Strive Funds: How Vivek Gave Conservatives a Financial Tool to Win the Culture War
How Vivek Helped Conservatives Put Their Dollars to Work Winning Corporate Culture War Battles
Most Americans now know Vivek Ramaswamy as the 2024 presidential candidate who wants to be Trump’s Vice Presidential pick and who is able to utterly eviscerate neocon Nikki Halley, whom he has termed “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels.”1
But before he was a rhetorical bomb thrower and populist politician, Vivek was an entrepreneur who made his money with a biotechnology company.2 After that early success, he used his modest fortune and business acumen to get involved in America’s culture war, particularly how conservatives could use their financial resources to win the culture war. His entrepreneurial solution was to create Strive, an ETF provider that focuses on using its custodial control of stocks and their votes to push back on insane corporate wokeness.3
How Strive Stepped Up and Filled a Massive Hole in the Financial Services Market
In creating Strive, Vivek set out to solve two problems: how to efficaciously direct the vast financial resources of conservatives toward winning the culture war and how to take back America’s corporations from the woke behemoth that has swallowed them.
Properly Utilizing Financial Resources
The first is more obvious: most conservative attempts to “fight back” are often wastes of money that end in donors pouring cash into the bottomless pit of think tanks, journals, and like enterprises. The vast majority of those might (rarely) provide some intellectual stimulation, but otherwise lead to nothing of note. Similarly, the RNC seems able to do little other than lose elections and buy Ronna McDaniel haircuts,4 and the Republicans who beg for donation dollars tend not to hold the line for their constituents once in office.
What’s more, the money sent to those has to be donated. As inflation bites, the economy looks worse and worse, and many Americans have little room in the budget left over for savings and investments, much less donations to think tanks. That’s a big problem, as it substantially limits the amount of money that can be put to use in fighting and winning the culture war, and tends to drain the pockets of those most dedicated to helping wage it, which presents further problems down the road.
But what if there were a way to promote conservative values and make money doing so? What if donation dollars were unnecessary because conservative dollars could be used to invest in companies, make them more valuable, and chase wokeness out of them? That’s where Strive comes in.5
Strive and the Financial Services Problem
So, if you were going to try to give conservatives a way to invest in winning the culture war, how would you do it? The typical advice is to start one’s own business or invest in local businesses, but not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, and private investments are a headache and generally aren’t available in tax-advantaged accounts like IRAs and 401ks.
That makes finding a way to use public investments, or stocks and bonds, important. And some companies had tried creating conservative-values-focused mutual funds so that investors could buy shares of “conservative” companies.
But there were problems. For one, those funds tended to be high costs and have low returns. What conservative companies there are tend to be in legacy industries and have delivered substandard returns, and the funds charged high fees for buying shares of those companies. So, while not a total black hole like the donation-industrial complex, those funds weren’t a great solution and didn’t really help those buying them.
Further, there are very few conservative companies. A few, such as Altria and Duke Power, are less bought into the anti-white hatred than others,6 but those are an extremely small minority of the large, publicly traded companies, meaning there are few investment opportunities in publicly traded markets.
What’s more, wars aren’t won by only ceding grounds. Conservatives have a predisposition to retreat, which can be tactically useful at times, but isn’t a strategy. Battles must be won to win wars. That requires going on the offensive, not just ceding ground. And in this context, that means trying to root the wokeness out of corporate America, not just running away from every company with an overzealous HR department. But, at the same time, unorganized and ordinary individuals have an approximately zero chance of changing companies from the inside or outside. Elon Musk can buy X and make it a bit better, but Joe Six Pack isn’t going to be able to do that to Apple, Target, or Walmart, however much he protests. Together, America’s conservatives could potentially pressure companies to change, with the Bud Light boycott being an example, but that requires coordination and follow through, something America’s right has traditionally struggled with.
