So…this is gonna be a kinda weird note today.

(Umm…Steve?  How is that different from any other day?)

Anyway, yesterday, Gallup released some new polling data on ESG.  It was a mixed bag, we guess.  On the downside, apparently, all the work we’ve done to “raise awareness” of this plague on markets and business hasn’t had much of an impact on the public at large:

Efforts to promote adoption of the environmental, social and governance framework in investing, commonly termed ESG, have gained traction in recent years and have become the subject of pro- and anti-ESG legislation, yet the general public is no more familiar with ESG today than two years ago.

Thirty-seven percent of Americans currently report being “very” or “somewhat familiar” with ESG, unchanged from 36% in 2021. Another 22% today are “not too familiar,” while 40% are “not familiar at all.”…

Underscoring the public’s lack of familiarity with ESG, nearly six in 10 Americans (59%) take the “no opinion” option when asked if they view “the movement to promote the use of environmental, social and governance, or ESG, factors in business and investing” as a positive or negative development.

Ugh.  That’s…depressing.

Fortunately, there are glimmers of hope:

Adoption of ESG principles has been promoted by the Biden administration as well as the Business Roundtable (a leading American business lobby), the United Nations, and other prominent organizations in the U.S. and globally. The leaders and companies embracing ESG in investing have espoused it as a way to minimize investment risk while promoting social goods. Yet critics on the political right decry it as a system designed to achieve progressive goals at the expense of shareholders, and have advanced anti-ESG legislation in many states.

While this political backdrop is evident in the Gallup data, it does not appear to be an overwhelming factor driving the public’s interest in or views about ESG.

There is no difference between Republicans’ and Democrats’ familiarity with ESG, as just under four in 10 in each group say they are very or somewhat familiar with it and an equal proportion are not at all familiar.

Further, awareness of ESG hasn’t increased much among either group since 2021, when 33% of Republicans and 38% of Democrats said they were very or somewhat familiar with it.

Republicans are far more likely to have a negative than positive view of ESG, while the reverse is true of Democrats, but majorities of both groups say they are unsure.

Only when asked to choose between two modes of investing — with or without taking ESG criteria into account — do majorities of Republicans and Democrats take opposing sides.

We could quibble with Gallup’s assertion that “The leaders and companies embracing ESG in investing have espoused it as a way to minimize investment risk while promoting social goods.”  It’s far more accurate to say they’ve “marketed” it as such, and even if they do “embrace” it thusly, that doesn’t mean that it’s true.  Nevertheless, this is mostly good news.  The aggressive politicization of markets and investing has not translated into a politicization of public sentiment.  The public, as a whole, remains unpersuaded about the political nature of ESG and related matters.  And that, in turn, means that the public is still persuadable.

All of this leaves us with a couple sets of questions.

First, should the public be better informed about this?  And what role should we play in doing so?

On the one hand, 60% of Americans are invested in the equities markets (either actively or through employer-sponsored retirement plans).  Given the ubiquity of the pro-ESG/pro-sustainability mindset among those who are most likely to manage 401(K)s and IRAs, it strikes us that more people should be aware of the nature of ESG, not to mention its risks.  In other words, most Americans are invested in ESG RIGHT NOW but have no idea that this is the case, much less what that means.  Shouldn’t they have a clearer understanding of the issue?  Don’t we (personally and collectively) have a responsibility to help move the numbers on this?

On the other hand, as we have mentioned several times before, we have always thought of our “job” here in the same terms that Alfred Jay Nock thought of “Isaiah’s Job” – which is the title he gave to his famous essay published in 1936 that has influenced countless conservative thinkers in the decades since.

Nock’s starting point in this essay is a conversation with a friend who tells him that he has come up with a “politico-economic doctrine” that he thinks deserves widespread attention. “I have a mission to the masses,” he tells Nock. “I feel that I am called to get the ear of the people. I shall devote the rest of my life to spreading my doctrine far and wide among the populace.” And then he asks Nock, “What do you think?”

Nock’s reaction is to relate the story of God’s order to Isaiah to go out and warn the Israelites that trouble lay ahead; that they needed to mend their ways or face a terrible crisis. The interesting fact about this mission, Nock notes, was that God told Isaiah that the vast majority of citizens, the masses so to speak, would pay no heed to his warnings. This led Isaiah to ask the logical question, why bother? To which God answered, in Nock’s words, paraphrasing the Good Book:

Ah, you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up, because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society, and meanwhile your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.

