Richard Hanania believes that everything continually becomes woke because the left “cares more” (as measured/approximated by political donations and participation in protests). Scott Alexander disagrees, points to shifting political coalitions, cites Piketty, and posts altogether entirely too many graphs. But I think there's a false assumption being made here that permeates the basic premises of both Scott and Hanania's arguments.
It seems like most people (more specifically, the entire left, as well as the entire moderate or "mistake theory" right), views all other humans as ruthless profit-maximizers.
Consider the question of "Why is Disney woke?" A progressive would tell you "Because that's what makes the most money! Progressives are smarter and richer and more likely to spend a lot of money on Disney products than conservatives! Younger demographics are more attractive to large brands who are looking to focus on customer lifetime value! This is just a logical consequence of capitalist businessmen doing what capitalist businessmen do!" Economics-focused conservatives would probably agree with this sort of analysis - and would roughly mimic Hanania's argument - that Disney, full of Ayn Rand-loving businessmen, must be introducing lesbianism into Frozen because that's how they make the most money. How could they do anything else? If they made a non-profit-maximizing decision, surely they'd suffer in the marketplace, get out-competed, and eventually absorbed into a more successful company who is more in-line with what the public wants. That's how our beloved free-market system works, right? And they don't just apply this logic to actual corporations - they apply it across the board to "non-profit" enterprises as well. They assume that Harvard professors are part of the greater Harvard ecosystem which makes decisions based on a ruthless maximization of some combination of tuition revenue and alumni donations. Therefore, if a Harvard professor is far left, it must be the case that being far left is beneficial to Harvard's bottom line. Because if it wasn't, Harvard would eventually go out of business and Hillsdale would become the world's most prestigious university. Because that's how things work in America!
It is only the far/neoreactionary/social right who would stand up and say, "Wait a minute - what if that's all wrong?" What if Disney executives don't actually care about maximizing profit above all else? What if they really, happily, would sacrifice 100 million dollars to spread propaganda, because they believe the propaganda and truly think it will make the world a better place? What if they are so rich and powerful that the process by which they would get out-competed and replaced (assuming it is still functional at all) would take place on a timescale of several decades, such that it is unlikely to be completed within any particular individual's lifetime? What if the Harvard professor has tenure and really truly doesn't give a shit if spending his day indoctrinating his students into tankie marxism makes the university marginally less attractive to some applicants, or reduces the odds of his students sending fat alumni checks decades later?
What if our "free market capitalist" system isn't actually very free or capitalist at all? What if the regulatory apparatus has basically enshrined the largest corporations into their positions, such that they have no need to fear competition? What if a labyrinthine web of restrictions and bailouts and tax loopholes has resulted in a system wherein, in order to "out-compete" Disney, you don't just need to be 5% better than them, you need to be 500% better, and they're big enough and rich enough to prevent that level of difference from ever manifesting. What if the amount of people who actually function as Randian superheroes is <1%?
But isn’t this just the classic principal-agent problem? Partially, but not fully. Because it's unclear whether or not the principal actually seeks profit-above-all either. Look at the rise of ESG investing, boycotts of highly profitable/efficient companies for moral/political reasons, etc. Look at all the companies (which is basically all of the companies) who constantly throw tens of millions of dollars at climate change, charity, DEI, and other awareness campaigns that do not seem to have any plausible (or even claimed) link to increased profits. When it comes around to the shareholder meeting, it doesn't seem that the "principals" are angry at this - except that they don't think their agents are doing enough of it.
But what if we step back even further. What if the relevant principal here isn't "shareholders" but "society in general." After all, it's not only for-profit corporations that have gone woke and that are being analyzed here. There are no "shareholders" of, say, the University of Missouri, aside from "citizens of the state of Missouri." Is the problem that the professors at the University of Missouri are being too woke, even though the administrators don't want them to? It doesn't look like it - the administrators are typically even more woke than the professor base. Is it that the administrators, who in public universities are often appointed by or at least in some way answerable to state governments? Are they against wokeness in the universities? Not in any blue/purple state, to be sure. And administrators don't have tenure - as far as I know. What about the voters themselves? In red states they would seem to be less woke than their elected officials, but they have a plausible mechanism for doing something about that - voting the bums out. So why don't they?
