Have you got your ESG investment? Do you get a tiny warm glow knowing that your Widow’s Mite is nudging the world’s big businesses towards better behaviour? As with the song of the Old Dope Pedlar, who is doing well by doing good, money has been pouring into ESG, and almost every advertisement from open-ended funds soliciting capital burnishes their green credentials. Many of them promise to invest only in companies that meet environmental, social and governance standards, implying that investors can indeed make an above-average return as well as saving the planet by buying these funds.
The suggestion is nonsense, of course. When an oil company sells its fields, the CEO may feel virtuous for producing less CO2, and be pleased to get the activists off his back, but the buyer has no intention of letting the black stuff rot in the ground, and a private company can get away with corner-cutting. If a bank decides not to lend to support any more mines, there are plenty of other lenders, and there is almost no evidence of so-called polluters having to pay a penalty interest rate in the bond markets.