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“Middlemen” are often characterized as rip-off artists, or “takers” who somehow insinuate a role for themselves without adding value. They usually do perform valuable roles, however, in price discovery and in matching and routing product to willing consumers, as well as offering a feedback loop to producers. Still, it would be difficult to defend them if they routinely favored producers whose business practices had specific political objectives. Certain middlemen, whom we might broadly label “influencers”, play an indirect role in the transaction process that is sometimes formalized, but not always. They can be rating agents, personalities on social media, or funding sources. Increasingly they blend political criteria into their ratings, recommendations, and decisions. Unfortunately, a number of institutions (and consumers) are falling prey to the corrosive influence of “woke middlemen”, or have already, including education, capital markets, and even law enforcement. The list broadens considerably if we include the influencer roles often played by media more generally, and even government itself.

Grading Schools’ Wokeness

School accreditation at the K-12 levels is often in the hands of organizations that serve as “woke middlemen”. For example, those in charge of accreditation may be in a position to demand compliance with the tenets of critical race theory (CRT). If you haven’t seen it, read this post by Stacey Lennox on the impact that accreditors are having on schools in Cobb County, Georgia. It can be very painful for a school and its students to lose accreditation. Such a loss can happen as a result of legitimate academic decline, but it also can be used as a threat of political retribution, as the situation in Cobb County so aptly illustrates. The task of awarding accreditation is performed by different agents in different states, but often a state’s education department will contract out to firms like Cognia, Inc. This company’s treatment of the Cobb County schools is shocking, and Cobb County taxpayers pay more than $133,000 annually for Cognia “membership”.

The CEO of Cognia says its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion has prompted it to introduce a “new protocol” in its approach to education standards. Celebrating diversity is one thing, but the application of “equity” in the allocation of school or district resources is quite another. But have no fear! Cognia is happy to offer its consulting services to schools to help them meet these new standards. Lennox notes that a few interested parties in Georgia, including parents and state officials, are scrutinizing Cognia’s sinister role in the matter of the Cobb County schools. That can’t happen soon enough!

Cognia operates in a number of other states. In Missouri, for example, the company is intimately involved in the accreditation of private schools. The state Department of Education is mandated by law to handle accreditation of public schools. The DOE’s standards were recently revised, with input from a variety of “stakeholders”, especially the public education establishment. It also receives input from organizations like Forward Through Ferguson, which represents “stakeholders” affiliated with a school district that lost its accreditation several years ago. As the last link shows, that organization takes a strong position on matters of racial equity and justice. It should not come as a surprise that the latest school standards issued by the Missouri DoE in 2020, which are greatly revised and expanded, place specific emphasis on racial equity. It’s certainly not clear that promoting equity, as a distinct mission beyond assessing academic performance, is part of the DoE’s mandate under state law. 

The same dynamic is operative at higher levels of education. For example, John O. McGinnis reports on that august middleman known as the American Bar Association, which now proposes “new accrediting standards for law schools that would make them more race-conscious, more politically correct and less intellectually diverse.” This proposal reeks of a desire to downgrade law schools that treat originalist principles with respect. It’s as if we need more attorneys lacking any real understanding of the fundamental, individual rights recognized by and enshrined in our Constitution.

Back to the K-12 levels, the greater is the emphasis on equalizing outcomes, which is the ultimate goal of calls for academic “equity“, the less is the focus on academic excellence. Gifted programs are almost sure to receive fewer resources. Subjects like math and science are recalibrated toward a lower common denominator. Difficult reading assignments are put aside. Discipline suffers. And that’s all before we get to instruction in social justice and critical race theory! If they aren’t already in on it, today’s school leaders might well suffer from “Wokaphobia”, or fear of the consequences of insufficient wokeness.

Grading Corporations’ Wokeness

In the past I’ve written about “middleman” organizations assigning so-called “Environmental, Social, and Governance” (ESG) scores to public companies. These scores are marketed to activist investors, investment funds, and financial advisors as criteria for building “socially responsible” portfolios. ESGs are very much in vogue at the moment, and they have political and social objectives. A public company with a low ESG score, or a fund holding a portfolio of companies with a low average ESG score, may be penalized by the investment community. To avoid such an outcome, companies engage in all sorts of virtue signaling nonsense, not to mention misdirection of staff and assets on pursuits that have nothing to do with fundamental business objectives.

The same kind of corporate waste is motivated by attempts to gain positive media attention or even approval of so-called influencers. There is nothing new about public relations, but today, a veritable army of negative-PR activist “middlemen” hunt for corporate victims on which to prey. The slightest transgression, be it any direct or indirect association with carbon emissions, “cultural appropriation” in advertising, a gender/racial wage or hiring gap, a negative regulatory finding, or any disparate impact in pricing, can subject a company to withering condemnations on social media, in the community, and at the corporate gates. This excessive scrutiny does great social and economic damage, dominating attention and absorbing resources in a defensive posture, all at the expense of a proper focus on the value of product and the people who work honestly to produce it.

Woke Middlemen and Social Failure

Woke leftists performing reviews for school accreditation are dangerous to our children and the future of our republic, and there are other kinds of “middlemen” who are actively undermining schools, such as teachers’ unions. The ESG scores produced by middlemen from the woke investor community undermine business objectives and economic efficiency. We could add to the list of middlemen the corrupt “fact checkers” promoted by major media organizations, large political contributors who fund the campaigns of anti-police prosecutors, and climate-alarmist grant-making organizations. Conservatives and libertarians have varying levels of awareness of these influencers and middlemen, who have been broadly successful in institutionalizing their agendas. They sometimes operate behind the scenes, and they sometimes are cloaked in an ostensible legitimacy, but one must know one’s enemies. Like invasive weeds, they are difficult to root out. In a few cases they can simply be ignored, but their impact elsewhere will be hard to reverse unless they are challenged politically, in the courts, and in the marketplace.