Dr. Darel E. Paul is a professor of political science and the Chair of the Political Economy Program at Williams College. Darel and Inez talk through the labor mechanics of corporate wokeism and its connection to the advancement and power of the professional class. They also discuss the political implications of the therapeutic management style popular in big companies, and how the economic structures James Burnham predicted are changing the agendas of the left and the right.
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features 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. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.
Welcome to High Noon where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. And this week I’m so pleased to have Darel E. Paul on. I’ve been reading his work for, I think at this point a couple years, starting with an amazing essay that he wrote for Wes Yang’s Substack. And then just finding that his analysis explained so much more of the economic structure that we live under than a lot of, I think other folks both from the left and the right.
But Darel Paul is a professor of political science. He’s the chair of the political economy program at Williams College in Massachusetts. And his research is focused on elite ideologies in Western countries and the manifestation of those ideologies in public policy. He’s also the author of a book from 2018 called “From Toleration to Equality: How Elites Brought America to Same-Sex Marriage.”
Focus on that issue, I feel like might have given you an advantage, or at least a relatively early advantage on looking at some of how the elite structures actually function to both develop public policy and public opinion. It’s definitely your interest. But I feel like a lot of the playbook was run for the first time in this same-sex marriage debate, maybe starting around 2006 or ‘8 and then going forward. But in any case, thank you for joining High Noon and welcome to the program. We’re so glad to have you.
Darel E. Paul:
Thanks very much, Inez. I’ve been very much looking forward to being on this.
So why don’t we start with where I started with your work, which is this fantastic and in fact a series of essays about woke capital, kind of analyzing the phenomenon of woke capital. And you have a slightly different take on this, not that you fully reject, for example, another guest from this program, Vivek Ramaswamy’s theories or the left’s theories about why woke capital is essentially a bait and switch. They put up a statue of Fearless Girl and donate to GLAD, but it’s just a cover for exploitation of workers.
So you don’t wholly disagree with either one of these theories, but you have a different perspective or something to add to the way that we talk about woke capital. Can you maybe lay out your thesis there?
Darel E. Paul:
Sure. Exactly. So as you said, Inez, I’ve got a couple of pieces, the Wes Yang Substack that came out in I think February of 2022. And then I had a long piece in American Affairs that came out in the fall issue, and that’s where a lot of my arguments show up.
And so the argument, and I think you presented it quite accurately, I don’t really disagree so much with people like Ramaswamy or some of the left critiques. There’s other kinds of arguments out there too, that we could talk about if you like.
But what I think these analyses of woke capital are missing is a really deep investigation of what’s going on inside the firm. And there I think it’s just desperately important to understand that. And I came to this understanding by really just looking at woke firms and how they struggled over issues of wokeness.
And I think the great clarification for me was the Disney episode from last year where the managerial strata of Disney was not wholly enthusiastic about wokeness and therefore was trying to navigate a rather difficult perspective between their employees on the one side and their employees’ allies, especially in the media, but also on the other side, popular views expressed through democratic elections, for example in Florida, and therefore the state. And so this difficult position that management was in.
And so therefore, looking at the relationship between professional class employees on the one hand and the managerial strata on the other, inside of corporations is really where my theory of woke capital is founded. And I think lots of other things that people talk about, a consumer demand theory or a diversionary theory, those can fit inside, I think, this foundation that I lay out in these two pieces.
How would you define the professional class in this? Because you draw in different elements in different parts of this essay of what sets aside, because on the face of it, on pure, if I’m coming from the left or from the Marxist perspective, it’s not immediately clear why K-12 teachers and lawyers are part of the same class.
Darel E. Paul:
Sure. So I guess I’m really just taking a straight-up sociologist approach to defining class. Certainly one that has some influence from Marxism and Marxist theory, but also from other kinds of strands in sociology, particularly Max Weber. Weber was much more interested in, I guess we call them status categories, whereas Marx is very much interested in class as a relationship to the means of production.
And so putting these two things together produces a conceptualization of social class that lots of people use. It’s not mine. I didn’t invent it. And so I think Goldsmith, I think is the sociologist’s name, I could go back and check later, an English sociologist, and this kind of depiction of social class is used even in the British state analyses of labor markets and things like that.
So the professional class is defined primarily by its relationship to work and relationship to labor. So in that way it’s kind of similar to how a Marxist might think about class. Professionals are highly autonomous and all of this is relative, of course, relative to other kinds of workers.
So they’re not wage-workers, they’re salaried, but they work for an income, so they’re not capitalists. That’s pretty clear. They’re not running the corporation, they’re not entrepreneurs, they’re not running businesses. But at the same time, they’re not what we might normally call workers. They’re not eligible generally to have labor unions, although obviously teachers are a bit of a different case. They have a lot of autonomy. They tend to be creative in that they’re working on non-routine functions.
