Pluralistic: 24 Mar 2021

Today's links

Green investing is a fraud (permalink)

The pandemic showed us just how slow the global ruling class to move through the stages of grief, often getting stuck in denial ("this isn't happening") and bargaining ("can't I just reopen one teensy little giant Tesla factory, pretty please?").

The climate emergency is a sterling example of how "market forces" are incompatible with the continued existence of a human-habitable Earth.

Cons like "carbon offsets" are trivially corruptible and instantly become "markets for lemons," where the least effective climate measures produce the most profitable (and therefore most common) carbon credits, driving out all the good ones.

Market-based climate measures are where Gresham's Law ("bad money drives out good") meets greenwashing. Every promising financial vehicle designed to harness markets to save our species becomes a scam.

Take "Environmental, Social, and Governance" (ESG) funds, pitched as a way to save for retirement without annihilating the planet you're planning to retire on.

These were once so promising that they panicked the finance sector, so much so that the world's carbon barons convinced Trump to propose a law making it illegal to direct your investment dollars into an ESG.

It didn't happen, because Trump is administratively incompetent and easily distracted. But carbon criminals are very competent and good at staying on-task. Rather than banning ESGs, they simply corrupted them, turning them into another form of greenwashing.

Writing in USA Today, Tariq Fancy calls ESGs "marketing hype, PR spin and disingenuous promises from the investment community" – and he should know, he founded and ran the ESG program at Blackrock, the worlds largest asset manager.

The ESGs you're sold are stuffed full of the world's worst polluters, from fast fashion companies to (not making this up) giant oil companies. Oil companies!

ESGs are blowing up, with sales nearly doubling over the past year.

The SEC's new Climate and ESG Task Force" will "proactively identify ESG-related misconduct." If history is any guide, it will fail. The most profitable green investment strategy will always be investing in polluters while pretending otherwise.

As Fancy writes, the solution to the climate emergency isn't asking the public or business to do capitalism differently. As with the pandemic, the answer is regulatory, coming from democratically accountable states, not the autocratic satrapies of the corporate world.

"In response to the pandemic, we’ve learned that only top-down government action, such as forcing the closure of high-risk venues and mandating masks indoors, makes a real difference. A 'free market' will not correct itself or fix the problem by its own accord."

The consumer movement was born at a time when competition made companies sensitive to things like boycotts. Consumerists realized that they could skip the tedious, unreliable legislative process (where corporations could always outspend them) and hit companies where it hurt.

That's not the case any more and it hasn't been for decades. While consumerists were focused on market pressure, corporations successfully lobbied for new antitrust standards that allowed them to eliminate competition through monopolistic mergers.

Once companies eliminated competition, boycotts stopped working. Every time I post about Amazon's abuses, someone tweets that we should just spend our money better, voting with our dollars. Which sounds great, until you realize that every tweet generates revenue for Amazon.

By definition, you can't shop your way out of a monopoly. If you don't believe me, hit your local grocery aisle, where two companies – Unilever and Procter and Gamble – are responsible for nearly every product on sale.

The "cruelty free" brand is made by the same company as the "maximum cruelty" brand. The "organic" brand is made by the same company as the "Oops! All Additives" brand. The "low packaging" brand is made by the same company as the "padded with spotted owl feathers" brand.

When Procter and Gamble buys up some beloved local organic babyfood brand or a scrappy keto meal startup, they trumpet the acquisition as "giving consumers more choice."

If Procter and Gamble does something you hate – marketing caged-veal smoothies or whatever – and you protest by buying the "plant-based" I-can't-believe-it's-not-veal smoothie, chances are, you're still buying a P&G product (and if not, it's probably Unilever's).

Corporate America was once very afraid of consumer movements, but it's been decades since boycotts or other spending choices were capable of effecting real change. It's time to stop thinking of ourselves as ambulatory wallets whose only way of acting is spending.

Structural change comes not from how market actors behave, but how markets are structured. The rules for markets matter more than the decisions we make under those rules. Our consumer power is irrelevant, but our citizen power is essential.

The path to a better future lays through state action, through leaning on your lawmaker (and agitating for electoral and campaign reforms), not through endless agonizing over your joke of a 401k or the things you put in your shopping basket.

(Image: Cristian Ibarra Santillan, CC BY, modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago The Gen-X Guide to Disneyland

#10yrsago James Gleick’s tour-de-force: The Information, a natural history of information theory

#10yrsago Man who wants to patent genome gets legal threat for embedding James Joyce quote in artificial lifeform

#5yrsago Vulnerability in recorders used by 70+ manufacturers’ CCTV systems has been known since 2014

#1yrago Quarantine reveals the falsity of the automation crisis

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 500 words (119259 total).

  • A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions. Yesterday's progress: 260 words (9827 total).

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." Yesterday's progress: 1020 words (38362 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

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  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla