Woke capitalists, you’re officially on notice. Kudos to Utah’s state and federal officials for pushing back against S&P Global, a bond-rating firm politicizing public finance through politically correct “environmental, social and governance” metrics, aka ESG scores.
S&P (competitor to my former employer, Moody’s) wants to punish states issuing public bonds by holding them hostage to politically correct ESG standards. But leaders of the Beehive State last week fired off a stinging letter to S&P refusing to comply with ESG paperwork and demanding the firm focus on financial fundamentals.
“We view this newfound focus on ESG as politicizing the ratings process. It is deeply counterproductive, misleading, potentially damaging to the entities being rated and possibly illegal,” reads the letter (obtained by Bloomberg News) signed by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Treasurer Marlo Oaks and Attorney General Sean D. Reyes, plus Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney and all four of the state’s House members. They advise S&P to withdraw its ESG scores on states issuing public bonds.
This dynamic is interesting, since clients — in this case, states like Utah — pay S&P to rate them. Critics say this creates an inherent conflict of interest, but the rating agencies say their diversified revenue streams prevent any one client from exerting too much control over the ratings process.
In this situation, I’m proud of my family’s home state of Utah for pulling a reality check on the Manhattan-based firm for imposing its liberal ESG ideological values on a conservative place like Utah.
As my colleague Charlotte Whelan points out, there are some valuable ESG initiatives, including efforts to prevent slave labor. But in today’s corporate bullying culture, the ESG process has become polarized and is incorporating hyper left-leaning metrics.
Such as committing to net-zero carbon emissions — even though we lack technology to make that a sound financial or realistic goal. Or mandating gender or racial quotas that result in less experienced individuals in leadership roles, causing poor firm performance and setting up individuals to flounder in positions for which they’re not prepared.
Using ESG as a cudgel pressures companies to serve political causes ahead of their fiduciary responsibilities. Companies are ultimately answerable to their shareholders, and chasing political goals to the detriment of their bottom line and the investment of their shareholders is at best irresponsible and at worst illegal.
Sadly, S&P is far from alone. Institutional investors like BlackRock Inc., which manages an enormous $9.5 trillion in assets, embrace left-leaning environmental ESG standards, and Nasdaq, the nation’s No. 2 stock exchange, is implementing strict board-diversity requirements for companies it lists.
Utah’s not alone, either. It belongs to the State Financial Officers Foundation, a nationwide coalition of state treasurers who want public finance to return to neutral — instead of pandering to a narrow band of hyper-vocal liberal Twitter activists.
“Many public funds and state pensions are invested in ESG-centric funds that underperform and don’t deliver on their promises. The mishandling of these public funds — trillions of dollars — will have damaging effects on retirees, state employees and business owners. SFOF provides research and monitors attempts at the state level to advance these misguided policies,” Derek Kreifels, the foundation’s CEO, recently told Philanthropy Roundtable.
Kreifels rightfully notes that hyperpartisan ESG metrics “undermine state economies and erode opportunity. State financial officers are a frontline defense to push back against these types of far-left ESG policies and protect public pensions from activist investors.”
A newly announced group from Ed Rensi, the former CEO of McDonald’s USA, is also fighting back against “woke” corporate politics. Fox Business reported that Rensi, 78, is partnering with a team of advocacy groups to launch The Boardroom Initiative, a coalition to push back against US corporations whose boardrooms are becoming too political.
Good on Rensi — when most people would spend their retirement age golfing or sipping margaritas on the beach, he’s protecting America’s future.
Irving Kristol, in his prescient 1978 book “Two Cheers for Capitalism,” warned that US capitalism needed to protect bedrock American values instead of being overtaken by hard-left ideologues who sought its destruction. In its current form, ESG is becoming Marxist ideology hiding under a fig leaf of “corporate responsibility.”