And so therefore management needs to give professionals some kind of autonomy so that they can figure out how to do things. They can invent new courses, new ways to teach students, new kinds of artistic works, new kinds of software programs, whatever it might be. And so that’s what makes the professional class distinct. They’re workers on the one hand, but they have a lot of autonomy, a lot of self-direction.
They have a lot of security, at least relatively speaking. Obviously I’m a college professor, so I probably have the most security with tenure, but there are other kinds of versions of this, contracts for example. It’s very difficult usually to fire professionals at will the way you can fire lots of other workers at will, certainly in America.
And so there can be different … The way that this system of organization works is that there can be higher and lower. So higher professionals are those who have a more pure form of this kind of relationship to work. That would be college professors, doctors, lawyers, but then there can be lower professionals. Those would be more like K-12 teachers, nurses, social workers, people like that.
This non-routine aspect of the work and the autonomous aspect of the work, let’s be frank here, that leaves a lot of room for BS, right? And it’s not like you’re getting paid-
Darel E. Paul:
Self-definition of one’s job.
Yeah. Right, exactly. I guess for two things, it leaves the door open for two things. One, you’re not getting paid $1 per widget that you make. Your salary is not directly paid to production in this very clear way. And obviously I’m a member of this class as a well, so I’m condemning myself here. But not all of it is BS, but there’s a lot of room for it. If you don’t have that kind of direct line between the dollars that you make and an output of a specific thing, it allows for a certain amount of not only leeway, but of fundamental trickery or difficulty to measure productivity.
And then the other thing that it opens up, and this is something that again, you’ve really put together two things that I hate for myself in my mind, which is, one is this culture of the professional-managerial class with regard to politics.
But the other one that was seemingly unrelated until I started to read your work is this therapeutic culture at work, this notion that you need to bring your whole self to work, which actually makes a lot more sense if you are a professional type.
You can imagine that you need to bring your whole self to work, if you’re doing something that is at least somewhat creative. If you’re turning out widgets, it’s very difficult to say, “Oh, you should bring your whole self to work.” It’s not clear unless … It’s almost an insult. You think my self is turning the wheel on this widget? That’s a very low definition of a person.
But on the other hand, if you have these quasi creative endeavors and a lot of autonomy, it becomes more, I guess, plausible that this kind of therapeutic culture and a therapeutic style of management would become popular.
Darel E. Paul:
Maybe I’ll take the second point first and then maybe we’ll see if we wrap around to the first. I mean, the therapeutic goes way back, in not just American culture overall, but American business culture. So American business culture has been interested in what I think are accurately described as therapeutic practices going back a century. I mean, you can find evidence of this in the 1920s.
It becomes a lot more popular after World War II, especially as the professional class gets bigger and you get more and more people in, I guess what we still call white collar jobs, white collar jobs, service jobs in which you’re interacting much more with people rather than with things. And so there are different kinds of skills that people who work with people all the time need to have, and managers want to cultivate in their employees than people who work with things.
And so these kinds of regulations of one’s emotions and the ability to get along well with others and to engage in teamwork, all of these things … And also to get the satisfaction, shall we say, out of work. And then the belief on the part of managers that employees that are more satisfied, that is, it’s fulfilling a life purpose, if you will, in their labor are going to be more productive employees. All of this stuff goes way back at least 80 and sometimes 100 years.
And so therefore, it’s very characteristic of employees who are professionals, managers to some extent too – and I think there’s relationships between managers and professionals that are interesting, but I think this is how these two groups of workers are so different from most other people.
I mean, I’ve had lots and lots of jobs in my life before I ever became an academic and I’ve found very little, if any, life satisfaction out of doing document coding, or working in a kitchen in a restaurant, or stocking shelves at a grocery store. And these are all jobs that I did in the past, making bagels for a while when my kids were very, very little. I had a second job while I was in graduate school.
But professionals don’t look at their jobs as just something to do to make income. They look at them as something that fulfills their life, fulfills their creative potential, fulfills their need for meaning in the world. And so that therapeutic sensibility, I think fits very nicely into a white-collar workforce, which is also increasingly a professionalized workforce.
So I guess the modern problem then is if we have this background of therapeutic culture for work for professionals and the mantra of bringing your whole self to work, then if you enter a political ideology into this, it makes sense then why, for example, a Netflix employee would be really upset that they released Chappelle’s comedy special because that person believes that he needs to bring his whole self to work.
The corollary of this is what we’re finding is that employees expect, and as you say, they wield quite a bit of power. Even though they don’t have, for the most part, formalized unions, they do have this kind of cultural solidarity with each other, and they would expect essentially their output, their work, their life’s meaning to accord with their values in a way that maybe a shop, even that’s making something, you would think employees, like a lot of people who aren’t part of this professional-managerial class, just doesn’t have that problem because nobody really imagines that the shoe on the other end has to represent their values.
