Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Last month, in response to questions about whether he is a socialist, the Democratic nominee for Maryland’s governor Ben Jealous released a statement saying, “I’m a venture capitalist, not a socialist. I have never referred to myself as a socialist nor would I govern as one.”
First, it should be noted that Jealous is entirely correct in this statement, which is more than self-styled socialists like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can say. Socialism is an umbrella term used for any economic philosophy that espouses social ownership of the means of production, meaning that workplaces are managed by the workers themselves, and profits are distributed between the workers rather than bosses or owners.
[Read more: Ben Jealous wants to lower Maryland’s sales tax]
Jealous’ platform is almost identical to those of current politicians who call themselves democratic socialists, with proposals such as “Medicare-for-All,” free college tuition and a raise in the minimum wage. Though they are desirable policies, these proposals have little to do with socialism. He might not be the radical that many wish he were, but Jealous has at least added some clarity to the political discourse by correctly asserting that he would not govern as a socialist.
That said, his bragging about being a venture capitalist leaves much to be desired from a progressive candidate.
Jealous is referring to his position as a partner at Kapor Capital, a “socially-conscious” venture capital firm. Socially conscious investing involves providing capital to businesses that are ostensibly connected to positively impacting society. But venture capital itself isn’t conducive to social justice. Regardless of the kinds of enterprises the firm invests in, it is necessarily contributing to — and benefiting from — the injustice of the current economic system.
As an example, Jealous earned $1.3 million between 2015 and 2017 just by writing checks to support certain businesses, while drivers for Uber, one of the companies in Kapor’s portfolio, make an estimated hourly wage of between $6 and $13.
And many companies that Kapor has invested in are only tangentially related to social justice. Uber is merely a ridesharing service that offers few, if any, benefits to its drivers. Additionally, the company has had its fair share of controversies, including sexual harassment claims and reports of a toxic corporate culture.
Other businesses in Kapor’s portfolio are similarly disconnected from addressing real problems in society. Optimizely develops software for corporations such as Starbucks and Disney. It may help with marketing efforts, but as for social issues, it doesn’t have much of an impact.
[Read more: Ben Jealous wants to make community college free for DACA recipients in Maryland]
Likewise, Elevate is a brain-training app that is good for occupying users’ time but does not actually boost their cognitive ability, as research about the brain training industry shows.
Jealous is certainly a better option for governor than incumbent Larry Hogan. His more valuable experience includes serving as the president of the NAACP, and his platform includes valuable social and economic reforms. But progressives should know that the socially conscious investing that he practiced isn’t all it’s made out to be.
Zachary Jablow is a sophomore economics and government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.