Criticism of so-called “woke capitalism” is simply criticism of our capitalist system
Let’s start with some basic definitions to ensure a good foundation for discussion on why capitalism is our superpower and our competitive advantage.
Capitalism: an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. Capitalism is the foundation of our system and has provided our nation and residents with immense growth and prosperity. It’s not perfect, because nothing is, but it sure beats other systems.
Totalitarianism: a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state. Totalitarianism isn’t something we see in democratic countries around the world; counties like China have thriving economies under totalitarian regimes, but few would strive to emulate them.
Socialism: the set of beliefs that states that all people are equal and should share equally in a country’s money, or the political systems based on these beliefs. Government ownership and control over businesses and methods of production aren’t generally sustainable or successful.
Fascism: a political system based on a very powerful leader, state control, and being extremely proud of country and race, and in which political opposition is not allowed. Despite political rhetoric, few are advocating for the establishment of a totalitarian one-party state through protectionist and economic interventionist policies. Historically, fascist regimes are not sustainable.
Let’s agree that we have a capitalist economic system in the United States, which allows for private sector businesses to start, grow, and succeed with (mostly) appropriate government rules and regulations. It has provided a competitive advantage and remains a point of differentiation for companies in the United States.
Capitalism results in private companies making consumer-driven decisions. These decisions, made with limited government interference (as we might see in a totalitarian, socialist, or fascist country), are done in a free-market environment. Companies make market-driven decisions based on how to best connect with their customer base to sell more widgets, theme park admissions, or other services.
Let’s also acknowledge that in recent years, there has been an increase in “woke” capitalism (a term coined by columnist Ross Douthat in an article for The New York Times) in which “woke” has become the all-purpose pejorative for anyone who thinks a company should “stay in its lane”. “Woke” capitalism might include companies making the free-market choice to follow ESG (environmental, social, governance) principles or DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) training.
Woke capitalism is now used disparagingly – a broad term that hints at ‘liberal elites’ and political activism. It is now used as a rallying call by politicians and commentators to discredit any proposal that does not align with their politics.
The irony is that the backlash against “woke capitalism” is fundamentally…anti-capitalist. “Woke capitalism” is the free market in action — aligning and adapting to create value in changing market conditions to meet consumer demand. Since capitalism is based on private industry, “woke capitalism” is simply companies adjusting to the marketplace. Those supporting government oversight against so-called woke capitalism are fundamentally making arguments in support of totalitarianism, socialism, fascism, or some other (less successful) form of government. It is not about right or left, Republican or Democrat. It’s about capitalism or anti-capitalism.
BlackRock chairman and CEO Larry Fink wrote that stakeholder capitalism “is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not ‘woke.’ It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers, and communities your company relies on to prosper.”
He is right: woke capitalism is simply capitalism. And it makes us great. It is our superhero power.
Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com