Many have pondered corporate America’s slide into “wokeism” and cultural leftism. A prime example is Nike paying Colin Kaepernick millions to be the face of an ad campaign because the athlete refused to stand during the national anthem, then removing a sneaker with the American flag on it from its shelves at Kaepernick’s request.
Some people theorized this is simply corporate America appealing to its younger and relatively liberal customer base. While that’s probably true in part, the ultimate explanation might be both simpler and more profound: China has bent corporate America to its will.
The Simple Explanation of Corporate Wokeness
A Harvard Business Review article from earlier this year conducted an admittedly limited survey of consumers’ views of when corporations engage in political activity. It found Democrats are much more intolerant of corporations that engage in conservative activism than are Republicans toward corporations that engage in liberal activism. More research here is needed to track what consumers actually do with their money, instead of what they simply say they will do.
Nevertheless, the message to corporate America has been clear: Liberal activism doesn’t cost anything, while even latent conservatism might result in boycotts and media frenzies. In the face of this asymmetric intolerance, corporations rationally take the path of least resistance and slide into corporate leftism.
It turns out a great many of the baffling frustrations Americans feel — from Nike paying Kaepernick millions, to Hollywood bowing to Chinese censors, to China holding an undue and sinister influence over the World Health Organization (WHO) — may be explained by a simple axiom: “The Most Intolerant Wins.” As we’ve seen in Hollywood, the media, Big Tech, and now the World Health Organization, often the most intolerant is China.
In his 2018 book “Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life,” statistician, options trader, and professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb includes a chapter titled “The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority,” in which he explains this widely applicable premise. For instance, peanuts aren’t found in most schools and airplanes. Someone with a peanut allergy will not consume products that touch peanuts, but someone without the allergy can easily eat foods without peanut traces in them. The most intolerant wins.
Taleb closes his chapter writing, “Society doesn’t evolve by consensus, voting, majority, committees, verbose meeting, academic conferences, and polling; only a few people suffice to disproportionately move the needle. All one needs is an asymmetric rule somewhere. And asymmetry is present in about everything.”
China’s Bullying of Corporate America
The “Most Intolerant Wins” explains why China has been able to meld global institutions and corporate America. Hollywood cuts scenes, radically changes plots, and doesn’t release entire movies because China is much more intolerant than America. Not only will China not show an offending film, the filmmaking company, such as Walt Disney, risks being cut out of China altogether for even the smallest perceived offense.
Likewise, corporate America bows to China because doing so won’t hurt its bottom line in the United States (yet), but not doing so will completely cut it out of the Chinese market. The Trump administration was in a dustup with 3M over that company exporting masks made in America overseas — even while U.S. health-care workers are critically short of masks — which resulted in the president invoking the Defense Production Act to force these masks to be sold in America.
But that didn’t stop 3M’s CEO from essentially praising China in a softball interview with CNBC for being totally willing to send their protective equipment production outside the United States. Turns out, China isn’t allowing this equipment to be exported, despite claiming it has the virus under control. This glaring incongruity is being little reported in American media.
Corporate mainstream media has taken to repeating Chinese propaganda, saying China is handling the Wuhan virus better than America and that it is “racist” to attribute the pandemic to the ineptitude, corruption, and possibly even ill intent of China’s government. Except that the virus is entirely due to the Chinese communist government, which is corrupt, dangerous, sloppy, and indifferent to human life.
The media corruptly conflated saying that COVID-19 was a bioweapon with the much more realistic probability that the virus escaped an ill-run Chinese lab. Anyone who doubted China’s official government line, which has changed several times, was labeled a “conspiracy theorist.”
Corporate media then repeated the claim that the virus came from a wet market, despite much evidence to the contrary, even after China had moved on to alternate and even more insane explanations. CNN just ran a story, straight from a Chinese propaganda outfit, with the headline, “China’s PLA Navy is controlling coronavirus and aircraft carrier’s deployment proves it.”
Conservatives attribute this media malpractice to Trump Derangement Syndrome, but it has been going on long before President Donald Trump entered the scene. It’s also largely due to the most intolerant also winning in the media.
Michael Bloomberg has openly admitted that Bloomberg News censors stories embarrassing to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) due to business concerns. For example, in 2013, Bloomberg News killed a story about the massive and ill-gotten wealth of CCP officials. Then it fired the reporter behind the story and tried to silence his wife.