Darel E. Paul:
Yeah. I mean, so many professionals, not all obviously, but large numbers of professionals are engaged directly in cultural work. They’re in media, they’re in publishing, they’re in other kinds of professions that are directly dealing with ideas and values. And so if you’re slinging burgers at a diner, or if you are stocking shelves at the grocery store, you’re not engaged in cultural work, you’re not looking for your grocery store employer to reflect your larger values. You certainly want something out of that. You want a wage, you want certain kinds of working conditions, you probably want a union too, but you’re not worried about what is our policy on transgenderism, what is our policy on the state’s latest abortion law, those kinds of things.
And so I think the professional’s relationship to cultural work is really the heart. And where you see wokeness arising, wokeness comes first … Or if you want to call it social justice ideology, maybe that’s a more kind term. It comes up first in the university. University is all about cultural work, all about ideas and fomenting new ideas and new ways of seeing the world.
And then where it goes next is what I call the helping professions, things like medicine and social work and psychology and psychiatry. And so these are also doing lots of cultural work because they’re fundamentally about values. And then it goes out beyond there to law and publishing, other forms of media.
And then I think by the time it gets all to these professions, then it’s almost become the standard for the whole class itself. But I think it’s important to see that progression over time, and we can see how it’s really rooted in these industries that are fundamentally about producing cultural products, and it goes out to others that are maybe less attached to culture.
So on the one hand, you pinpoint the university as the, I want to call ground zero, or what we call the epicenter, like an earthquake, the epicenter of a lot of these ideas. But on the other end, there’s this moving through the professional class into their managers and then into capital itself at the top. Your explanation for these very powerful companies, and you use a series of examples from Disney to Netflix to Walmart, how these very powerful corporations end up using their both economic and political power.
So can you talk us through how the professional class ideas that we’ve been talking about for the last 15 minutes end up with the capital strike, where you have a whole bunch of very important companies essentially pulling all of their money out of North Carolina in 2017 because they passed a bill saying that facilities have to be restricted to biological sex.
Darel E. Paul:
Yeah, I’m glad you brought up the North Carolina case because I think that’s the clearest example of a woke capital strike in America.
So first to clarify, a capital strike as opposed to a labor strike. A labor strike, that’s an obvious one, workers say, “We refuse to work and we’re all organized together, and so we can have collective power.” But capital does this also and capital has always done this. On occasion, they’ll engage in a capital strike, they’ll just refuse to invest, and sometimes they’ll actually lock workers out, and so exercise their economic power that way.
So in 2016 and 2017, a whole bunch of different corporations decided to engage in a capital strike against the state of North Carolina, because of a bill that the state legislature passed, and the governor signed that was really intended to discipline the city of Charlotte.
The city of Charlotte had passed a local ordinance that said, “You may use sex-segregated facilities according to your own personal understanding of your gender identity.” And so there was a backlash against that and the North Carolina state law overturned this local Charlotte ordinance.
And so this capital strike was led by some organizations that you can see it makes sense in that they’re already rather social justice oriented capitalist organizations, but also that they have an ability to move in and out easily and quickly.
So you get things like Major League baseball, say, pulling the All-Star Game from Georgia, which they did. The NCAA pulled the March Madness Final Four from North Carolina over the bathroom bill. Movie industry, pulling projects from states that they don’t like anymore, not because of the tax conditions or labor conditions, but because of the policies of the state government around social justice or woke issues.
So a lot of these kinds of capitalist industries did these sorts of things, but also it was more traditional kinds. So PayPal, for example, was a really big player in the capital strike against North Carolina and said that we will pull out of North Carolina and we will not only not invest new money, but we’re going to start to pull out old money.
And there was also a firm, the name of it I forget, but I think it was involved in finance, but it might also been financial transactions online. They were going to invest, they were going to build facilities in North Carolina, and then they announced during this whole endeavor that they were going to build in Virginia instead.
And so the use of the capital strike was really, really effective. And I think that’s the clear example, or the evidence of why North Carolina Republicans reversed course in 2017 and repealed their law and essentially satisfied the demands of capital.
So the bigger question, at least for me, was why in the world would capital do this? Why are capitalists who supposedly are rapacious and they only care about profits and they only care about the bottom line, why are they willing at least to sacrifice clear short-term profits and income for these social justice causes? And that’s where I think that the answer is the professional class. And I think the professional class having a lot of power over the managers of these corporations and interests, I guess if you want to think of NCAA for example, as not so much a corporation, but at least it’s got kind of capitalist interests certainly, are reacting.
And also I think that the professionals and the managers also share a good amount as well. So it’s not as if the managers are wholly oppositional and the professionals are trying to force the managers, but there’s also a lot of sympathetic managers too who would like to do the things that their employees are pressuring them to do.
So let’s move forward a few years in this story. We just got into 2023. Last year, we had what to me seemed like a pivotal point in this with Governor DeSantis and Florida and Disney. And Disney’s if not the biggest, I think it might be the biggest employer in Florida, it’s definitely a company that has enormous sway and enormous ability to inflict economic damage on the state of Florida, perhaps mutual economic damage.
And we have this fight between a very popular governor representing actual democratic process determined by people voting, and then legislatures enacting what they want. So here we have the quote-unquote, “don’t say gay bill,” which banned teaching of sexual identity matters and transgenderism in K through three, and then thereafter-
Darel E. Paul:
K through three.
Right. That was just an automatic … I actually come from the K-12 space, so I’m just so used to saying K-12 that I … But in any case. So K through three, those topics are banned entirely, thereafter parents have to be notified about what the school is not only teaching, but doing with their children. So this is aimed against social transition, right?
So you have this popular governor again, passing this law through the legislature, through the democratic process, and it’s a popular law. It’s a popular law in Florida. And then there is this whole back and forth internally. And here you’re right to say that I think we ignore what’s happening within the company internally. We only see the output at the end where Disney comes out against this law. But internally, there’s this battle, and I’ll let you talk through the battle internally between the employees and management.
And then there’s a battle between the entire Disney company and Governor DeSantis and the legislature in Florida in which the legislature actually strips economic benefits from the company that they had had as revenge essentially for their political position on this bill.
So one, how do you read that whole incident? And then two, is this a turning point? Because it seems like at least in the overt capital strike way, I haven’t heard much from a lot of major companies since then. This does seem to have scared them a little bit.
Darel E. Paul:
Yeah, I think turning point is a good way of putting it. That doesn’t mean that the whole loop has come back around by any means, but I think the wind is not wholly in the sails of the social justice movement any longer because I think certainly in 2022, and there were maybe hints of it a year before, there has been some effective pushback against this.
So the story in a nutshell is that the organization called Human Rights Campaign, which is one of if not the biggest LGBT interest group organizations in the country, routinely pressures corporations to come out in favor of its agenda. And they’re very good at this, they’re very, very successful. They even have kind of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval, if you will, for companies that meet its standards.
And so anyhow, what it did in early 2022 was put together a public letter in opposition to two bills, but primarily the one bill, that as you mentioned, the so-called don’t say gay bill, which had a more anodyne title, the Parents Information and Education Act or something like that.
And they got about, I think 150 corporate executives in Florida to sign on to the bill, but what people noticed is that Disney was not on the list. Disney did not sign on to the letter. And so this really began the process, the real turmoil and struggle inside of Disney. Why didn’t Disney sign this letter?
Under the previous CEO, and now again the current CEO, Bob Iger, Disney did sign these kinds of things, and I think certainly would have. Iger came out in the early days of this dispute in early 2022 and very much condemned the State of Florida.
And so I think Iger certainly would’ve signed this letter, but the CEO at that time, Bob Chapek did not. And so he got all kinds of pushback, all kinds of blow-back obviously from the media, which is just standard, but he got it from inside the corporation as well.
It’s oftentimes really hard to find out what’s going on inside companies because you can’t just call them up and ask them, so I hear your employees are in uproar over your policies, tell me about what’s going on. They won’t talk to you, they won’t tell you anything about it.
So thankfully, there was so much dissension that so many of these employees are willing to go public to the media and the corporate executives in Disney had to do so many essentially public explanations that we got lots and lots of information about this. And so that’s why I made Disney the centerpiece for the piece that I had in Wes Yang’s Substack early last year.
And so Chapek and all the managers keep going back to the employees, they’re trying to satisfy the LGBT employee affinity group. That one fails. They try to do these fireside chat sorts of things where they get the DEI officer from the corporation to sit down with a big bunch of employees and talk over things. He eventually backtracked and apologized and said, “I really blew it. You all were counting on me and I should have done it and I didn’t.”
So he signs the letter, he calls up DeSantis and tells DeSantis, “I really disagree with what you’re doing here.” And it’s all a way to placate his employees, and none of it works. None of it is successful in that it’s not placating the employees. They wind up doing these daily walkouts.
Now, I don’t know how seriously we should treat these things, but I think Chapek certainly treated them seriously. Employees in Florida and also in some other places like in California with Pixar and whatnot, would engage in these made-for-the-media 15-minute walkouts every day at the same time. So all the reporters could come and they could watch the Disney employees walk out and walk around the block twice and then go back to work. And then they had a day-long walkout at the end of that week to be a big demonstration.
