Capitalist Punishment by Vivek Ramaswamy (Review)
So, this book has its ups and downs. It started off strong. About half-way through I wasn't feeling it, but pushed through. By the end I was satisfied with the book, but I'm not overly enthusiastic about getting other people to read it. If you like what he has to say in interviews, then I would recommend the book though. He goes into some depth regarding his philosophy on how markets should be governed.
Let's get the worst things about this book out of the way first. It's almost exactly like Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Which is interesting if you're looking at the two books side-by-side, considering Klein definitely approaches the situation from a very left-leaning perspective. Ramaswamy is, conversely, a Friedman-type (closer to David than his father Milton though). Regardless, they are very much the same type of book. Both look at the woes of the market from an “othering” perspective and proceed to demonize the faceless “Wall Street.” And neither book has any real good solutions with how to deal with this dilemma. Or, in the least, I didn’t feel like there was much of any solution present. That being said, it did get me to think about my own personal finances, which is why I went with four stars. These are difficult questions to navigate, especially when blown up to macro-economic scales. I would like to think that I have some good answers for how shit should be done, but the reality is that I, as one man, do not have all the information necessary to formulate a grand strategy.
I do like this book a little bit more than Klein's offering, if only for the fact that Ramaswamy is seemingly willing to take action and put his money where his mouth is. This book is practically a giant advertisement for Ramaswamy's investment company, Strive, a competitor to Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street... Or at least that's the idea. Whether or not his business works is another thing entirely. I'm not mad about that. He got me to read the whole fucking book, and I came away thinking about this stuff in a new way. I personally have my retirement with Vanguard, but realistically, my accounts are less than a rounding error for them. Nevertheless, I will take a closer look at how the mutual funds that I've bought into are being invested.
So what is this book about? Well, in short it's about how terrible ESG is; as an investment strategy, as a rating system, and how it is being applied to the greater economic system. I don't disagree with Ramaswamy, Klaus Schwab is clearly a fucking Bond Villian, full-stop (no, I will not eat the bugs). But, here's the thing, it's extremely easy to demonize what's already going on, and it's easy to criticize efforts of some to try and shift the paradigm in a direction they think will save the planet, save the species, etc. There are really only three different perspectives to the matter; either you think “it's all a sham,” “it's all intentionally opaque,” or “the kool-aid tastes great.”
If it's all a sham, and financial titans are playing us for fools with a shell game, or three-card monty, then maybe we deserve it for not waking up to the con sooner, or coming up with a better solution. On the other hand, it could be intentionally opaque and therefore is actually a really smart way to deal with money, because most of us are pretty stupid and the average person doesn't have the mental space to think about how the economy works. Lastly, maybe you are a smart individual and you can see the benefits of trying to build a system around different principals other than the ones we currently use. I honestly don't think it's entirely just a re-branding of business as usual. However, what I don't particularly care for is the idea that ESG scores can be weaponized against businesses, rather than being a guide for the public at large to make a determination for themselves which businesses they want to support.
One of the big issues that Vivek points out is that the ratings boards aren't really independent organizations, but self-policing happens in a lot of industries. It should still be done in a more transparent manner and open to critique. I think the main concern is that the system is being perverted through an echo chamber. If the goals of ESG are noble ones, and it's not just a way to placate and control the masses, there will be room for people to invest in companies with poor ESG scores, and if ESG is really what the market wants, those will be the companies that survive into the next generation, ESG will therefore be a good indicator of a business’ worth. But we have to be involved, otherwise there’s no reason for anyone to listen to a different perspective. We’re all in this together as a species. Regardless of whether or not you think Climate Change and EDI are boogeymen invented by the elites, there’s nothing wrong with being concerned about the effect that we each have on the planet. Ted Turner had already thought of that, that’s why he started indoctrinating us as children with Captain Planet. I used to love that cartoon, and I do feel bad about littering.
Not everybody is going to be vegan, that’s a pipedream, maybe it’s about learning how to convert cow farts into something that isn’t warming up our planet, eh? There has to be some fucking middle ground. But I’m pushing for the capacity for every household to have two steaks per person at least two nights a week. Is the 3D printed meat going to win the awards? What about the company that is growing the meat from cultured cells? There’s definitely room in the market for people who want to eat 3D printed meat.
Ultimately, that was my takeaway. Even though Rawmaswamy complains about Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street, and tries to call them on their bluff about the ESG stuff, he also is honestly advocating for a market system that lets ESG compete against whatever else might emerge as a ratings system. But this is what we do as humans, and that’s why game theory exists. We’re still a bunch of talking apes trying to out-compete each other in different and measurable ways. As the years go by and successive generations come and go, we’re refining the experience both as individuals and collectively.
Thanks for making it to the end! I do try to do progress updates as I read or listen to books. If you liked this, view all my reviews