Many Americans have a distaste for wokeness — but few may realize that the ideology may soon be invading their retirement accounts and siphoning their taxpayer dollars.
As Utah State Treasurer Marlo Oaks pointed out in a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, S&P Global Ratings — the nation’s largest credit rating firm — began applying an Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) rating system to states’ finances in a manner divorced from their true budgetary conditions.
Though the system purports to be objective, Oaks and other Republican state treasurers contend that progressive ESG metrics are giving investment funds an excuse to discriminate against states with conservative values.
“They are calling attention to political factors that are subjective — and that opens the door to being able to borrow in the capital markets at a less advantageous rate than would be indicated by the credit rating by itself,” Oaks told The Daily Wire.
Common ESG objectives pursued by corporations may involve setting certain green energy commitments or tapping a certain number of women to serve as executives. In essence, ESG conforms the nation’s most influential companies to a progressive agenda — even if political or social activism has nothing to do with their brand identities or corporate missions.
“It has the potential to increase the bond costs for states that don’t align with the underlying ESG ideology,” Oaks added. Utah has a AAA bond rating from ratings agencies S&P, Moody’s, and Fitch.
For states like West Virginia — which ranked among the top six states for energy production as of 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration — ESG funds pushing green power are particularly threatening to employment and public finances.
“They’re trying to punish us based on our culture, our economy, and our industries, making it more expensive for us to do things like build schools, build roads, build hospitals — all those types of projects that get bonds floated out there for them,” West Virginia State Treasurer Riley Moore told The Daily Wire. “They’re trying to coerce us into conforming to their agenda, and they’re doing that by trying to financially punish us.”
Moore alluded to the rising cost of gas in the United States and around the world amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which occurs as the Biden administration has nixed expansions to the Keystone XL Pipeline and dragged its feet on issuing oil and gas permits.
“If we’re going to be an energy independent country, you need states like West Virginia,” Moore remarked. “We could be helping our allies over in Europe … if these people would just let us build pipelines to get gas out of West Virginia.”
Moore said that green energy is “a rich man’s problem,” noting the increased use of fossil fuels in China and India. Even if West Virginia makes an effort to align itself with ESG objectives, “they’ll just move the goalposts again” until fossil fuels are eliminated, Moore said.
Meanwhile, Missouri State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick expressed concern over ESG funds condemning states with pro-life cultures — especially as the Supreme Court reportedly prepares to overturn Roe v. Wade. Stockholders for Walmart, Lowe’s, and other retailers were urged to consider abortion-related proposals at their most recent shareholder meetings.
“Those decisions really have nothing to do with the underlying credit quality of a state government or of a corporation that is operating in that state,” Fitzpatrick told The Daily Wire. “If they’re successful in making this a key component of how financial institutions look at credit risk at large, it’s going to drive up the cost for taxpayers in states that don’t subscribe to this ideology that we should intentionally hamstring our own economies in the name of environmentalism or some type of social cause.”
Oaks cast doubt upon the notion that most investors have a favorable attitude toward ESG. Indeed, an exclusive Daily Wire poll conducted by Echelon Insights showed last week that most American investors would rather see companies solely pursue profits rather than opine on political matters.
“I would say most investors don’t want this,” Oaks said. “I believe most investors will look at the credit rating of a state and look at whether they are going to get paid back or not. That is their fiduciary obligation, and most people that operate in the capital markets still believe in that standard. There are some that are not, and those are the ones that are creating this problem. But I believe it is a minority.”
In alignment with Oaks’ suspicion, a strong margin of investors — 66% versus 20% — supported the right of individual investors to opt out of ESG-style investments, according to The Daily Wire’s poll. Most investors also prefer to focus on profits instead of ESG when they select assets of their own.
Nebraska State Treasurer John Murante told The Daily Wire that the American people are undergoing a “Great Awakening” to the dangers of woke investing due to criticism from high-profile business leaders like Elon Musk, who has called ESG “fraudulent” and argued that its standards “have been twisted into insanity.”
“People do not want their retirement accounts invested for political purposes,” Murante said. “They want it invested in a way that will achieve the best return for their investment.”