of good points, even a lot longer ago when he talked about the rise of the managerial class. And I think that we see that both in what I call it, not only the deep state, the deep corporate, the people who are the stewards of these sources of exercising of power, be it state power or corporate power. But the heart of it right now is what that means for everyday Americans right now is in the corporate sector, there’s a choice that you have to make, and it’s a real choice. And let’s just put it in stark terms to call it for what it is.
You have a choice between either reliably being able to continue to put food on the dinner table, or being able to speak your mind in an unfiltered way. You don’t anymore get to have both without taking some risks on the other side. And I don’t think America is a place that makes you choose between the American dream and free speech, between pursuing your own prosperity through your career and having the ability to speak your mind in the First Amendment. The American dream in the First Amendment are not mutually exclusive concepts. This is a place where you get to have both of those things. In fact, if it means anything to be American at a moment where I think we’ve lost our sense of what it even means to be an American today.
To me, one of the essential parts of being an American is the ability to believe in both of those ideals and to enjoy both of those ideals at once. And I think by using market power as a bludgeon to be able to threaten people into submission or even the appearance of submission in the political perspectives that they experience and that they’re able to express, that’s actually, I think the greatest betrayal of both capitalism and democracy today that I think would be well-served through some simple legislative solutions like amending Section 230 to say that these Big Tech giants can benefit from government protection, if, and only if they’re bound by the same constitutional norms as big government itself, that companies, if they can’t discriminate on the basis of race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or religion.
Then they really shouldn’t be able to discriminate on the basis of political belief either, that in these realms of government regulation, we effectively say we can’t have it both ways, either we get rid of the statutory origins of these problems in the first place, be it the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and is protected classes, which is a discussion that no one really seems prepared to have, maybe for understandable reasons, then that’s fine, but you can’t have it both ways, you can’t discriminate or be platform somebody because they’re black or Muslim or gay or whatever, but somehow you could do that because they’re not spoken Conservative, or tomorrow, it may be the opposite case because they’re not spoken liberal.
I think that we have to apply these standards evenly. And I do think there’s a role for government and the Conservative Movement in particular to play here in reinventing what it’s all about to be able to apply these statutory privileges and these corporate privileges, as well as these corporate constraints in a more evenhanded way,
Rachel, let’s pick up on the solutions thread. What are some of the, either legislative solutions or regulatory solutions that you’ve been thinking about? And then if you could maybe finish up with antitrust, because I actually think there might be a disagreement or at least a slight disagreement between you both on the issue of antitrust, but starting with Section 230, what is Section 230? What benefits does it confer? And what would amending it mean?
Section 230 is basically big texts bulletproof immunity for content moderation. So it developed out of a law from 1996, whose entire goal, if you go back and read the legislative history of this law was basically to incentivize the internet to take down porn. That was the entire focus. [crosstalk 00:34:24] Yeah. But it’s since then basically blown up by the courts to be this massive, massive… What was intended to be a poorest liability, again, to incentivize these companies to take down lewd, lascivious, harassing disgusting content that nobody actually wants to see online, they need an incentive, they needed the ability to say, “Okay, we’re going to do this and we can’t be sued by these individual users. We’re trying to clean up the internet.”
The original title of the law was called the Family Online Empowerment Act. That was the goal, but it’s been distorted and judicially contorted by the courts from a poorest liability, into a massive bulletproof liability shield that the courts have now said, protects these companies in cases of sex trafficking that occurs on their platforms, terrorism, incitement, all these things, they’re not protected. And the companies have used that distortion to blank it, claim Section 230 protection for all kinds of content moderation and creation, I would argue, that goes way, way beyond the original intent of the law. For instance, they now edit, they now create their own content. When they put a fact check on your tweet or your Facebook post, when Twitter creates and curates its trending topics.
This is all original creation of these companies that it shouldn’t be subject to Section 230 protection, but it is. And the interesting thing to me is that in every other arena, Conservatives understand this idea of judicial distortion. They understand the idea that the courts can get it wrong and it’s incumbent upon the Congress to now decide what it is that that law should mean. Not so in the case of Section 230 for many lawmakers, which I think is just a paradox of rhetoric. But amending this law, there’s so many different approaches to how you do it, but I would argue that you do want some content moderation online. You don’t want to have to look at gross content online, but it must be restrained.
