Putting the Grift in ESG

On the whole, I would rather live in a society was run by cynics than by saints—cynics tend to be less intrusive. However, when cynics ...

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BY ANDREW STUTTAFORD Image March 20, 2021
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BY ANDREW STUTTAFORD March 20, 2021
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Putting the Grift in ESG

On the whole, I would rather live in a society was run by cynics than by saints—cynics tend to be less intrusive. However, when cynics pretend to be saints, they are playing a dangerous game, as many of those on Wall Street now peddling "socially responsible" investment (SRI) may soon discover. To be clear, I have no doubt that some of those pushing for more SRI (or the closely related concept of stakeholder capitalism) are true believers. Others, perhaps the smartest, are jockeying for positions of power — and the perks that come with it — under a corporatist regime (stakeholder capitalism is essentially an expression of corporatism). Still others are simply following the ancient Wall Street practice of repackaging nonsense and selling it at a profit.

The idea that companies which are run not for their shareholders, but for a somewhat arbitrarily selected group of "stakeholders" and/or goals that someone, somewhere, has determined to be good for society will be more profitable (or less risky) than companies run with a keen eye on shareholder return is, on the face of it, absurd. Even if it were not absurd, the extra fillip that would come from doing well by doing good would be quickly reflected in the share prices of those supposedly virtuous companies, sharply reducing the potential upside for those who got into the game too late (which will likely be most investors).

Nevertheless, turning to Jason Zweig's The Devil's Financial Dictionary (a recent, and entertaining purchase, from which I plan on quoting fairly frequently in the next few months), I see that the first line of Zweig's definition of a stock market is this:

A chaotic hive of millions of people who ...   READ MORE

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