As February turns to March, the finance world is waiting with bated breath for one of its most dubious annual traditions: The Larry Fink Annual Letter to CEOs. Since 2012, when the BlackRock chief executive wrote his first letter, the occasion has come to symbolise the growing threat both to shareholder capitalism and American democracy posed by investment houses’ crusade to force the principles of ESG, or “environmental, social, and governance” investing, down the throats of companies, investors, and the public.
ESG first entered the investment and banking mainstream as a survival strategy. In 2009, BlackRock had acquired Barclay’s Global Investors Ltd, making it the largest investment firm in the world with almost $3 trillion in assets under management (AUM), a sum larger than the total revenue of the US federal treasury. Politically speaking, BlackRock’s emergence as an investment superpower could hardly have come at a worse time. Amid the wreckage of the 2008 Financial Crisis and then the ululations of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, public suspicion of big banks and corporations was at an all-time high. Finance, in particular, became a morality play: financial institutions were the greedy villains, while policymakers played the heroic civic advocates reining them in. For BlackRock, the chances of continuing to grow freely in such a hostile policy climate seemed remote.
Read more: BlackRock’s tyrannical ESG agenda