ESG | August 16, 2022

With his anti-ESG fund, Vivek Ramaswamy takes a page from the Infowars playbook

Ryon Harms

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Guest Author

Ryon Harms

Alex Jones is getting his overdue comeuppance, but this godfather of conspiracy theories has spawned a new generation of acolytes with marginally more legal sense. 

These conspiracy copycats have created an upside-down world that has thrown civil discourse into disarray and terrorized everyday Americans. Now, there’s an Alex Jones of investing who appears to be eyeing red state treasuries and the nest eggs of hardworking civil servants.

Vivek Ramaswamy, CEO of Strive Funds, is a slimmed-down Alex Jones in Armani suits. He’s a smooth-tongued, Ivy League elitist, who condescends to the everyman by draping himself in cliched populist rhetoric. 

For all his self-conscious refinement, Ramaswamy is an opportunist, using conspiratorial language to depict an impending financial apocalypse, for which he can sell you the solution.

His sales pitch is that the finance community must stop considering what he depicts as the three most dangerous letters in finance – ESG. 

It’s the latest front in a coordinated attack on environmental, social and governance, or ESG, principles. Standards are still being developed. Until new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules are in place, defining ESG will continue to be complex and messy, making it a perfect straw man in the Jonesian tradition. 

Ramaswamy’s attacks on ESG are an extension of Alex Jones’ decades-long war on “the global elite.”

His boogeymen include Vanguard, State Street, and BlackRock, which, unsurprisingly, his Strive Funds hopes to replace. Never mind that those asset managers are actually the world’s biggest funders of fossil fuels, deforestation, tobacco, and firearms. 

Ramaswamy saves special vitriol for Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, whom he compares to “Benedict Arnold.”

The Infowars of Investing

Strive Funds is to Vivek Ramaswamy what Infowars is to Alex Jones. Infowars isn’t just a platform to disseminate destructive lies; it’s a honey pot of profits that has fueled Jones’ “global elite” conspiracy theories for decades. As we learned during his recent defamation trial, Infowars’ parent company is worth north of $200 million. 

Ramaswamy, the author of Woke, Inc., seems to have learned that the roadmap to sustainable success in conspiracy circles is to preach an apocalypse and then sell products to profit off of the fear and confusion it spreads. 

Another page from the Jonesian roadmap is to prey on people’s patriotism. Strive released a low-budget video on the 4th of July, comparing the launch of Strive’s investment fund as equivalent to the Declaration of Independence. Ever humble, Ramaswamy also compared the impact of his new fund to the moon landing.

Weaponizing State Funds

The New York Times recently reported on “a coordinated effort by red state treasurers to use government muscle and public funds to punish companies trying to reduce greenhouse gasses.” The article highlights the leading role of the State Financial Officers Foundation, an influential nonprofit for red state treasurers. 

Mr. Ramaswamy has appeared at the foundation’s events to lead discussions on opposing climate measures.  Robert Eccles, former tenured professor at Harvard Business School and now at Oxford, first covered this brilliant “Grift Capitalism” strategy for ripping off ordinary Americans.

Ramaswamy and other Strive personalities are showing up at election campaign events with red state politicians, including Ron DeSantis and woke-obsessed treasurers up for reelection in this year’s midterms. 

Ramaswamy recently appeared on stage with Glenn Hegar, the Texas Comptroller of Public Affairs and a high-profile proponent of Texas’ anti-ESG laws. ESG is a risk assessment framework, so to be “anti-ESG” is to admit that you don’t consider material risk in your investments. The anti-ESG law that Hegar promotes gives him free reign to choose financial partners based on his assessment of their degree of “wokenes.”

Hegar’s first “woke” target was J.P. Morgan Chase, which had been servicing the $3.6 billion of debt held by state municipalities. Never mind that J.P. Morgan is the world’s largest funder of fossil fuel extraction, a decidedly “unwoke” position.

Source: Rainforest Action Network Banking on Climate Chaos 

The cost of Hegar’s politically-motivated switch has been estimated, in a new paper from Wharton’s Daniel Garrett, to cost Texas taxpayers up to $532 million in extra interest in just the first eight months. Limiting competition and squandering taxpayer money for political theater is exactly what a state treasurer is not supposed to do.

Any financial dealings between Strive Funds and the State of Texas – or Florida or West Virginia – should be questioned as a possible quid pro quo for campaigning for Glenn Hegar and his red state counterparts.

The Making of A Culture Warrior

Ramaswamy has a history of disdain for the working class he now pretends to defend. As an undergrad, he penned an op-ed for the Harvard Crimson arguing against a living wage for the University’s janitorial staff because: “I am disinclined to spend a few extra dollars on a needy Harvard janitor.” 

He didn’t believe in raising their minimum wage to $10/hour because it would, get this, be a disservice to the janitors.

Years later, while CEO of Roivant Sciences, Ramaswamy wrote a letter to employees refusing to acknowledge the racism behind the murder of George Floyd. His “tone deaf” letter created blowback among Roivant’s employees, resulting in the loss of company advisors, life-long friendships, and ultimately his job as CEO of the company he founded.

Ramaswamy then wrote Woke Inc. – a book described as “a conspiracy theory” that  through “sweeping generalizations” concocts a world he wants to attack. The premise of the book is that the extreme left is taking over corporate America, despite a steady increase in conservative executives.

With Americans being gouged at the pump, and oil companies raking in record profits, Ramaswamy has seized on the crisis to sling half-baked conspiracies. Ramaswamy cherry-picks financial data that shows-short term, market-beating financial returns of oil companies, while ignoring longer-term trends that show the opposite.

Welcome to the Age of Infowars Investors

Alex Jones left an indelible impact on today’s conservative party. Even after being found liable to the tune of $49.5 million for harassing Sandy Hook’s grieving parents, he received support at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference. Not surprisingly, Vivek Ramaswamy and Strive Funds also received full-throated support from the same stage, on the same night.

Ramaswamy has been vocal in his support for Alex Jones’ latest conspiracy theory espoused in his book, The Great Reset. The name comes from a World Economic Forum conference theme, but in Jones’ telling it’s a global plan “to enslave humanity” that wraps in climate and ESG themes. 

Even if Ramaswamy fell silent and Strive Funds failed, the seeds of doubt they and their enablers so effectively planted will likely spawn a generation of unwitting Infowars investors risking their nest eggs in pursuit of the latest trumped-up “theories.”

They’ll learn before long that deliberately investing in risky businesses isn’t a smart way to protect and grow investments. But by then, it will be too late, and the teachers, firefighters and police officers whose pensions are on the line will be left with the bill. 

Ryon Harms is the CEO of Manifest Social, a social impact agency fighting for shareholder advocates, climate activists, and sustainable brands.