By Larry Bell, Ph.D.
Be very aware and wary that the Biden dministration plans to put political green energy lobbies and social justice judges in charge of your personal investment portfolios and retirement savings.
Earlier this month, the Labor Department proposed a new rule that will direct pension plans and asset managers to account for politically progressive factors termed Environmental, Social, and Governance scores (ESG) in determining 401(k) retirement plan decisions. Such woke considerations will include assessments of impacts on workforce diversity, climate change, and investments in sanctioned “green” energy projects.
The proposed new Labor ruling scraps and reverses a Trump administration proviso within the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) implemented last fall requiring retirement plan fiduciaries to act “solely in the interest” of participants and based upon a “material effect on the return and risk of an investment.”
The rule effectively barred plans from automatically placing unknowing workers who don’t select a 401(k) fund option into a default ESG fund with higher fees.
In contrast, the proposed Biden DOL rule “makes clear that climate change and other ESG factors are often material,” and thus in many instances should be considered “in the assessment of investment risks and returns.”
According to the revised ERISA rule-making interpretation, a fiduciary’s duty may “often require an evaluation of the effect of climate change and/or government policy changes” such as electric vehicle mandates on an investment.
In other words, retirement plan sponsors won’t merely be allowed to prioritize climate and social factors in how they invest; they can be sued if they don’t comply. Plan holders, on the other hand, won’t get much say because option managers won’t be required “to solicit preferences” on ESG.
There’s little wonder that big Biden administration boosters like BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, is all-in on an ESG 401(k) bonanza where they can charge heftier fees.
According to Morningstar, the asset-weighted average expense ratio of U.S. “sustainable” funds was 0.61% in 2020, compared to 0.41% for all open-ended mutual and exchange-traded funds, and 0.12% for passive funds … a difference that can reduce a typically modest retirement savings account by tens of thousands of dollars over a few decades.
As the Wall Street Journal editorial board concludes, “All of this amounts to a backdoor rewrite of ERISA, one of the better laws of the last 50 years. Progressives are moving across the Biden administration to steer private capital to implement an agenda they can’t pass through Congress.
Your savings will be conscripted to advance the progressive agenda, whether you like it or not.”
Such socially premised endeavors by a corporate manager constitute a de facto tax often involuntarily levied against unwitting or unwilling shareholders which decreases their profit margins, and therefore runs contrary to their ultimate investment objectives.
Those executives (or shareholders) who desire to contribute to social objectives that correspond to their individual values can, and should, do so as private citizens, not as arbitrarily determined by a small group of politically connected authoritarians.
Writing in Forbes, economist Bill Conerly explains, “The essential task of a company is to convert low-value resources into higher-valued goods and services … after some production activity, the final product has a higher value — as determined by purchaser’s willingness to pay — than the resources used — as valued by the seller’s willingness to accept payment.”
Conerly quotes Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart: “We save people money so they can live better.”
Famously influential free-market economist Milton Friedman argued that public companies that assume moral authority to direct funds to causes other than their shareholders’ best business interests are “preaching pure and unadulterated socialism.”
Friedman further observed: “Businessmen who talk this way are unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.”
And prospectively, even far worse.
We are witnessing an ideological totalitarian value-determinate trend very similar to this that is being imposed through a “Social Credit System” by President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Social Credit scores are based upon an individual’s financial credit score combined with the level of “Chengxin,” loosely translated as “Morality” or “Integrity” blacklists determined by government and sanctions or rewards based upon expansive data-mined data (including facial recognition surveillance) and sanctions or rewards determined by the CCP.
An individual’s score can be downgraded by infractions such as bad driving, smoking, buying or playing too many video games, unleashed pets, improperly discarded garbage, or disapproved social media posts.
Consequences of poor ratings include air travel, university application and employment opportunity restrictions among countless other punishments based upon whatever empowered oligarchs to determine is “best for society.”
Of course, this could never happen in America. Right?
Before you decide, contemplate imagining as recently as a few months ago witnessing our federal government snooping into social media accounts of the U.S. military for evidence of “white supremacist” leanings; vaccination mandates for all government employees and contractors regardless of religious objections or natural COVID recovery immunity; FBI investigations of parent protests over impositions of mask requirements and toxic Critical Race Theory indoctrination on their children; or Democrat-proposed IRS dragnet monitoring of all bank accounts with $10,000 or more in annual transactions.
Originally published by America Out Loud. Republished with permission.