Culture Friday – Virtue signaling on Wall Street

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, December 4th, 2020.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

It’s no big secret that big tech has an outsized influence over our lives.

And now the second-biggest stock exchange, the Nasdaq, takes that influence to a whole new level. Nasdaq is an electronic stock exchange, a marketplace for buying and selling corporate equity, and it caters to high-tech stocks.

The Nasdaq is now trading in identity politics.

This week, it sought permission from the government regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, to place a new restriction on public companies that trade on the Nasdaq.

Here’s Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman on CNBC.

FRIEDMAN: We establish standards that we are asking companies to meet, which is to have at least one woman and at least one person of either an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ on their board.

What she’s saying is, Nasdaq-listed companies must have diverse corporate boards, or explain why they can’t comply—at risk of being kicked out of the market.

Now, it’s all in the definitions, as she explains.

Nasdaq’s proposal is at least one woman director and one director from an underrepresented minority group or LGBTQ.

Interestingly, Nasdaq has about three-thousand companies and something like 75 percent of them today are not in compliance. Or maybe not knowingly. Maybe a company has a board member who’s not open about that.

REICHARD: Most of the bigger companies are compliant. It’s the smaller ones that aren’t and particularly foreign ones—Chinese companies, for example.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized: “Like much of corporate America today, the Nasdaq is virtue signaling at the expense of someone else. … Imposing its own identity politics on … companies meddles in corporate management and will harm economic growth and job creation. A free society looks at the skill and talent of individuals, not their physical appearances.”

EICHER: Joining us now to talk about this is John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center and host of Breakpoint podcast. Good morning, John.


EICHER: I’m a proponent of free-market economics and the free market provides more opportunity than any government ever will, but I want to home in on the LGBTQ part of this question, John.

It’s especially interesting to me that the SEC has to approve this rule.

If you know about public-company financial disclosure requirements, the compliance regime is stringent. Your numbers have to be true, thorough, accurate. 

Yet I’m just thinking about putting, oh let’s see, the actress Ellen Page in a corporate board seat, now Elliot Page, she came out as a transgender male this week. It strikes me as ironic that you have fixed standards about financial disclosure, but self-identification trumps fixed standards of biology.

STONESTREET: Well, here’s a question. What if you had Ellen Page on your board two weeks ago and she re-identifies herself as a man, as Elliot Page as she is now. Are you now out of compliance if you don’t have a woman on your board?

EICHER: (laughs) Well, that’s a good question.

STONESTREET: It kind of gets to the heart of I think the point that you’re making which is when it comes to economic realities, you are dealing with realities. You are dealing with observables. You’re dealing with measurables, with testables, with things that are repeatable. 

This is the way that the sciences—whether we’re talking about the economic sciences, things upon which things in real life are based. Right? In other words, you have to have a certain level of society built on realities to even have conversations like this, in which denials of reality are even possible. 

And then you bring up a very real question, which is if part of this compliance means you have to have at least one woman, what if you have a woman now that re-classifies herself as a man—as Ellen Page did this week—then are you now out of compliance? And what this should do for us is make us step back and go, wait a minute, we are having this conversation at all, which means it’s something that doesn’t make any sense. 

We often made this joke, working with college students as I did for years—and high school students—is that, you know, you can only be a postmodernist questioning the existence of whether something is true and that it corresponds to reality or whether it’s just something that is a result of your own opinion or imposition of your own will on the world — you can only have that conversation in English class. 

You can’t have that conversation in engineering, right? Because you can’t build bridges based on the fact that two plus two equals four is really an example of cultural bias. Because two plus two actually equals four in real life. 

And so that’s what’s happening here is the mixing of categories like male and female, which are kind of built into reality itself. And one could actually see the point of saying, look, we want to have a female voice in the leadership of our organization. But then to turn around and equate that with something that is as pliable and maneuverable as gender identity, which is not the same thing as biological sexual realities. You just have to reach a particular point of decadence and comfort in a society to even have that conversation. And then the inconsistency on its face should make us rethink the whole thing.

EICHER: A smart business reporter at Fox Business had a question for Nasdaq and wasn’t able to get an answer, as it relates to Chinese listed companies: Will it force these companies to select as board members people from persecuted minorities on the Mainland? No answer. Interesting.

STONESTREET: Well, it’s interesting to think if most of the companies that are out of compliance are international companies—and many of them in the Nasdaq obviously coming from China—is this going to be the place where Corporate America stands up to China? Because we certainly haven’t on any other issue, right? I mean, we have completely bowed down, whether we’re talking about Disney’s film distribution or the NBA’s inability to compromise the amount of money they can potentially make and have already made in China. There’s no other issue upon which we have stood up to China at all right now because of the financial realities. Is this going to be the one? This one right here? This is going to be where we take our brave, courageous stand? No, I can’t imagine that suddenly we’re going to develop courage when it comes to China and money, on this issue.

REICHARD: On to another topic of interest to me as a court-watcher: a prominent appellate lawyer wrote a piece for Scotusblog. Thomas Goldstein called out liberals for attacking lawyers who represent clients they don’t like. 

This week at oral argument, a politically progressive lawyer argued in defense of companies alleged to have used child slavery. Nobody says the companies knew child slavery was going on. The legal question was quite technical. 

But no matter- liberals went after this lawyer for advocating for his client. And this is a progressive lawyer who pleased liberals when he went after the Trump administration every which way. 

Goldstein explained how our justice system works- that clients should have the best advocacy so courts can make the best decisions. Then the line that caught my attention: “this seems like an example of the political left eating its own.”

John, I have old fashioned words for this: mean. Ignorant. How should Christians counter mean and ignorant?

STONESTREET: Well, I mean, the good news is we have truth and love and of course this sounds like a cliche or trite or something like that. But I keep coming back to how revolutionary basic Biblical truths are in this cultural moment. Like, for example, so much of what you read in Proverbs. It’s one of the reasons I find Proverbs so compelling as wisdom literature of all the religions. Because most wisdom literature, especially out of the Eastern religions, is this esoteric nonsense that you can’t make any sense out of. It’s this stuff that sounds too smart by half. And Proverbs is like, hey, don’t talk loudly early in the morning. It’s a bad idea. So true, you know? There is such a baseline of common sense wisdom to Proverbs. 

 And in a cultural moment like ours, it can sound just absolutely revolutionary. Like “A soft answer turns away wrath,” for example. So our best option, I think, at this point is to retreat back into being confident in truth and being confident in the truth that every person is made in the image and likeness of God and we can treat them that way. And we can be absolutely ruthless with ideas and gentle and kind with people. That is something we can do. It’s not something we’re good at. It’s not something that’s easy. It’s much easier to measure our temperature gauge with the heat that’s coming at us. And our commitment, as some would say, to light instead of heat is the thing that should set Christians apart.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast.

REICHARD: Thanks, John!

STONESTREET: Thanks so much.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) In this June 16, 2020, file photo, a sign for a Wall Street building is shown in New York. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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