Stupid Is As Stupid Writes

Stupid Is As Stupid Writes

First, let me apologize for last week.  I was traveling from Thursday through Sunday, and I didn’t take my laptop out of its bag the entire time.  Sorry to leave you hanging.

On a related note, starting this weekend, you will get even more of me than before (more than anyone ever wanted, no doubt), which should more than make up for last week’s abbreviated schedule.  More about that on Sunday.

Additionally, I know that Thursday is usually ESG day around here, but I saw the following and couldn’t help but comment on it, mostly because it’s the dumbest damn thing I think I’ve ever seen:

Last weekend, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) ended his bid for the presidency. Following Vivek Ramaswamy’s withdrawal after the Iowa caucuses, the decision clears the field of candidates who have made attacks upon responsible investing — also known as environmental, social and governance, or ESG investing — a cornerstone of their campaigns. 

Before their campaigns fizzled, the pair successfully solicited attention for their bullish stances against American businesses. DeSantis described corporations as the “woke mob” and falsely blamed high insurance costs on ESG policies. Ramaswamy, whose initial campaign slogan was “Stop Wokeism. Vote Vivek,” dangerously compared financial companies like BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard to cartels. 

But the fates of Desantis and Ramaswamy should come as no surprise. Poll after poll has shown that attacks against responsible investing are political losers. Across party lines, Americans overwhelmingly support corporations’ efforts to invest responsibly, and 70 percent of Republicans oppose government interference on this.

I know the standard line in situations like this is to suggest that you should “read the whole thing,” but, in this case, I’m not going to make that suggestion.  You’ll be dumber if you do.  Plus, of course, you’ll never get those two minutes back, and you could undoubtedly use them on better, more important and useful things….like, maybe, sticking a screwdriver in a power outlet.

In normal times, under normal circumstances, we’d have to look long and hard to find an idea dumber than that positing that Ron DeSantis lost his race for the Republican presidential nomination because of his position on ESG.  I mean…the guy ran a terrible, not-ready-for-prime-time campaign against a former president who has always been (arguments over nomenclature notwithstanding) the “presumptive nominee.”  DeSantis lost because he was a dud on the campaign trail, running against one of the world’s premier entertainers.  Period.  End of story.

Fortunately for us, thanks to this essay’s author – a guy named Kyle Herig – we didn’t have to look at all to find a dumber idea than his dumb idea about DeSantis.  We just had to keep reading.  Saying that Vivek Ramaswamy lost the Republican presidential nomination because he opposed ESG is not only wrong but entirely backward.  Vivek made his campaign about many things and many issues – some smart, some not so smart – but there never would have been a campaign; indeed, no one outside of a few Roivent shareholders would even know who Vivek Ramaswamy is if it weren’t for his opposition to ESG.  This is a little bit like saying that Michael Jordan would have had a much better chance at making the majors if he hadn’t wasted all his time playing basketball.  It’s…just…dumb.

On the one hand, I suppose that it’s good news that this essay – which, as I say, is dumb beyond belief – appears to be the best that the anti-anti-ESG folks can do.  If this is what those of us who favor free and fair capital markets are up against, then we have no worries – at least intellectually.  Not only should this guy, Heirg, be embarrassed to have attached his name to this pablum, The Hill should, frankly, be embarrassed for publishing it.  Honestly, I cannot remember reading anything quite so moronic.

On the other hand, the morons responsible for this nonsense have the potential to be genuinely disruptive.  In December, Politico reported that the group for whom Herig is the spokesman, Unlocking America’s Future, “is launching an eight-figure campaign led by Zac Petkanas, Josh Schwerin, Erika Gudmundson and Kyle Herrig aimed at protecting ‘responsible investing.’”  And while Politico calls them a “nonpartisan group,” Tim Graham, the executive editor of NewsBusters and director of media analysis for the Media Research Center, explains that that’s not an entirely accurate depiction:

Monday’s Politico “Playbook” team touted a new “pro-ESG play.” ESG stands for “environmental, social, and governance” principles for corporations. The Left forces “woke” ESG standards on investors. Politico reported a group calling themselves “Unlocking America’s Future” is launching a $10 million campaign to defend against ESG critics, calling them a “nonpartisan group.”

They mentioned Zac Petkanas, but didn’t note he runs Petkanas Strategies LLC, a Democratic strategic consulting firm. He touts his stints for Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid on Twitter.

They mentioned Josh Schwerin, but not his firm Schwerin Strategies. Likewise, on Twitter he touts his service with Clinton, Terry McAuliffe and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

They mentioned Erika Gudmundson, and rinse and repeat: She touts working for Hillary Clinton, for Chelsea Clinton and for the Clinton Foundation.


That brings us to the real problem with all of this.  It’s not that the arguments here are dumb – although they are clearly that.  It’s that they are obviously and inarguably political – made by political hacks, using political language, advancing political agendas.  This, of course, is the opposite of what is needed right now in the debate over capital markets and their future.  This is precisely the type of dangerous and inevitably destructive hyper-ideological exploitation of business and markets against which I warn in the conclusion of The Dictatorship of Woke Capital.  Worse than dumb, this op-ed, along with the organization that created it and that purports to want to “protect the American economy, workers, families, businesses, and the environment,” is polarizing and treacherous.  It is dishonest.  It is filled with falsehoods and manipulated statistics.  And it is intended specifically to advance the politicization of American business.

This is an effort that, if taken to its logical conclusion, will end poorly, not just for free and fair capital markets, but for free and fair people as well.  And these doofuses have an “eight-figure budget” to make it happen.

That’s not just dumb.  It’s alarming.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.