Hey tech folks: Vivek Ramaswamy is not the one
Someday a successful entrepreneur will make America love colorblind meritocracy and smart technocracy. Just not this one.
Look, I know that Vivek Ramaswamy is not going to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. I know that his crazy-sounding positions are just attempts to get attention and distinguish himself from the GOP field. I know that Trump is almost certain to be the GOP nominee, and Vivek is essentially running for Vice President. I know that much of the attention Vivek is getting is just a symptom of America’s overly long presidential election cycle, which requires the media to focus on fringe candidates early on because if they focused on the candidates who could actually win, audiences would get bored long before the election. I know all of this. So why am I writing a post about Vivek Ramaswamy?
Well, first of all, because several people I know have asked me to write such a post, and I aim to please. Among the people I hang out with in the tech industry here in San Francisco, Vivek seems to have neatly slotted himself into people’s mental category of “guy who seems to have some fresh ideas and who’s worth listening to”. That slot was recently occupied by RFK Jr., but he vacated it when his penchant for embracing every conspiracy theory under the sun led him to suggest that Covid was bioengineered to spare Jews. Vivek also throws out some conspiracy theories — it’s hard to be a GOP presidential candidate these days and not do this — but he wisely keeps them vague and positions himself as just-asking-questions.
And in many ways, Vivek is a much better fit for tech people’s cautious interest than RFK Jr. ever was. For one thing, Vivek is a successful entrepreneur himself; his biotech company, Roivant, is publicly traded and has a market capitalization of $9 billion as of this writing. As the son of Indian immigrants and a believer in “colorblind meritocracy”, he both embodies and champions the idea of America as a land of opportunity where race is no barrier to success. (RFK Jr., in contrast, is the heir to an East Coast political dynasty who has never done anything in life other than get attention based on his family name.) It’s natural for tech folks to feel like Vivek is one of theirs, and that his moment in the media spotlight means that their values are finally breaking through to the mainstream of American politics.
But the Ramaswamy-curious are going to be disappointed, because Vivek is not going to be successful in mainstreaming the ideal of colorblind meritocracy. And the reason is more than racial prejudice among the GOP rank-and-file. It’s that Vivek is fundamentally a huckster, “sell-the-sizzle” guy more than a technocratic get-things-done sort of guy. And it really shows in the kinds of ideas he’s putting out there
Vivek’s ideas just make no sense
Now, in this post, I’m going to refrain from criticizing any of Ramaswamy’s ideas on race, meritocracy, DEI, and so on — not because I agree with him, but simply because people’s differences on these issues are mostly just differences in values. Nor am I going to talk about Vivek’s opinions on Trump and January 6th, because basically any GOP candidate has to stand with Trump on those issues to have any chance at being embraced by the base.
Instead, I’m going to focus on ideas where technocractic competence could have a big positive impact — and where Vivek’s ideas show that he would not act competently in the interests of the United States. These include energy, immigration, foreign policy, and the civil service. A techie President should see more clearly on these issues than the average denizen of the D.C. swamps. Vivek sees less clearly.