You have to bring the law back to its original intent, which is not to cover these massive speech concerns. And I think you’d do that by applying some First Amendment standard in that regard. But then more broadly, you’re now seeing discussions of common carrier regulation for some of these very, very massive companies, and Justice Clarence Thomas, I think is the most famous example of he put out a concurrence from the high court, which basically I think made a legitimate case for common carrier because he said this, he basically said, look, in hundreds of cases in America when we could’ve confronted the technology that begins to change the social norms, that begins to change the parameters of society and how we interact, we have looked to common carriage as a tool in which to make these platforms open to everybody, to maintain the norms that are important to us while also preserving access to these services.
Because common carriage goes back centuries. It originates in the common law. It’s not some new tool that we’re creating for Big Tech in particular. And so I think there’s a lot of members of Congress interested in that in addition to public accommodation laws, that the whole goal here is to show the companies who’s in charge here. It’s not them, it’s ourselves, government, it is the people. The tech companies here don’t rule, we do. And so I think there’s this effort to constrain the power of these companies in that way. And then finally, there’s this idea of antitrust enforcement, which I have written extensively about because I do think a lot of these speech concerns are downstream of market power.
Antitrust cannot solve for speech concerns directly. It doesn’t have a direct application, it’s solely concerned with anti-competitive behavior, but I do think that there’s enough of a case to be made. And you’re already seeing the Department of Justice and the state attorneys general make this case that there are clear instances of anti-competitive behavior, and that distorts the free market. And it allows this corporate concentration that then has the ability to distort speech and change norms, and raise the cost of free expression in the marketplace in a way that no one envisions. So I do think antitrust has a role here. I’m curious if Vivek agrees or disagrees.
Yeah. I agree with a lot of what Rachel said. I personally think that we have to be careful not to reintroduce unintended consequences of legislation that may be in the moment intended to address one problem, but may otherwise create new problems in its own right. And so, I’ll pick up, I have a lot to say about what you said, but let me pick up since you invited me to comment on your antitrust solution, to pick up on that last strand. I’m actually dubious of the cost benefit of the use of antitrust to police what is really big text monopoly on ideas or what I think of as an ideological cartel, because the real problem right now, isn’t the essence of what antitrust law was created to police, and especially the Bork’s conception of antitrust law is all about consumer protection.
And the idea here is that these companies are making their products available broadly, consumer choices are broad, the products are cheap, relatively speaking, and they’re often free. So the idea of what antitrust law was supposed to do by protecting consumers as economic actors isn’t really the essence of what’s going on here. So we’re already crossing the bridge to be able to use a tool that wasn’t really fit for purpose to address the ideological cartel. To me, the real monopoly here is not a monopoly on products is monopoly on ideas.
And even if we adopted something like a Josh Hawley Bill, which has a new vision for America in which no company is really greater than $100 billion, or if it is, then it can acquire other companies for preventing certain kinds of mergers that might introduce certain efficiencies in the economy, but we don’t want them to pursue because of the amount of corporate power these companies willed. It’s really too blunt of an instrument that has too many unintended consequences of its own. I’ll be the first person to say that if I had to pick between a world in which the largest technology companies in the world were American, or the largest technology companies in the world were Chinese, I’d take the former because the latter is going to have a form of censorship that none of us are going to like in the end.
But I think that the thing we have to do is be able to restore those American democratic norms into the American marketplace of ideas. And the problem with using antitrust to make a whole bunch of smaller companies, and I’ve seen this firsthand, is that actually many adherence to this new ideological cartel aren’t just big companies, they’re really small companies, they’re venture capitalists, they’re startups. It’s really at every layer of the economy. So the thing that we might do is fracturing these companies into smaller companies such that we no longer have an ideological monopoly, we just have an ideological cartel, but now what is antitrust going to do
It’s going to have reintroduced that problem, reduce our competitiveness, vis-a-vis China in the technology sector and leave us no better off for actually solving the real problem in the ideological marketplace and the marketplace of ideas. And so I tend to be, as you could probably tell from that response, skeptical of the role that antitrust law should play in addressing these problems, but instead go back to the essence of what’s actually happening here, which is the way in which some of these companies have been deputized by big government to do the bidding of big government outside the constitutional regime. Well, guess what, we’re going to solve that by acknowledging the fact that that ought to be governed by our constitutional norms as well.
