Wall Street billionaires make for improbable green revolutionaries. Rupert Darwall writes:
Judged by BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s latest letter, January 2022 might turn out to be the highwater mark of woke capitalism. Stakeholder capitalism is not “woke,” Fink says, because capitalism is driven by mutually beneficial relationships between businesses and their stakeholders. He’s right. What Fink describes is capitalism pure and simple, the stakeholder modifier adding nothing to the uniqueness of capitalism in harnessing competition and innovation for the benefit of all.
Fink’s shift is more than rhetorical. Just three years ago, in his 2019 “Profit and Purpose” letter, Fink told CEOs that the $24 trillion of wealth Millennials expect to inherit from their Boomer parents meant that ESG (environment, social, governance) issues “will be increasingly material to corporate valuations.” Now Fink tells them that “long-term profitability” is the measure by which markets will determine their companies’ success, dumping the ESG valuation metrics he’d previously championed.
Why, then, launch a Center for Stakeholder Capitalism, as BlackRock intends, and not simply a Center for Capitalism? “Your company’s purpose is its north star,” Fink says, echoing the Big Idea of his “Profit & Purpose” letter. BlackRock is the largest shareholder in Unilever. London-based Terry Smith, a top 15 Unilever shareholder, slammed Unilever’s top management for being obsessed with public displays of sustainability credentials at the expense of focusing on business fundamentals. In his letter to Fundsmith shareholders, Smith wrote, “a company which feels it has to define the purpose of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has in our view clearly lost the plot.” Ouch.
[Rupert Darwall, "Woke Capital Won’t Save the Planet – But It Will Crash the Economy," RealClearMarkets, January 25]