The cover of the Economist is said to be cursed.
For companies that grace its front page, it’s most often a peak in performance, with a fall soon to follow.
So what then do we say about the deep red paint splashing ‘ESG’ across this week’s cover?
It’s certainly not a puff-piece. ESG is unceremoniously dissected as being either virtue signalling, or a desperate pitch by active investors to appeal to youth, while also juicing fees.
Such criticism of ESG has been steadily building steam for the past 12 months. As you’d expect, this comes mainly from conservative pundits, or those incumbents fearful of a new model of finance that might threaten their status-quo business model.
Of course ESG is not perfect. Greenwashing is rife, and core metrics are woefully inconsistent.
But what’s most frustrating about the debate is the framing of ESG as being a panacea for the problems of modern capitalism.
The core of dedicated ESG practitioners recognise that ESG is just one small step towards a more sustainable model of business and finance, rather than purporting to ‘save-the-planet’.
After-all, ESG is just data, it helps investors to measure risks facing their portfolio.
What it doesn’t do is measure the impact that an investment has on the world.
Discussion of impact investing is notably absent from The Economist’s reporting. It’s frustrating, because this nascent field offers an alternative to so many of ESG’s shortcomings.
The final article in the series was titled, “Internalising the externalities”. I hoped that finally this magazine, purporting to represent economists, would move on from lazy woke-bashing and take a pragmatic view of the very real economic market failure that is carbon pollution and climate change.
Even back when I studied economics, some decades ago, pollution was used as the most obvious example of a ‘negative externality’, a cost that a company passes on to society.
But no, the opportunity was missed, and there was no discussion of the ways the science of economics could evolve to better value and conserve our most valuable asset, our environment.
I’m not sure if it’s simply the magazine’s underlying neoliberal worldview, or the imperative of modern media to lead with sensationalism over nuance, but either way, it was a miss.