And all of this stuff combined seems to have worked because Disney backtracked on its official policy. It signed the Human Rights Campaign letter. It promised a whole bunch of new money for social justice causes, not least of which was a lot of money to Human Rights Campaign. So I think there’s something important to see there as well. It pledged to have more LGBT characters in programming for children. And essentially it capitulated, if you want to use that language, to its woke employees.
And then this becomes the bigger fight with the State of Florida, because what I think is most distinctive is less that the State of Florida passed this law because lots of states have done this. And if anybody wanted to look back at my Wes Yang piece or the piece in American Affairs, there’s lots of examples of this.
What usually happens is then the chief executive officer at the state, the governor or the attorney general, then apologizes, refuses to defend the law and then eventually it gets repealed. But what DeSantis did was something very unusual. He defended it and defended it publicly and very strenuously. That’s what I think is new and different.
Mostly what governors had done in the recent past was they apologized, they backtrack, they went to corporations and they said, what can we do, or how can I try to discipline the members of my own political party, usually because these would be Republicans, how can I force Republicans in the legislature to do what you want them to do? And DeSantis didn’t do that.
And so use the power of the state as you noted, not so much to … I guess the legal status of this is the important thing. It wasn’t that there were special provisions written into law that would harm Disney, but they were special concessions that were already given to Disney that were revoked. And so this makes it a lot easier, I think politically and legally to do these sorts of things. You give corporations concessions and then you can take away their concessions for various kinds of reasons, and states do this all the time. There’s all kinds of legitimate reasons for doing so.
And so DeSantis and the Republicans in the state legislature in Florida wound up defending politically, both the so-called don’t say gay law, which prevented discussions of homosexuality and transgenderism, only K through three students, only the youngest.
And then also there was something called the Stop WOKE Act, which got a lot less media attention, but that was an attempt by the state of Florida to prevent certain kinds of mandatory corporate trainings around critical race theory and using critical race theory approaches in those trainings in the state of Florida.
So both of those bills were passed and both of those bills were defended. I think the Stop WOKE Act has received a formal legal challenge. So I think that that’s going through the courts now, but I think the parental education bill came into effect in the beginning of the 2022, ’23 school year.
So since then, there’s been a noted … I noticed this with the Delta pushback as well where the Georgia legislature started to make noise. I can’t remember if they actually ended up passing it. Obviously Delta has a huge hub in Atlanta and they have so many of the similar kind of concessions from the legislature, special deals on taxes and so on that Disney had in Florida, and there was some noise about revoking some of those.
But essentially to extract a state-based economic price for the non-economic actions of woke capital, do you think that this is a direction that will be successful? Do you think that the Republican Party, which is traditionally more pro business, although that may be changing, do you think that they’ll be able to sustain that kind of, let’s call it economic punishment because that’s the purpose of these, what ultimately ends up happening with these companies?
And a very good example of the capitulation, the exact line of capitulation you just talked about, where the legislature passes something and then the executive walks it back after talking to big business is Kristi Noem in South Dakota over men and women’s sports and transgender issues in sports where the NCAA came in and very clearly talked to her and business interests in the state very clearly talked to her.
And she ends up line vetoing, there’s some technical … I can’t remember what the middle ground is, but they make up essentially some excuse to say, “Oh, there’s some little technical problem in the bill. We need to repeal it and go back later.”
But that exact line happens where the legislature passes something initially, the governor is going to sign this bill, business comes in and probably threatens some of these economic punishments, and then the chief executive walks it back.
So this whole line has essentially had one very strong counter example, maybe half of one with Delta and Republicans in the Georgia legislature. So maybe one and a half examples of actually essentially the punishment going the other way, oh, you’re going to threaten economic, essentially, sanctions, on us for exercising democratic prerogative to change our laws, we are going to impose economic sanctions or at least withdraw economic benefits from you.
Do you think this is going to be a fruitful way of dealing with the pressure of woke capital and reintroducing some balance or do you think that these corporations are so powerful, particularly against small states? Because it seems notable to me that Florida’s a very big and economically successful state. It might be much harder for someplace like South Dakota to go up against, let’s say the top three employers and big corporations that are headquartered there.
Darel E. Paul:
Yeah, I think you hit the nail exactly on the head, Inez, with your last comment there. Obviously there are lots of differences between Florida and South Dakota, but I think the most operative one here is that Florida is the fourth largest by GDP state in the country, and South Dakota, it’s not 50th, but it’s pretty close to 50th.
And so large states, that is states that have a large GDP and an attractive investment climate and an expanding economy, those states have power. They have power over capital because capital wants something from them. And if they want it desperately enough, if they want to invest in Florida or invest in Georgia, they may be willing to accept the conditions that the state has laid out, whereas a state like South Dakota is much more beggars can’t be choosers.
I don’t know if that’s completely true, because it’s not clear to me what the financial costs in terms of capital strike would’ve been if Kristi Noem had allowed the state legislature of South Dakota to set the rules for the participation of biological males in girls’ sports in South Dakota, but at least it seems that the fear was there.
So I think that’s a big part of it, larger states are going to have more power than smaller states, but I think there’s one other factor too, that’s important to note. Corporations, forms of capital investment that are much more fixed, those are easier to exercise power over.
It’s easier to exercise power over Disney than over the NCAA because the NCAA is moving its tournament all the time. The tournament’s always changing venue, and so it’s easy to just pull some kind of tournament out of one state and stick it in another one, or like Major League Baseball did, pull the All-Star Game out of Atlanta and stick it somewhere else.
It’s a lot harder, in fact, it might be impossible for Disney just to pick up Disney World and send it off to some other state. And so the ability of states to discipline capital is greater when those capital investments are fixed.
And so I think it’s just probably not going to be the case that organizations like Major League Baseball or the film industry or whatever it is that have these more episodic forms of investment are going to be able to be disciplined. They’ll still have the power and they’ll still do whatever it is that they want to do, although it’s going to be relative.
If the investment conditions in Georgia are so much better than they are, say in California, then at the end of the day these are still capitalists. They’re still really interested in profits and profitability. And so they may decide, we’re just going to have to make our employees eat crow on this one, and we’ve seen a few examples of that.
There are examples of smaller corporations, tech corporations, that have essentially enforced a political neutrality in their corporate culture. We’re not going to be woke, we’re not going to have these Substacks where people go on and stir up all kinds of debates about political issues of the day. We’re not going to give a whole bunch of corporate money to non-profits and to NGOs that have controversial political views or cultural views. We’re just going to try to be neutral and we’re going to try to not talk constantly about politics and culture at work.
And those are few and far between, I think right now, but I think they’ve had some salutary effects. And I think the good effects in those examples, Coinbase is a famous one, but Tesla’s another one, even Netflix did this too, especially over the Chappelle special, we’re going to try to depoliticize our work environment. I think these kinds of reactions can happen and can be successful too.
So I think they can come from the outside, from state governments, but they can also come from the inside, from entrepreneurs. Usually it’s going to be the entrepreneurs, it’s going to be the founders of these firms who say, “Enough is enough. We’re not going to have a politicized workplace. We’re going to try to depoliticize it.” And I think those two things together, I think they both have a future.
That actually anticipates the next thing I wanted to ask you. I recently wrote an essay for the Washington Examiner Magazine on this and the possible effects of Musk taking over Twitter. And here I’m not talking about the ones that we are all obviously talking about, the Twitter files dump, the collusion essentially between agencies and large corporations and tech companies, the free speech aspects to all of this, but more what you’re talking about.
It seems pretty clear to me, to loop back to my first instinct about there being a lot of BS margin in this kind of professional work, it seems to me like Musk is calling that card because he’s basically let go of two-thirds to three-quarters of Twitter’s workforce and the company is technologically functioning fine. All of the problems with Twitter are around these free speech issues and these explicitly political debates, but from a technical standpoint, Twitter is functioning the same if not better now as when it was fully staffed up. So it’s functioning equally with a third of the workforce and a third of the payroll.
And as tech companies in particular, but probably the broader economy goes more into recession and we’re seeing more and more layoffs in the tech industry, it seems to me that there’s a lot of potential for CEOs who are going to be pushed financially in a way or pressed to the wall financially in a way that during their heyday, even in 2020 or 2021, they were not being, when they actually have to make some tough calls financially, that Musk’s example may very well …
In your theory, you could call what Musk is doing, essentially going to war with the quasi-union nature of the professional class and saying, “You know what? I can find enough dorky, hardworking, mostly guys in tech who can run this thing very leanly and probably are the least likely to have these kinds of cultural concerns. We can fire the Harvard credential diversacrats and have a third of the payroll and make the company profitable.”
Darel E. Paul:
Yeah, I think it’s a fairly good analogy to suggest that there is certainly a class struggle going on now between, at least in some sectors, the managers, the managerial class, and the professional class.
The two wings, if one wants to think of these as wings of the same class, I think there was a lot of compatibility in two important economic conditions. One, an oligopolistic, or if you’re a Marxist you call it monopoly capital situation in which there are just a small number of very large firms that don’t face particularly intense competition from one another. There’s a lot of collusion that goes on between firms in certain kinds of industries, and I think tech is a good example of that.
And so if you are not facing a lot of market pressure, at least not the most intense kinds of market pressure, you can have all kinds of people on the payroll. And as you noted, it’s really, really hard to find out how much a professional contributes to the bottom line because professionals, we’re not hourly workers. It’s not, you worked for eight hours today, here’s your salary. It’s, here’s the work to do.
I think either I’ve gone mute or you’ve gone mute. Sorry, Inez.