I think it's less of a principal agent problem and more of a "almost everyone is lying about what they actually want" problem. The shareholders say they want profit, but ultimately, if they have to choose between profit and wokeness, they pick wokeness. Same thing with the voters. The agent's job is to do with the principal actually wants, not what they falsely claim to want.
Most people do not properly understand/appreciate this. They assume every businessman is focused on profit maximization. If you push them, they'll concede that sometimes, you might have a principle-agent problem, wherein a certain individual employee might try to maximize their own wealth instead of the corporation's (but they probably assume that the corporation has adequate controls and incentives in place to minimize or punish this sort of thing).
Like I said - if you ask "Why is Disney woke?" you're going to hear a lot of arguments about how wokeness is best for profitability, not about how a bunch of individual Disney execs just happen to be woke, and how the principal/agent problem prevents Disney shareholders (who, as I said above, are hardly guaranteed to not be woke themselves) from properly preventing these rebel employees from sabotaging the company in favor of wokeness. This would require them to concede that wokeness is sabotage, which they would not do. In the framework they construct, wokeness is not some crazy deviation or defection - it is, in fact, the best and proper way for companies to proceed, not just by the value set of the woke, but by the value set they assume most of the red tribe possesses, which is some sort of Ayn Rand/Gordon Gekko uber-capitalist philosophy. And of course, the segment of the right (which I would currently estimate at about 1/4 and is getting smaller every day) who does hold economic values paramount over social ones, struggles mightily to deal with this. Because if their "free market" does in fact work as they imagine it to, then the fact that every company is woke is evidence that the woke are correct, and that wokeness is good for profitability!
Here's a theory for you - the left is more popular than the right among the class of people with the most to lose. And this is the case because the left is far more willing to attack you and make you lose something. Why do people fear left wing cancel culture but not right wing cancel culture? Because if you say an unkind thing about trans people in your spa, antifa will, in fact, show up at your business, vandalize your property, and possibly even punch you right in your face. If you say an unkind thing about white males, the proud boys won't do that. All else equal, most people would rather be the puncher than the punchee, so choosing a side is trivially easy. Especially so if you have a nice life and a lot of fancy things and have never been punched before. The left has more passion and is willing to go farther than the right. Note that this is also how Christianity and Islam came to dominate Europe and the Middle East, respectively. You could keep worshipping your pagan Gods if you wanted, but if you did, the local Christian/Muslim knight/ruler would cut off your f---ing head. The pagan priests, however, could or would not do that to those who worshipped Christ or Allah. Might some true-believer pagans hold out? By either continuing to worship in secret or openly martyring themselves? Sure. But most regular people, especially the wealthy and powerful nobles who lived pretty well, weren't up for that sort of sacrifice.
I think Hanania is at least getting close to understanding this, using political donations and protest attendance as a proxy for caring. Those things do require some small-scale level of sacrifice. But it's not the small-scale sacrifices that are moving the needle here - it's the large ones. One side thinks it is just and proper to completely and utterly destroy any who oppose them, and the other does not. This quickly becomes a self-reinforcing feedback loop, wherein any neutral party promptly chooses to ally with the strong and not the weak. As such, if current trends continue, we should expect this delta to grow, not shrink. We should expect our institutions to become more, not less, woke. And this should continue up until such time as either the right dramatically increases its propensity towards cancellation/violence, or some external force comes in to do so on their behalf (i.e. the Nazis ruled Germany because they were more ready/willing/able to inflict violence on their opponents than the Social Democrats, and they stopped ruling Germany when the equally-willing-to-inflict-violence allied/Soviet army marched in and killed them all),