I think there’s a reasonable albeit, I think less consequential discussion to be had about the common carrier status, but I do think it’s a good way of calling at least the hypocrisy of the other side out. It is a shock to me that even a year ago, all the Big Tech titans were testifying in favor of the so-called fairness doctrine, which recognizes the need for fairness, and non-discrimination with respect to rates that are charged on the basis of the political viewpoint by internet service providers, upstream of them like cable companies. And yet, what they’re really saying is actually we want to have a monopoly on who has a monopoly on the marketplace of ideas, because we don’t have to be those cable guys upstream of us, we want it to be as the social media companies and the internet access companies ourselves, as opposed to the cable providers.
So I think that that’s a great point argumentatively, just really call out the hypocrisy of how they are not only becoming the common carriers, but then determining that we, but not the cable companies upstream of us ought to be the sole arbiters of content. But I think at the end of the day, the essence of really what’s happening here is the use of state power without actually claiming the constraints on the state. I think that we should make our legislative solutions as narrowly scoped to that as possible.
And I think the other side is on the employment side where these companies are able to effectively, and probably as well as customer side, where companies are able to discriminate against their employees, against their users, against their customers in certain ways, while we as a society have suddenly accepted that there’s no modicum of discrimination that’s allowed at certain other axes that we care about like race, or gender, or sex, or sexual orientation, or religion, without recognizing that actually those forms of discrimination are by comparison microscopic if existed today, as compared to the increasingly rampant form of political discrimination that we pretend like it doesn’t exist.
So those tend to be the solutions that I favor more, ones that are narrowly scoped to meet the challenge of today without using blunt or instruments that may have consequences that are unintended while not actually addressing the essence of the problem that we’re talking about, which is in the marketplace of ideas rather than in the marketplace of products.
I’m sure you have a great answer to this, Rachel, but in the interest of time, I am going to close this with a final question on something that Vivek just brought up. Look, these companies broadly, these tech companies, Apple, Google, they make up a huge part of our economy, they make up a huge part of American’s 401(k)s largely. And as Vivek mentioned, their innovation is critical to what looks like a developing cold war with China. So I have a two-part question, one, how do we ensure that these companies still stay American assets while trying to mitigate some of the pernicious effects that they have had on our democracy?
And two, why is it that American companies, when I think of, for example, the Cold War, the Cold War, Cold War with the USSR, we didn’t have as much of a problem keeping American companies American. And my that I don’t mean that they only used American labor or that they didn’t have a globalized supply chains, although it was less than it is today, but more, we didn’t have a problem with loyalty. And I don’t mean that in the crude, like, oh all the guards are traitors to their country or anything like that. I need it in a more, a way that… I saw a lot when I was growing up in Palo Alto, which is that a lot of people in this space think that national attachment is unevolved, or they’ve evolved past the idea of national attachments, national loyalties, or patriotism in America.
They really do consider themselves global citizens. How do we address, and that’s a much more complicated. I think both of those questions are really complicated, but how do we address keeping them as assets and then also inculcating an actual sense of loyalty to the American idea? Because it seems to me that that’s the underlying problem here. And then Rachel, I’ll let you take the first crack at this, and then Vivek, and then we’ll wrap up.
Well, I think Vivek probably has a smarter answer on the corporate form and how to reign it in, but I will say this: it is absolutely true that these companies do not see themselves as American companies. And I think there was a very recent example of this with Facebook’s oversight board when they were considering reinstating Donald Trump and the board was like, “No, we’re not going to do that.” But the decision was still arbitrary, but it was stunning to watch the statement from actually the oversight board content manager put out a tweet where he basically said, “Look,” I’m paraphrasing, he was like, “We aren’t bound by the First Amendment really. The First Amendment doesn’t apply to us as a private company, but it’s also a burdensome local ordinance.”
And then he said, “Facebook is a global company. U.S. laws are insufficient for us.” And I just technically what he said was true, but it was just such a stunning admission of how Facebook views itself, which is again, our First Amendment is a burdensome local ordinance essentially to them. And so we do think this actually threatens us, again, to your first point, when we’re actually trying to use these companies to compete. And that’s how they sell themselves. Facebook has this dark money group they fund called American Edge, which puts itself out as, “You can’t break us up. You can’t regulate us because we are your best, greatest hope against China.”
But I would say, we do give taxpayer money to companies like Google to research AI. And what is Google doing right now? It’s AI department isn’t researching AI, it’s having an woke struggle session over the firing of Timnit Gebru. And we are funding this. And it’s interesting to watch the Senate right now actually debate a bill called the Endless Frontier Act, in which they are throwing millions of dollars to high-tech research, some of it which will invariably be granted to these companies. And there’s no parameter around what these companies can then do with that research.
For instance, again, going back to the Google example, we fund them with our taxpayer dollars for AI, Google recently opened an AI office in Beijing, where again, there is no perimeter around what they can take with our taxpayer-funded research and work with the Chinese. So I do think at least on that angle, statutorily, there needs to be some, I think, parameters around what we’re actually funding and what these companies can do, because to your point, they’re not bound by this notion of being American. They aren’t, they simply are not.
Rachel is 100% right. I think this is potentially the greatest threat of our time is the rise of China, but not only the rise of China, one thing that’s different than the USSR is that China does two things that are different. One is that China has a deep understanding of the kinks in the armor in our system. You saw just last week, there was a report of marketing specifically to local law enforcement agencies the kind of surveillance technology the Federal Government had banned all enforcement agencies from buying at the federal level, but they knew to market not only to local law enforcement agencies, but the ones that didn’t receive federal funding.
That reflects their deep and nuanced understanding of our system of federalism, something doesn’t exist over there, but using that to exploit back to their advantage against ours. There’s even a Chinese word now for wokeness, it’s called baizuo. It literally refers to woke white people in the United States. They use it not only to laugh at us, but to undermine our standing on the global stage. And I think it is no accident that they have deputized exactly those very ideas to call any inquiry into the role of the origin of COVID-19 as racist against China, that you could say the UK strain or the South African strain, or the Brazilian strain, but somehow, you can’t say the Wuhan strain.
Don’t think that the CCP had nothing to do with that particular strand of social and cultural thought in social media and elsewhere. And I think the same thing happens with respect to woke capitalism, where they have turned companies into geopolitical pawns, Trojan horses really within the United States to advance their agenda in the following way, where they know our greatest asset isn’t our nuclear arsenal, it is our moral standing on the global stage. And they’re using companies to undermine that by again, using not just federalism, and not just our notions of woke racism, but now our notions of free speech against us because they know those companies are free to criticize the United States, Disney, MBA, Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, you name it.
But they’re meekly silent in China because they’re denied market entry and market access to the Chinese market if they criticize the CCP, but secretly, they also roll out the red carpet if they criticize the United States. And so I think this deep seated understanding of the CCP and its long-term game of chess, understanding the American system, the American culture, the American system of government in a way that uses the very, what we view as the features of our system as disadvantages in this geopolitical global game is the defining cause of our time. And I think woke capitalism is one of the more powerful tools that allow them to in a porous way, enter our country and ultimately undermine it from within by using these companies as their instruments of effectively undermining the United States, not only economically, but geopolitically of it.
I could say a lot more about what the solutions are, I know we’re running up on time, but all I’ll say in this is actually one of the unexposed topics of the dialogue around woke capitalism and stakeholder capitalism that I endeavor to expose in my upcoming book in WOKE, INC. It’s not yet out, it’s coming out in mid-August, it’s available for pre-order now, but that is, I felt one of the most important issues that I was able to hopefully put my finger on in a way that needs to be, I think, further exposed, not just as an economic matter, but as a geopolitical matter.
Well, on that incredibly optimistic and terrifying note, grateful today-
Sorry about that.
Thank you both so much for bringing your thoughts and your respected expertise on this subject to our audience. I know I learned a lot. And thank you to that audience as well. High noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected], and please help us out by hitting the Subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcasts, Apple again, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave. And we’ll see you next time on High Noon.