A month before announcing his candidacy for President of the United States, Vivek Ramaswamy addressed a ballroom full of farmers and land investors at the 2023 Land Investment Expo hosted by Peoples Company in Des Moines, Iowa.
From the stage, Ramaswamy, co-founder of Strive Asset Management, professed his anti-ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) beliefs. Investopedia explains ESG investing as “a set of standards for a company’s behavior used by socially conscious investors to screen potential investments.” During his keynote, Ramaswamy detailed his ideas for America’s capital markets.
Two existential threats face the country, he said. First, “the rise of a Chinese communist party, who unlike the USSR, supplies the phone in our pocket and the shoes on our feet,” Ramaswamy said.
The second challenge concerning the Ohio entrepreneur is the rise of a hybrid of government and corporate power that is stronger than big government alone. Ramaswamy called this a “cultural cancer” that threatens to kill the dream Martin Luther King had 60 years ago.
Ramaswamy continued, summarizing shifts in the American economy since the 2008 financial crisis and detailing the birth of “woke capitalism.” This 15 year old evolution is “how you get Coca-Cola issuing new statements about a voting law in Georgia that make it sound more like a super PAC than a soft drink manufacturer or you get any number of other companies weighing in on social controversies,” he said.
China is playing this to their advantage, Ramaswamy argues. Big companies are relentlessly criticizing racism and climate change in the U.S., adopting policies like emissions caps for stateside operations and restricting the country’s economy. However, they quietly do business in China without the same emissions caps.
It comes down to money, Ramaswamy says. “If you’re the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), you will build a great Chinese wall that stops you from entering the Chinese market if you criticize the CCP or apply an emissions cap over there. But, you’ll roll out the red carpet for any company that criticizes the United States,” he explained to farmers and landowners.
By leveraging this, China has used access to their markets and our money to get us to be more like them, Ramaswamy said. He sees the environmental prong of the ESG movement as nothing more than a trojan horse for the social goals of slowing down western progress in order to allow the rest of the world to catch up.
Ramaswamy shifted, “not all solutions need to be found in politics, which is where most people look,” he said. “I am optimistic that market solutions can be an important part of the broader cultural solution that we need.”
However, market solutions alone will not spawn the national revival Ramaswamy believes is necessary. The country is hungry for an unapologetic pursuit of excellence that goes beyond fractious lines of partisan politics, he said.
Ramaswamy left the 2023 Land Expo audience with “four ideas that go beyond partisanship” as he finished his time with the mic.
1. Prepare to defeat the Chinese communist party.
We face an enemy that powers our modern way of life, Ramaswamy warns. “It turns out that we have a semiconductor shortage. What is going to happen the moment China invades Taiwan?” That would spell crisis for technology ranging from phones and laptops to refrigerators, he says. Modern agriculture machinery and technology equipment relies on these chips, too. Chip production needs to be brought back to America, Ramaswamy says.
Concerning U.S. reliance on China extends to energy and social media, he says.
Ramaswamy added he sees an opportunity for the U.S. to use our advanced technology to make sure the Chinese public has access to the free and open internet Americans enjoy. Leveraging this access to speak directly to the people of China could “activate the people against a communist regime whose worst nightmare is an uprising of its own citizens.”
2. Dismantle the managerial class in America.
“The next time we have a bureaucratic class in this country who tries to exercise political power that no one elected them to exercise, be it in the area of public health or be it in the area of national security, all we need to do is to be empowered to actually fire that managerial class. Fire the people under them. Fire the managerial industrial complex around them.” Ramaswamy said.
The challenge to making this happen is civil service protections for most federal employees, he says, suggesting a replacement of those protections with sunset clauses.
Since the Land Expo, Ramaswamy has been outspoken about the 8-year limit he would like to see set for federal bureaucrats.
3. Restore free speech.
What is the best measure of the health of any democratic society? Ramaswamy answers, “The percentage of people who feel free to say what they actually think in public. I cannot remember a time in my life when there was a greater gap between what people were willing to say in private and what people are willing to say in public.” He added, forums such as Land Expo, which attracted more than 1,200 farmland owners, financial leaders, and policymakers, play an important role in closing the gap between the two.
Ramaswamy calls free speech a precondition for peace in the U.S. “We live in divided times. If you tell people they cannot speak, that is when they scream. If you tell people they cannot scream, that is when they tear things down,” he says.
He pointed a finger at “government tech censorship” saying, “if you’re a private company doing the work of the federal government, you ought to be bound by the same constraints of the federal government.”
Free speech offline is under attack too, he said. “I think we ought to make political expression a civil right in our country.” He continued, “You shouldn’t be able to fire somebody or de-platform somebody just for being an outspoken conservative or an outspoken liberal.”
4. Embrace merit again.
In addition to the culture of free speech, Ramaswamy believes the culture of merit needs to be restored in America. “You get ahead in this country, not on the color of your skin, but on the content of your character and your contributions,” he said, crediting Martin Luther King and calling for a revival of “colorblind excellence in America.”
Ramaswamy closed his keynote saying for the last 10 to 15 years, “we have celebrated our diversity and our differences so much that we forgot about all the ways in which we’re actually the same as people. Make no mistake, I think our diversity is a beautiful thing, both in this room, and in our nation. But, our diversity is meaningless if there’s nothing greater that binds us together across that diversity.”