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E-Pluribus | August 10, 2022
The (State) Department of Wokeness, a new old principle of investing, and why 'liberal or conservative?' is not that simple.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Jimmy Quinn: The Department of Woke
The Biden administration has been particularly attentive to bringing the language and policies of the federal government into line with today’s progressive sensibilities, and the State Department is no exception. But given State’s global mission and involvement with less enlightened nations, Jimmy Quinn writes for National Review that these changes could have wider unintended consequences.
If the wording of his press release announcing the move sounded rather vague, Blinken’s personnel choice clarified the direction in which State’s equity agenda is trending. While offering platitudes about confronting “systemic racism, discrimination, and xenophobia around the world,” he said that he selected Desirée Cormier Smith, a former Foreign Service officer who returned to the department during the Biden administration. Cormier Smith, he wrote, “is a recognized racial justice expert with a deep and steadfast commitment to equity and justice for all.”
Her credentials as such are made clear in a few online posts she wrote in late 2020 during a stint at the Open Societies Foundation, her most recent employer before rejoining the State Department as an adviser to its international-organizations bureau. “We can begin to repair our nations through reparation and healing,” she said in a tweet endorsing a global campaign for reparations for structural racism. At another point, she responded to a tweet that warned about a “leftist” effort to abolish the Electoral College even if Joe Biden were to win the presidency: “HECK YES.” She’d previously written that “racism and slavery” are at that institution’s roots.
Although it’s tempting to dismiss these messages as the insignificant online postings of an appointee chosen to placate the White House’s constituency of professional activists, it would be a mistake to do so. According to a State Department email I reported on for NRO in June, the job, whose holder is not subject to Senate confirmation, has, at least on paper, a wide mandate, empowering Cormier Smith to shape everything from multilateral diplomatic interactions to internal State Department DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) workforce initiatives to the department’s work on “disinformation” touching marginalized communities — a responsibility that was left undefined.
In practice, the extent of Cormier Smith’s mandate remains fuzzy. But she’s serving in a highly visible post that Blinken’s office has clearly chosen to elevate, in keeping with the White House’s work on equity.
Read it all here.
James Taranto: How Woke Capital Politicized Your Retirement Account
Those preparing for retirement know it’s not all about the money, but when it comes to investing toward one’s golden years, it’s at least a lot about the money. At the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto interviewed Vivek Ramaswamy about his new firm and his intentions to return to the basics, which could mean an epic struggle against the more fashionable ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) style of investing that the giants of the industry now practice.
The big fund managers began only a few years ago “to exercise that voting power to advance social and political agendas.”
When you buy an index fund that’s managed in this fashion, you’re promoting ESG objectives whether you want to or not. “The index-fund industry was based on the premise that these asset managers weren’t smart enough to pick stocks,” Mr. Ramaswamy says. Are we supposed to believe they’re “enlightened enough to know how to design an entire society”?
But never mind society, what about your retirement fund? Engine No. 1 describes its goal as helping companies “transform their businesses to be more sustainable.” Its website proudly features a July 2022 Journal news story with the headline “After Defeating Exxon, Engine No. 1 Works With Oil Giants on Emissions.” If you want to avoid politics, this obviously isn’t the fund manager for you. But neither is any other firm that would join an effort to “defeat” a company in which it has invested your capital.
When a fund manager uses your money “to advance agendas that do not serve the capital owner’s interest,” Mr. Ramaswamy says, “that represents a large-scale fiduciary breach.” But what can you do about it? Litigation is prohibitively expensive, and regulatory solutions are unpromising with an ESG-friendly administration in Washington. Buying stocks directly and voting them yourself is a high-risk investment, not to mention a labor-intensive one, and for a nonbillionaire the return in recovered voting power is trivial. Besides, pursuing any of these possible remedies would take you down a political rabbit hole, exactly what you’re trying to avoid.
Read it all.
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Martin Fritz and Denise Morel: Liberal When We Can; Conservative When We Must
In a political environment characterized by demonization of opponents, Martin Fritz and Denise Morel, writing at Quillette, may find convincing liberals and conservatives that they may not be as different as they think a tough row to hoe. The two write that global technological and economic trends tend to move societies leftward and yet conservative principles and impulses provide an important counterbalance that benefits everyone.
Since either a liberal or a conservative outlook is acceptable under certain conditions, our moral debates often involve disputes over the nature of those conditions: Are we well-off and secure? Or are we struggling and vulnerable? Politics is the process of arguing over which perspective is most right, right now.
Since most of history was lived in conditions of want and danger, virtually all societies were organized hierarchically, and the notion of many levels of “inequality” was accepted by all. In tough times, our conservative outlook holds sway. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that enough wealth was generated to allow a liberal mentality—with its ideals of equality and individual rights—to prevail. With ever-expanding material production and international trade, Western societies have been moving further and further leftward ever since.
This leftward movement means that liberalism and conservatism do not represent absolutely “fixed” positions on any specific issue, but are instead relative to each other. Thus, what was once considered to be radically left, can, if adopted and practiced over time by a significant portion of the population, become “traditional,” and thereby acceptable to conservatives. One need only consider the changing attitudes towards divorce to realize that, while conservatives promote “family values,” divorce is no longer perceived by most of them as the threat it was a century ago; gay marriage—something inconceivable in 1900—became the more pressing object of concern, but that too is rapidly gaining acceptance among former opponents.
Read the whole thing.
A (very) short thread from Jesse Singal on spreading misinformation:
Yascha Mounk on the FBI’s search of Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago property:
And finally, Noam Blum on those who says 87,000 new IRS agents conducting audits are nothing to worry about:
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