The political analyst and author Ross Douthat coined the term “woke capitalism” when writing an opinion piece for the New York Times in 2018.
In the article, Douthat says there is hypocrisy at play in many big corporations. He argues that U.S. companies will often jump on the bandwagon to support a ‘socially-conscious’ movement while doing little to advance worker rights in their firms and supply chains.
“In a rich society, people may prefer that their #brands prove [they love them] by identifying with favoured social causes rather than through the old-fashioned expedient of paying their workers a little bit more money,” he wrote.
Does he have a point?
For Douthat, woke capitalism is a bit like greenwashing, so yes, you can see his point.
We know that big brands and corporations can be quick to support movements like #BLM and #MeToo while at the same time exploiting people and the environment along their supply chains.
For Douthat, woke capitalism is a smoke screen that protects corporations from any real scrutiny by certain campaign groups.
The meaning of woke capitalism changed in 2022
By 2022, the whole world had changed as America emerged from pandemic lockdowns and the economy began to rattle back into action.
Suddenly there were issues with supply chains and problems with recruiting staff. People talked about the Great Resignation. Capitalism appeared to be in trouble, and certain people reacted angrily.
The strong vein of reactionary populism in American politics suddenly implied that woke capitalism meant something else. In the mouths of American conservatives and right-wingers, shouting ‘woke capitalism’ means jeering at any challenge to old orthodoxies and power structures.
In 2022, if a politician or commentator uses the term woke capitalism, they mean that the corporation in question has left-leaning views.
For example, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is targeting “woke capital” and the environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) movement. He is proposing legislation to end “ideological corporate power.”
According to a press release from DeSantis, a Republican contender for the 2024 presidential nomination, the ESG movement is a kind of financial fraud, and ESG investors are “corporate cartel elites.”
The governor said he was targeting the economic power of the “corporate elite.”
“We are protecting Floridians from woke capital and asserting the authority of our constitutional system over ideological corporate power,” said Gov. DeSantis.
It is now a polarising term
People like DeSantis talk in playground soundbites to appeal to their demographic, which is what happened to the term woke capitalism.
Woke capitalism is now meant as a sneer – a broad term that hints at ‘liberal elites’ and ‘right on’ activism. It is now used as a rallying call by right-wing politicians and commentators to discredit any ESG proposals relating to climate change, workers’ rights and corporate governance.
As the race for the White House in 2024 gathers pace, we can expect to hear the term a lot more.
In woke capitalism, major corporations, CEOs, and billionaires publicly and financially support progressive left-wing political causes.
Recent years have seen big business backing various politically divisive causes, including #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, same-sex marriage, climate activism, and animal rights.
Watch the video below where Gov. Ron DeSantis calls for the end of “woke capitalism.”
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