Dilbert comes for ESG?
When a comic strip reveals reality
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You know it is bad when your political agenda is destroyed by a comic strip. Dilbert, the well-loved syndicated comic strip, is a mild mocking of life in corporate or cubicle-bound America, a sort of cartoon equivalent of The Office television show. In recent editions, Dilbert turned his harrowing humor on environmental, social, and governance (ESG), a nationwide effort to grade large corporations on their commitment to left-wing principles, often to the detriment of their financial bottom line.
In the first of a series of comics recently published, Dilbert asks his trusty sidekick and muse Dogbert, “What is this ‘ESG’ thing I keep hearing about? To which the wise Dogbert responds, “Imagine if a crooked politician and a crooked financial advisor got married and had a baby.” In subsequent strips, Dilbert lampoons ESG’s push for board and hiring diversity based on individual characteristics.
As conservatives and people of faith, we should be on the forefront of the push back against ESG. It will come as no surprise that the “environmental” prong of ESG focuses on a company’s commitment to combatting climate change and fossil fuels. The “social” prong includes commitments to social justice, and the “governance” prong evaluates a company’s commitment to racial and gender diversity. All these are interpreted according to leftist ideologies. Now ESG is the reason behind corporate policies offering abortion travel “benefits” for employees post-Dobbs. In short, ESG is code for woke.
ESG is pernicious, and it has real negative effects on real people. For instance, public employee retirement funds in Texas rely on outside asset managers to advise them on how to vote their shares at stockholder meetings. In line with the advice received from those asset managers, the Texas funds voted multiple times in recent months against the oil and gas industry because it was deemed incompatible with ESG principles.
Read that again: Texas voted its shares against the oil and gas industry. Texas legislators, learning of these votes, were understandably outraged, and quickly launched an investigation into the intrusion of ESG ideology into the management of public investment funds.
None of this is to say conservatives and people of faith are opposed to investing in line with our values. Indeed, some of the very first efforts at socially responsible investing were undertaken by Christians. And today, high-net-worth individuals have access to carefully selected investment funds. Retail-level investors have fewer faith-based options, though there are identifiable options for both Catholics and evangelicals. Investors in these funds can be confident that their money will not support corporations that support agendas incompatible with core Christian commitments, especially the pro-life issue.
Nor is it to say that companies should not make choices that align with the values of their owners, whether privately held and family companies or shareholder companies. Mammon is not our only motive. Chick-fil-A could make a lot of money if it were open on Sundays, but it chooses a higher good in honoring the Sabbath and giving its employees a guaranteed day off. Some companies, especially publicly held ones, may choose only to focus on making money. Some large institutional investors may focus solely on making money.
But we also need to note that large public pension funds and other asset managers that do not advertise themselves as values-driven (whatever those values may be) do a disservice to their investors by turning around and engaging in ESG instead of obeying their primary duty to provide a return on investment.
As Christians and as Americans, we are called to stewards our votes in the ballot box, and we spend a lot of time and energy in order to do so wisely. We are also called to steward our votes at the annual shareholder meeting for those companies in which we hold stock. God is good to provide us with resources that we can invest, and we should honor His generosity by investing wisely. That stewardship can start by recognizing and pushing back on an ESG agenda that is contrary to both Biblical values and the principles of capitalism.
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