So, Vivek set out to solve those problems and create a product that would help conservatives grow their wealth rather than draining them of it, let them push big companies in the right direction rather than retreat from them wholesale, and strip some of the worst companies, such as BlackRock, of the vast power their position as the default ETF provider grants them.
He did so by creating Strive, which produces ETFs that use their position as the custodians of customer stocks to vote in non-woke ways. As Strive describes it, “We do not intend to let the economy continue down this path. We aim to increase long-run capital market realized returns and assumptions by restoring free market capitalism by leading companies to focus on excellence. When the time comes for you to purchase Strive products and solutions for yourself, your clients, or the institution you represent, you can do so with the confidence that our sole obligation is to the financial interests of our clients and that we will always prioritize the shareholder over other stakeholders.”
That stands in contrast to “stakeholder capitalism” and ESG priorities, which put other issues ahead of profits.7 Namely, that means boosting diversity, “equity,” and environmental concerns over shareholder returns. And those policies can have real effects: only 6% of hires for new jobs at the top 100 companies in America were white people last year,8 showing how captured they are by wokeness and woke priorities.
How a fund votes is important because, while some funds and ETFs are now “pass-through” funds that let investors choose how the custodian votes, in most cases, the company that is the custodian of the shares held by the ETF or mutual fund chooses how to vote for those shares. That’s called proxy voting, and it’s often used to push ESG and like policies.9
So, if the custodian company is, like BlackRock, obsessed with DEI and ESG, that means it can push those policies by voting for them on the shares held by its ETFs. With so many investment dollars flowing into ETFs, particularly through retirement plans, that’s a huge problem for conservatives in that it gives a woke company, BlackRock, an immense amount of power to push businesses to the left, and similarly creates a constant pressure on those businesses to move left.
Strive is the solution to that issue. If imperfect, since it votes from a pure profit perspective over the long-term rather than only a conservative one, it at least removes the leftward pressure on the companies it owns to the extent it owns them.
Since it has about $1 billion in assets under management,10 that’s a billion dollars of stock that BlackRock doesn’t control and use to push America’s companies to the left. And, though the profit and conservative perspectives could diverge, generally what is in a company’s best long-term interests is what conservatives want: meritocracy, exploitation rather than avoidance of fossil fuels, reshoring industry when possible to protect supply chains, and like policies are ones that both conservatives and those with a long-term view of success and profitability can agree on as being important and necessary.
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Small Victories are Still Victories
With just over $1 billion in assets under management, Strive is small, smaller than BlackRock and its $9 trillion in assets under management.11 Similarly, the costs of its funds, though still well under 1%, are somewhat higher than offerings from Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street, the three main ETF providers.
But small victories are still victories. “Stakeholder capitalism,” or the mindset of prioritizing DEI and ESG ahead of long-term success and profitability, is a disaster that leads to woke domination of the corporate world and far lower returns than “shareholder capitalism” and its profit-first perspective.12 It’s a disaster. But it can be combated, and Strive is doing the hard work of presenting a solution that effectively combats it, and then tirelessly pushing that solution.
Unless an asteroid hits, the stock market isn’t going anywhere, nor is corporate America, nor are woke asset managers like BlackRock. You can try to avoid it, but history belongs to those who show up, and the left is showing up. BlackRock will dominate the housing market by buying single-family houses. Anti-fossil fuel loons will dominate the energy industry and sink our oil and natural gas companies, as they destroyed Europe’s once-great energy companies.13 Woke corporate managers will destroy their profitability by focusing on diversity and other leftist priorities rather than hiring the excellent and profiting from it.
That’s the future of the American economy if conservatives tune out of it to the extent they’re able or retain an insouciant attitude toward which asset manager they let proxy vote on their shares. But it isn’t the only future that’s possible. Corporations can be pushed back toward sanity. Energy companies can thrive rather than suffer under the burden of their own imbecilic policies. Normal people with merit can have career prospects rather than suffer under the indignity of seeing those without merit be hired in their stead.
But achieving that future requires showing up for the fight in a unified way, something Strive is striving to make possible.