Ferguson and the billionaires at Davos - Barokong
In my last post, I commented on Joe Stiglitz view, heading to Davos, that billionaires and corporate leaders are anxious to pollute the air. In my wealth tax series I reported on the popular view on the Warren Sanders Saez Zucman view that corporate leaders and billionaires represent a regressive right wing political force, that must be stopped by any means including expropriation of their wealth, even if that means destroying the businesses that make them rich.
My colleague Niall Ferguson reports from Davos what seems actually to be on billionaires' minds:
Take the World Economic Forum (WEF), the gathering of billionaires, millionaires, world leaders, do-gooders, busybodies and journalists that takes place each January in the Swiss resort of Davos. The overwhelming majority of people attending this year’s conference would, I have no doubt, affirm their commitment to reducing carbon dioxide emissions to avert catastrophic climate change, even while on board their Gulfstreams and in their Range Rovers.
I doubt if a single chief executive present at the WEF last week would dare publicly to challenge the view that a modern corporation should rigorously measure and regulate its behaviour in terms of its environmental and social impact, as well as its quality of governance (ESG, for short). As the US Business Roundtable declared last August, firms must now be run not only for the benefit of their shareholders but also for all their “stakeholders”: customers, employees, suppliers and communities. Milton Friedman is dead. Long live Klaus Schwab — founder of the WEF — who pioneered this notion of stakeholder capitalism.
“ESG-omania” (or “ESG-apism”) meant Davos 2020 was an orgy of virtue-signalling on climate change and diversity. To walk down Davos Promenade, the main drag, was to run a gauntlet of uplifting corporate slogans: “Sustainable solutions for Earth, for life”; “A cohesive and sustainable world starts with data”; “Let’s bring sea level and C-level together”.
Each year the WEF’s global risks report tells us what the business elite is most worried about. Ten years ago, the top five risks were “Asset price collapse”, “China economic slowdown”, “Chronic disease”, “Fiscal crises” and “Global governance gaps”. This year? “Extreme weather”, “Climate action failure”, “Natural disasters”, “Biodiversity loss” and “Human-made environmental disasters”.
(Related, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that Goldman Sachs will no longer fund fossil fuel development in the Arctic, or any US company that does not have women or "diverse" board members. And Jan 27, quotes "Salesforce chairman and co-CEO Mark Benhoff that "capitalism as we have known it is dead, and this obsession that we have with maximizing profits for shareholders alone has led to incredible inequality and a planetary emergency." )
In public, at least. In private,
Business people adopt whatever public views are convenient. And their public virtue-signaling means that winds now blow from the left.
Niall organizes his thoughts around "cognitive dissonance." Good old-fashioned "Hypocrisy" might be a more apt word. As in
Do you give speeches about climate change at international conferences, having flown there by private jet? Do you ever sit in a big black car in a traffic jam, when you could quite easily have walked, despite knowing that this, too, is adding yet more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere?
In this green new world, Davos Man must now prostrate himself before Stockholm Girl: 17-year-old Greta Thunberg, who delivered her latest tirade on Tuesday morning. “We don’t need a ‘low-carbon economy,’ ” she declared. “We don’t need to ‘lower emissions’. Our emissions have to stop. ...
I love Greta Thunberg, because she exposes the immense hypocrisy of the political climate establishment. When she went to school, she received the same alarmist pablum handed out to children around the world -- the climate is a crisis. Civilization is going to end. The world will be a red hot cinder in your lifetime. We have exactly 11 years to stop it. The other children, like those in communist countries including China today, understood the game. Mouth the pieties, get a good grade on the test, don't argue, and go out to play. Greta, who describes herself as neuro-diverse, took it seriously and literally. Well, if the planet is going to fry in exactly 11 years we darn well had better do something about it, and not just virtue-signal in our PR statements and buy some phony carbon offsets when we fly the Gulfstream back from Davos.
Niall's last point is excellent:
In the same way, if it’s climate change the WEF-ers are most worried about, you should probably brace yourself for a coronavirus pandemic. Talking of cognitive dissonance, what the hell were we all doing at a massive global conference last week? Fact: at least three of the WEF attendees were from — you guessed it — Wuhan.What are the really big risks in the next 10 years? Pandemic, nuclear war, civil war, government collapse. The ones very few people are paying any attention to. The big ones are never the ones conventional wisdom sees coming a hundred years away.
On reflection, hypocrisy is not a good word either. What do you call the behavior, of mouthing platitudes that you know to be meaningless or false, from good old self interest? You know a Warren or Sanders presidency is a good possibility, and they will use the regulatory and judicial machinery ruthlessly. So let's get those public statements and virtue signals out fast -- support for "stakeholder" capitalism, climate crisis, "ESG" metrics or whatever it takes. You know that social climbing at Davos, your nonprofit boards, (your hope to become dean someday, in academia) or just avoiding the twitter mob demand conformity. So you mouth the harder and harder to pronounce words, or even convince yourself of the worthiness of it all. There must be a good word in Russian, the art of getting along under a communist regime. We say "virtue-signaling" but that does not cover the self-interest of going along with the crowd. I welcome suggestions for a good word.