Just to interject something from what you said earlier, it occurred to me that the Netflix strikes you were talking about where they went on strike for a day, is much easier to do as a professional with a salary because you’re not even really giving up your days’ wages. They’re not going to adjust your salary because of it, right?
Darel E. Paul:
No. No, exactly. Exactly. And so much of your job is also defined by yourself. Maybe the company says, “Okay, we need two new children’s series this year and we’re going to introduce them in September.” But that’s about all the direction you’re getting, right? You’re going to get a budget of some kind, I assume too, but what’s the content of those children’s series? Who are the characters going to be? How are you going to move through storylines and a story arc? The professionals, the writers, the producers, they’re all going to decide that. They have a tremendous amount of autonomy.
And so if you have this tremendous amount of autonomy, maybe you’re working really hard every day, maybe you’re not, and it’s extremely difficult to tell for professionals, and so mostly what happens, especially in conditions of oligopolistic markets and in fat economic times. Now maybe because of COVID, we wouldn’t think of the COVID recession as fat economic times, but then again, corporations weren’t suffering. Corporations got lots and lots of-
Darel E. Paul:
Yeah. They got lots and lots of support from the state to get through COVID. And then before COVID, there was this very, very long period of very consistent economic expansion. So capital had lots and lots of income, and it had lots and lots of power as well. So nobody was, I think, interested in putting to the test this claim that you’ve got all these employees who really aren’t really doing very much.
But I think your observation is a really good one. It’s not just Musk, because all of the tech industry, you see this at Twitter, but you see it at Amazon, you see it at Facebook or Meta, you’re seeing it in Google and Alphabet, all kinds of corporations in tech are laying off big numbers of workers. But I think it’s in Twitter where it’s taking on much more of this very obvious, and I think on Musk’s part, intentionally antagonistic class dimension.
And so, I mean, I’m on Twitter all the time, surely on Twitter too much, but lots and lots of people in those early days after Musk took over were saying, “Twitter’s going to literally fall apart. Twitter will literally collapse and Twitter will be gone. And so let’s all go to Mastodon or let’s all go to whatever other platform.” And I didn’t know if this was a realistic concern or threat or not, so I just sat and waited and waited and waited, and nothing ever happened. Twitter just kept on chugging along.
And so if it’s true that corporations can slough off large numbers of the professional class workforce and not suffer at all in terms of both revenue and profitability, then I think professionals are going to be in a far weaker position than they were. And I think we can see that going forward in fact. I think professionals realize that their political and economic power has been diminished significantly.
If you look at the rise of strikes over just the last year or so, you can see this in Britain, and you can see it also in the United States, who’s striking? It is state workers who are often not professionals. So you get bus drivers, train lines, these kinds of things, but also professionals, teachers, nurses. You see it, like the pilots. The pilot’s union at Delta is unhappy, and I was just reading about that earlier today.
And so I think professionals realize that the fat times are probably coming to an end. And what that means is that they will, I think, be much more focused on what are our wages, what are our working conditions, and a lot less focused on what has our corporation said about the latest abortion law in state X or Y or Z, or what are they saying about biological males in girls’ sports, or what are they saying about voter registration laws, things that they said a lot about over the last 5, 6, 10 years.
My suspicion is they’re going to be saying less in the near future. And especially if people’s predictions … some economists are right. I just read a piece by Ken Rogoff earlier today. If the global economy enters a serious recession in ’23, I think that’s going to be probably the biggest blow to the power of the professional class.
So let’s close with this. We’ve talked about how these both class and cultural politics affect corporations and then how they then interfere into the democratic process on what might be non-economic terms, because nobody’s surprised that corporations lobby for economic goodies. That’s as old as time, but that they lobby on these unrelated cultural issues, I think you’ve convincingly laid out why they do that and how that’s related to the professional class.
So how is that switch of corporations, even if it’s getting more muted in the explicit lobbying sense, the problem isn’t going away, as you’ve pointed out. Every new rank of professional class people who gets graduated from the universities is going to be probably more radical than the last one. So this problem isn’t going to go away for corporations.
Do you see corporate America swinging very hard into the Democratic Party as opposed to being maybe influential in both, but leaning Republican? And if so, how do you think that’s going to change the parties? How do you think that’s going to change the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, this essentially massive changeover of corporate political power and influence? Seems to me, it’s going to go much more into the Democratic Party now.
Darel E. Paul:
I think in the last six years certainly that’s already happened. Now, a lot of that is the Trump phenomenon, that capital fled from Trump. And so if you look at the numbers in terms of donations, for example, in both the 2016 and the 2020 presidential elections, capital was very much behind the Democrats and the Democratic candidates. So in some ways, this process has already taken place.
Now there’s a lot of nuance there. There’s lots of other political races in America than just the every four year presidential race. There’s governor races, there’s senators and representatives in the federal government, all of that kind of stuff. And so it’s not as clear-cut as I depicted. And presumably if Donald Trump is not the nominee in 2024 for the Republicans, things will probably look more balanced than they have in the recent past.
