The ESG Threat
Once upon a time, lefty sorts could put their money where their mouth was by “socially responsible investing.”
Individuals and institutions were allowed to choose to align their investments with their values.
They could sleep at night knowing that their capital was not supporting causes with which they disagreed, morally or politically.
The only cost associated with this socially conscious undertaking was a hit to investment returns, which was inevitable but was accepted voluntarily as the price of peace of mind.
But these days, that’s simply not enough for the Big Sisters of Social Justice Warriorhood.
Why make something voluntary when they can force it down your throat?
Hence the push for Environmental Social Governance (ESG), a backdoor way to impose far-left values on corporations without having to deal with shareholders at all.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is the biggest trend in finance and business. Index funds focused on sustainability oversee $250 billion of assets. Corporate leaders signaled their alignment with ESG when more than 180 CEOs signed the Business Roundtable statement on business purpose.
In contrast to the older ethical investment movement, which accepted that morally constrained investment strategies incur costs, ESG proponents claim that investors following ESG precepts earn higher risk-adjusted returns because companies with high ESG scores are lower-risk. Thus, their stock price will outperform, whereas those firms with low ESG scores are higher-risk, leading them to underperform.
This supposition conflicts with finance theory. Once lower risk is incorporated into a higher stock price, the stock will be more highly valued, but investors will have to be satisfied with lower expected returns. Unsurprisingly, claims of ESG outperformance are contradicted by studies.
Claims that ESG-favored stocks outperformed during the Covid-19 market meltdown disappear once other determinants of stock performance are controlled for. ESG factors were negatively associated with stock performance during the market recovery phase in the second quarter of 2020.
The corollary of the ESG thesis—that low-ESG-rated “sin stocks” are condemned to underperform the stock market—is decisively refuted by the data. When institutional investors “went underweight” by selling down their holdings in tobacco stocks, it made them cheaper for other investors to buy and make money, especially when they subsequently outperformed the market.
The profit opportunities that ESG creates for Wall Street, however, are clear. BlackRock charges 46 cents annually for every $100 invested in its iShares Global Clean Energy ETF and just 4 cents for its iShares fund linked to the S&P 500.
The Trump Department of Labor’s controversial rule on ESG in corporate retirement plans became final in October 2020. In effect, the rule calls Wall Street’s ESG bluff: “You claim ESG investing boosts investment returns net of costs; Show us on the basis of generally accepted investment theories.” Rather than use the Congressional Review Act to nullify this rule, the Biden Department of Labor says it won’t enforce it.
ESG is supposedly about the objective assessment of investment risk. The stated purpose of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), a body supported and funded by Michael Bloomberg, is to provide a disclosure regime that better enables investors to assess risk, climate risk being a major one.
At the same time, the SASB aims to harness the power of capital markets for political ends. Just as the Covid pandemic was sweeping the globe, Bloomberg declared climate change the biggest threat to America and the world. “How do you replace dirty energy?” he asks. “Stop rewarding companies from making it.” ESG thus becomes politics pursued by other means.
Climate risk is primarily about the potential costs of future climate regulation, but the cookie-cutter climate disclosures required by ESG standard-setters are systematically misleading because they treat the world as a homogenous regulatory space. Climate regulations are made by states and vary from the stringent and unachievable in parts of Europe to the virtually nonexistent in many other parts of the world.
Requiring corporations to bind themselves to unilateral greenhouse-gas targets imposes a penalty in competing against companies less beholden to ESG ratings (the unlevel playing field). Forcing corporations to lose market share and shrink their operations constitutes a covert form of divestment. Shareholders lose for no climate gain.
Regulation by governments is not only more efficient but also possesses democratic legitimacy. Proponents claim that ESG is necessary to achieve inclusive capitalism, but political power wielded by a handful of billionaire Wall Street oligarchs provides a pretty good definition of insider capitalism.
The weaponization of finance by billionaire climate activists, foundations, and NGOs threatens to end capitalism as we know it by degrading its ability to function as an economic system that generates higher living standards. This usurpation of the political prerogatives of democratic government invites a populist backlash.
The Real Clear Foundation report leans heavily on the environmental end of things, but ESG also has a strong Social Justice component, as this clip from Joe Rogan’s interview of VJ/Podcaster Adam Curry discusses:
ESG is yet another attempt to impose top-down wokeness by subterfuge on people and institutions that would never voluntarily agree to it.
Tue, 07/13/2021 – 14:25