Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Socially Responsible Investing: What Is Externally Imposed Morality Worth?

In the 50s, 60s and 70s we had stakeholder capitalism.  Company managements believed they had an obligation to their employees, customers, and communities. But, no way around it, this was in conflict with the objective of maximizing shareholder returns. In an environment of sharply greater competition (80s and 90s) a stakeholder focus was gradually viewed as an insupportable luxury. Shareholder activism enforced and accelerated this trend.

Today, as described in the journal article below, it's revenge of the "do-gooders".  The acronym in force used to be SRI, for socially responsible investing. Today the accepted jargon is "environmental, social, and governance" or ESG. While I'm sympathetic with some of their objectives, I question whether morality can be meaningfully imposed by external forces - however congenial the capitulation. Does any of this mean anything or is it all just a sophisticated branding exercise, ultimately in service to nothing more than higher returns for shareholders?

More Companies Bow to Investors With a Social Cause -

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