But that being said, the Democratic Party has very much become a party of capital. I say a party because as you noted, the Republicans have always, or at least long been the party or a party of capital. And so capital always has an interest in playing both sides. They want to make sure that whoever comes into power they’ve got some kind of in, some kind of relationship.
But to the extent that the Republican Party becomes more of a populist party, and I think that’s a very open question. I don’t think that’s a definitive development at all, but if it continues to become more of a populist party, then I think you will see the Democratic Party become increasingly the party that represents the interests of at least the most advanced forms, or the language I use is the most advanced fractions of capital, banking, finance in general, tech and also the culture industries. Those are going to be the Democratic Party wings of capital.
Republican wings of capital will be other sorts of things, especially firms that are not particularly brand driven, oil industry for example, or maybe just energy industry in general. And we could think of manufacturing and things like that, that might still continue to be on the Republican side. But I think in terms of the most advanced and most powerful fractions, both in terms of profitability and in terms of cultural influence, I think those are already behind the Democrats and I think they’ll continue to be so.
And how is that going to change the Democratic platform or interest? Because it seems like socialism in the Democratic Party, for example, has peaked. And I think it peaked in 2016 with Sanders.
Even looking at the trajectory of AOC, coming from very much Democratic Socialist initially when she entered politics, although she was woke too from the beginning, but emphasizing more of that socialist economic message, to now, I feel like she talks less and less about those issues, as does Sanders. Both of them talk more and more about what might be called cultural issues, about the language of rights and less and less about unions, strikes, and so on.
Do you think that basically socialism is going to drop out of the Democratic Party? And obviously the Republicans will never be socialist, I hope anyway, but it seems like socialists will have nowhere to go politically.
Darel E. Paul:
I think that there’s still going to be this, for lack of a better term, socialist wing of the Democratic Party, or I guess they would want to be called Democratic Socialist or Social Democratic wing. But I think your instinct is right, that this is a wing that’s going to have very little power and very little influence, at least on the economic issues.
People like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez and the squad in general and whatnot, I still think that they have interest in these economic issues, but there’s not a lot of ability to advance them in particular because the voting base, I think of the Democratic Party now is professionals in the professional class. I mean, there’s other bases, I think Black women is a desperately important base for the Democratic Party, but the professional class is a lot bigger than the number of Black women in America.
And so to placate, to give things that the professional class wants can involve things like higher taxes, but not a lot higher taxes. Make sure that you go after the people who are the top one-percenters, maybe the top two-percenters, but by God don’t come after the people who are in the 95th percentile or the 90th percentile, because those are professionals, especially those are, say two-professional households where say a husband and a wife are both professionals, they’re both receiving big incomes, they’re both making $150, $200,000 a year. Those are the people that don’t want to get taxed. They don’t want to vote for people who are going to tax them, but they will happily vote for people who want to tax millionaires and billionaires.
So I think to the extent that the so-called socialist and Democratic Party can focus things like tax increases on millionaires and not on four-hundred-thousandaires, if you will, then I think this uncomfortable marriage between professionals and socialists will probably continue into the near future.
I think that sounds very reasonable in terms of not the future I want to see, but in terms of that makes sense. I think even Biden, didn’t Biden increase the limit on it? In between the Obama administration and what they ran on in the Obama administration, and when he ran this time in 2020, I think there was an increase from like $250,000 to $400,000 as the, we won’t raise taxes on anybody making-
Darel E. Paul:
So, I think that’s a really good example of what you’re talking about.
Darel E. Paul:
Even somebody like Bernie Sanders who has put forth his fix for social security, made sure to create a big giant donut hole so that people in between $250,000 and $400,000 in terms of family income would not pay increased taxes. Why create the donut hole? Because that’s the base of Democratic voters, rich people, but not super rich.
Well, with that, I think this has been very enlightening for me in terms of the dynamics here, the economic dynamics and class dynamics. I really highly recommend Professor Paul’s work. You can find him at First Things, at Compact Magazine, and a variety of other places. Where would you send people to see your work?
Darel E. Paul:
So I have a new piece coming out in the February issue of First Things on drag queens. That’s my latest thing that’s being published. But the easiest place to find me is on Twitter, for better or worse. And my handle is @darelmass, D-A-R-E-L-M-A-S-S.
Well, thank you so much for joining High Noon.
Darel E. Paul:
And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. We have other productions as well. We have another podcast called She Thinks, which takes on the issues of the day. And we have a legal and cultural podcast that I do with my colleague Jennifer Braceras called At The Bar. We also have a variety of other things you can check out at iwf.org.
As always, you can send comments and questions, to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us at comment or review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.