TRUTH TALK NEWS
Authored by Tom Czitron via The Epoch Times,
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) has been a hotly debated topic over the last few years. The seemingly unquestioned march towards corporate utopia has met with resistance among those who oppose the idea that government oligarchs should dictate the affairs of private business firms. The long-term effects of the ESG movement are largely ignored by the mainstream.
ESG is largely justified on the basis that corporations and financial institutions should be socially responsible. They should work obsessively to address the perceived menaces of climate change, racism, sexism, and a host of subjects. Our benevolent political and economic elite define what is virtuous and what is not for a grateful public.
Corporations are compelled to enact policies that will reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, eliminate perceived negative economic outcomes against aggrieved groups, and be “sustainable,” as well as other virtuous goals. It matters little to the “select group of human beings,” as John Kerry called them, who are tasked with “saving the planet” that many of their solutions to these existential challenges are far more harmful than their worst-case scenarios.
The Friedman Doctrine, named after the eminent Chicago School economist, states that the sole responsibility of businesses is to maximize long-term shareholder value. I was exposed to this view in 1980 when I attended the University of Toronto’s Master of Business Administration program. I was surprised by the moral certainty and simplicity implied by the statement.
I remember our professor being challenged by my class on two fronts. One was the issue of charitable donations. That argument was quickly dispatched when it was pointed out that corporate CEO’s had no moral right to give away shareholders’ money. It was not theirs to give. If the benevolent CEO wanted to make charitable donations out of his own pocket he was free to do so. Shareholders had this same ability.
The other argument we put forward appeared a more difficult one for our professor to argue against, or so I believed. What about “social responsibility”? Surely, companies should not pollute, produce dangerous products, or underpay their employees. Without going into minute details, he argued that corporations were subject to the discipline of the marketplace, laws, and regulations (albeit at that time over-regulation). Underpay your workers? They would be hired by others willing to pay them more and your business would suffer due to poor employee productivity. Dump toxins into lakes and rivers? There were laws against that and the bad publicity would harm profitability. It would be counterproductive for a company seeking long-term shareholder value to produce hazardous products.
What is clear is that the Friedman Doctrine, also called shareholder theory, maximizes not only long-term shareholder value, but economic utility as a whole. If the senior management of firms did not maximize shareholder value they would be in breach of their duties. I contend that if the Friedman Doctrine maximizes economic utility, then ESG syllogistically yields suboptimal outcomes. In fact, the negative effects of ESG will be catastrophic. Those who doubt that contention have never noticed the correlation between a nation’s average income per person and life expectancy. ESG will literally kill people, if it is not already doing so.
ESG is socialism by stealth insofar as it enables central government economic planning without having to publicly acknowledge such and deal with the unpleasant repercussions of property confiscation. In the past, democracies could merely nationalize companies by forcing shareholders to sell their shares to the government. This was done frequently with products and services which politicians deemed essential, like utilities. In some cases, such as post offices, governments would simply provide a service that the public sector could not compete with due to heavy government subsidies or legislation to prevent private competition.
Totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union would simply steal the property of owners for the public good and then attempt to manage those entities. Absent the need to compete, satisfy the consumer, appoint managers based on merit or earn a profit, these entities performed poorly. Any pushback was met with a trip to Siberia or a bullet to the head. Some socialistically inclined totalitarian regimes realized that it was far more efficient to allow the private management system to remain and be coerced, violently, if necessary, to do the will of the government. Profits could easily be confiscated covertly by a system of corruption, or merely taxed away.
In a sense, ESG is a novel and brilliant way to place private corporations under the yolk of government. No longer would governments have to deal with having to pay shareholders a fair price. They would not have to use the threat of physical violence to coerce managers to do their bidding. The supporters of ESG merely had to bully companies into adopting policies that destroyed shareholder value by psychologically manipulating employees, shareholders, and the public into believing that these activities were virtuous.
Of course, all too many corporate leaders learned to “love their enslavement.” Why wouldn’t they? Instead of competing in a brutal capitalistic world, they had their markets protected by government dictate creating defacto monopolies and oligopolies. Senior managers would be heavily compensated for playing along, creating a billionaire and multi-millionaire parasite class.
Of course, this brave new world of “stakeholder capitalism” comes at a terrible cost. Economic efficiency declines precipitously. Also, this form of socialism is a huge transfer of wealth to senior managers and corrupt politicians at the expense of shareholders. Whereas as the old Soviet Union engaged in murderous robbery, and the methodology of fascist regimes were more akin to blackmail, stakeholder capitalism resembles a confidence game. In a confidence game, suckers willfully hand over their money in the hopes that the con man will give them a positive return.
ESG is an economic and moral affront to the very concept of private ownership. Shareholders are robbed. Their pension plans end up with less value than they otherwise would have. The managers they entrusted with their wealth, whether they are company executives or portfolio managers of their retirement funds, are betraying them. Yet those people will grow fabulously wealthy, not by excellence but by government edict. Government officials decide the winners and losers in a charade that resembles capitalism the way professional wrestling resembles authentic combat sports.
It is difficult to assess the numeric affect ESG will have on GDP over the next generation. It is early days and we hope and expect that this terrible idea will join the ranks of other missteps like Lysenkoism and apartheid. We will be significantly poorer in a generation than we would be without ESG. Therefore, life expectancy will be significantly lower than if we avoided ESG, especially for the poor in both developed and less developed nations.
ESG will literally kill millions. To a narcissistic and Machiavellian elite, however, this would be a small price to pay for personal wealth, diversity, and the average global temperature being half a degree less than predicted by climate change models.
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