The moral of this story, Nock told his friend, is that he should concentrate his efforts on selling his idea to the Remnant, that he would be wasting his time on the masses. He noted that by “the masses” he did not mean simply the poor, or the laboring classes, or the proletarians.

The mass-man is one who has neither the force of intellect to apprehend the principles issuing in what we know as the humane life, nor the force of character to adhere to those principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct; and because such people make up the great, the overwhelming majority of mankind, they are called collectively the masses. The line of differentiation between the masses and the Remnant is set invariably by quality, not by circumstance. The Remnant are those who by force of intellect are able to apprehend these principles, and by force of character are able, at least measurably, to cleave to them; the masses are those who are unable to do either.

Having related this story, Nock proceeds to discuss its applicability to the society of his time. We think his message is probably even more pertinent today, when the entire world is obsessed primarily with appealing “to the masses” or “to the voters” or to “the entire nation.”

Everyone with a message nowadays is eager to take it to the masses. His first, last and only thought is of mass-acceptance and mass-approval. His great care is to put his doctrine in such shape as will capture the masses’ attention and interest. . . . The main trouble with all this is its reaction upon the mission itself. It necessitates an opportunist sophistication of one’s doctrine which profoundly alters its character and reduces it to a mere placebo. If, say, you are a preacher, you wish to attract as large a congregation as you can, which means an appeal to the masses, and this in turn means adapting the terms of your message to the order of intellect and character that the masses exhibit. If you are an educator, say with a college on your hands, you wish to get as many students as possible, and you whittle down your requirements accordingly. If a writer, you aim at getting many readers; if a publisher, many purchasers; if a philosopher, many disciples; if a reformer, many converts; if a musician, many auditors; and so on. But as we see on all sides, in the realization of these several desires the prophetic message is so heavily adulterated with trivialities in every instance that its effect on the masses is merely to harden them in their sins; and meanwhile the Remnant, aware of this adulteration and of the desires that prompt it, turn their backs on the prophet and will have nothing to do with him or his message.

As Nock describes it, Isaiah’s job of preaching to the Remnant would be a difficult, frustrating one for a politician because, he says, the Remnant is a quiet bunch of underdetermined size.

They do not write in and tell [the prophet] about it, after the manner of those who admire the vedettes of Hollywood. Nor yet do they seek him out and attach themselves to his person. They are not that kind. They take his message much as drivers take the direction on a roadside signboard; that is, with very little thought about the signboard, beyond being gratefully glad that it happened to be there, but with very serious thoughts about the directions.

But, Nock maintains that “it is a good job, an interesting job.” He adds:

Once in a while . . . . [the prophet to the Remnant] will quite accidentally come upon some distinct reflection of his own message in an unsuspected quarter; and this enables him to entertain himself in his leisure moments with agreeable speculations about the course his message may have taken in reaching that particular quarter and about what came of it after it got there. Most interesting of all are those instances . . . .where the recipient himself no longer knows where or when or from whom he got the message; or even where, as sometimes happens, he has forgotten that he got it anywhere, and imagines that it is all a self-sprung idea of his own.

In any case, Nock contends that serving the Remnant is much more interesting than serving the masses. And moreover, he says, “it is the only job in our whole civilization, as far as I know, that offers a virgin field.”

All of this, in turn, brings us to our second set of questions – and the place where this kinda maybe gets a bit weird.

If we see this community – both those of us here and the slightly larger group of people pushing back against ESG – as the Remnant; and if we concede that we may not be able to change the general public’s knowledge and perceptions of ESG, then we can’t help but wonder: what can we (personally and collectively) do to help keep this Remnant “hanging on?”  What can we do to aid in preserving the spirit and sentiment of “the ones who will come back and build up a new” world of investments when the current and public investment market collapses under the weight of its corruption?

Now, when we ask these questions, we mean them to be rhetorical, in part, but genuine and earnest in part as well.  Not only do we encourage you to think about how you can be Isaiah to the Remnant, we also ask you to think about how we can be Isaiah to you.  Last week, we lost another longtime subscriber who complained (rather bitterly for someone who paid nothing for our notes) about our focus on ESG.  Can we be more effective and less polemical in the effort to persuade against ESG?  Is there something else you would like us to address?  Are there other things we can do to buttress this community?

We have some small plans for the near future – once we straighten out our current funding issues.  They include guest speakers, guest essays, enabling of comments on notes, and a discussion/Q&A board.  But we’d like to know what else we can do that would be of value to you.

Think about it.  Let us know.  And, as always, think small.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
[email protected]

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.