In a secret recording obtained by NPR, Bloomberg editor Matthew Winkler put the decision to kill the story this way: “It is for sure going to, you know, invite the Communist Party to, you know, completely shut us down and kick us out of the country. … So, I just don’t see that as a story that is justified.”
A walk through the U.S. corporate media reveals conglomerates with ties to China. For example, NBC and Comcast, which own CNBC and MSNBC, have business ties to China. This includes a multibillion-dollar theme park being built in Beijing, and strategic ties with China’s internet search giant Baidu.
These media corporations, especially when they are part of broader non-news media organizations with business in China, face a choice: Bend the news to China’s liking, or lose access to the Chinese market. CNN may get a day of conservatives complaining on Twitter for its China propaganda headline, but WarnerMedia and AT&T now have favor with the Chinese government, which lords over the world’s second-largest economy compared to America. Meanwhile, these companies face no reprisals from the U.S. government or American advertisers for such behavior, so for now, it’s without cost.
‘The Most Intolerant Wins’ Explains WHO Happenings
The same principle applies to the World Health Organization (WHO). China is willing to bully and cajole, while America, committed to international institutions we built in the aftermath of World War II, takes a much more passive approach. China sees these institutions as means to an end — growing Chinese power — while America often sees global institutions as an end in and of themselves.
Thus, the World Bank, mostly funded by America, gives loans to China. That’s also why the WHO, which until recently was mostly funded by America, was so intent on doing China’s bidding.
Back in 2017, the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was accused of covering up cholera epidemics in his home country of Ethiopia at the behest of the CCP, simply because China would have torpedoed his career if he didn’t. Most recently, the WHO has covered up for China regarding the coronavirus, largely because China was more willing to bully and act out if it was displeased.
The WHO is so scared of what China thinks that a top WHO official cut off the interview with a reporter when she asked about Taiwan. Although not a WHO member, Taiwan is one of the only places in the world effectively dealing with the virus via testing and common-sense measures, without a draconian shutdown.
How Does One Combat the Intolerant Minority?
The “path of least resistance” strategy regarding intolerance has risks. The WHO is feeling this now, after Trump cut its funding. But an intransigent minority can be incredibly powerful, and the behavior is shockingly rational.
This way of viewing things may even rationalize the left’s behavior about President Trump. Every complaint is turned up to “11” just to make people willing to vote to make the noise go away. For some Americans, this is counterproductive and creates a backlash, but for many others — especially millennials, a conformist generation — this strategy is incredibly effective.
How, then, does one combat the “Dictatorship of the Small Minority”? One possibility is out-intolerating the intolerant. For example, America could try to emulate China’s intransigence, although this may be hard to do across the board given our freedom-loving inherent nature, which is also a great strength. Yet certain areas will call for this, as seen in Trump’s common-sense decision to cut off the WHO. Note House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has criticized this decision.
Another step is to name and shame those who bend to an unpopular minority, especially the CCP. “Whores of China,” or WOCs, is a suggested epitaph. But both of these strategies may be ineffective in the long run, especially when combatting against strong financial incentives the CCP provides to those who would bend and break.
Play Hardball Right Back
The answer is to make American policy the new path of least resistance. American corporations should no longer operate in an environment where America is playing nice while China is playing hardball. This may require some blunt-rule policymaking.
The media is constantly complaining about corporate influence on politics. Very well, and media corporations that live in glass houses should not throw stones. Amazon and the Washington Post shouldn’t be co-owned. Nor should CNN be part of AT&T.
We need a “Glass-Steagall” for our press. Congress should look into requiring news media corporations to be standalone enterprises, separate from entertainment media companies and with limits on shareholders who have other interests. This is in the spirit of the First Amendment, not in conflict with it.
Likewise, the U.S. government should crack down on Chinese investment in U.S. movies. The government may think of imposing restrictions on the “export” of films to China. This is entirely warranted because we are in no less than a cold war. It’s baffling that people obsessed over Russia when China literally controls the movies we watch.
Finally, the ultimate removal of the perverse incentive to take the path of least resistance will require systematically cutting ties between China and the United States. This means ensuring the independence of our health-care supply chains and onshoring much else. We should pursue something the Japanese are doing: paying manufacturers to bring jobs out of China and back to America.
For now, the first step is to use the disinfectant of sunlight on those who have bowed to China’s intolerance. Congressional hearings would be a start.