On Divestment

When that thing that people may be afraid might happen is already happening, only change the ‘thing’ to ‘investing in dirty energy’ and the fear to ‘you can still make money on your money if you stop.’ The world’s largest investment house reports on tomorrow, today – pulling your money out of fossil fuels already turns a profit:

In places, BlackRock’s findings are redacted, so as not to show the size of particular holdings, but the conclusions are clear: after examining “divestment actions by hundreds of funds worldwide,” the BlackRock analysts concluded that the portfolios “experienced no negative financial impacts from divesting from fossil fuels. In fact, they found evidence of modest improvement in fund return.” The report’s executive summary states that “no investors found negative performance from divestment; rather, neutral to positive results.” In the conclusion to the report, the BlackRock team used a phrase beloved by investors: divested portfolios “outperformed their benchmarks.”

In a statement, the investment firm downplayed that language, saying, “BlackRock did not make a recommendation for TRS to divest from fossil fuel reserves. The research was meant to help TRS determine a path forward to meet their stated divestment goals.” But Tom Sanzillo—I.E.E.F.A.’s director of financial analysis, and a former New York State first deputy comptroller who oversaw a hundred-and-fifty-billion-dollar pension fund—said in an interview that BlackRock’s findings were clear. “Any investment fund looking to protect itself against losses from coal, oil, and gas companies now has the largest investment house in the world showing them why, how, and when to protect themselves, the economy, and the planet.” In short, the financial debate about divestment is as settled as the ethical one—you shouldn’t try to profit off the end of the world and, in any event, you won’t.

If the ‘masters of the Universe’ are already running for cover, the debate basically devolves to ‘you’re not the boss of me.’ Rising tides and disappearing oysters beg to differ.

Social Impact Bonds

Okay, so this is so… questionable. In their thirst to find news ways of making money, the cunning quants at Goldman Sachs have hit upon an ingenious scheme in which New York City is:

embracing an experimental mechanism for financing social services that has excited and worried government reformers around the world, will allow Goldman Sachs to invest nearly $10 million in a jail program, with the pledge that the financial services giant would profit if the program succeeded in significantly reducing recidivism rates.

The city will be the first in the United States to test “social impact bonds,” also called pay-for-success bonds, which are an effort to find new ways to finance initiatives that might save governments money over the long term.

Alright, I’m going to slow pitch this one under-hand. See the ball, here it comes:

If you are going to do this, there are other ways to make money that will save a lot more than save governments money over the long run. More, as in shorelines and aquifers. How about financial incentives for people to use less energy? For power companies to sell less energy? For regions to pump less carbon into the atmosphere? Is this that difficult? I know you can get there GS, come on.

The more you read the article, the more obscene it gets, private equity dabbling in social programs. At its essence, truly obscene. But if it works, they are going to do this, rather than provide any actual societal goods, they are going to fund them through profit-taking. Fine. Whatever. It is a kind a evolution, I guess. Better than incentivizing our destruction, which is exactly what has led us so close to it. But there are all kinds of other problems to which this could be readily applied. Get ready for a very twisted society, in which late-term capitalism comes around to save itself by incentivizing positive social and environmental outcomes.

Actually, who cares why we do it, as long as we do it.  It’ll be a boon for philosophy book publishers.

The nugget:

“This will get attention as perhaps the most interesting government contract written anywhere in the world this year,” Dr. Liebman said. “People will study the contract terms, and the New York City deal will become a model for other jurisdictions.”

But social impact bonds have also worried some people in the nonprofit and philanthropy field, who say monetary incentives could distort the programs or their evaluations.

“I’m not saying that the market is evil,” said Mark Rosenman, a professor emeritus at Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, “but I am saying when we get into a situation where we are encouraging investment in order to generate private profit as a substitute for government responsibility, we’re making a big mistake.”

Mmmm. Why would you think the market is evil?

Green Faith

This could go without saying, but I guess if I really believed that, I would let it. There is no good faith element – as in, “We’re operating in good faith” – in a capitalist system. Nor does there have to be. There is only green faith.

WASHINGTON — Reversing its oft-repeated position that it was acting only on behalf of its clients in its exotic dealings with the American International Group, Goldman Sachs now says that it also used its own money to make secret wagers against the U.S. housing market.

A senior Goldman executive disclosed the “bilateral” wagers on subprime mortgages in an interview with McClatchy, marking the first time that the Wall Street titan has conceded that its dealings with troubled insurer AIG went far beyond acting as an “intermediary” responding to its clients’ demands.

They could clearly see it was toppling and vulnerable sector; opportunities abounded. Of course they were playing both sides, they would be stupid derelict in their duties, i.e., not competitive, not to. Just as we would be derelict in our duties stupid not to know this is what they are doing, particularly because of the despite the altruistic tone of their t-shirts and coffee mugs. The very notion that something, anything, is done by a company that is in the best interest of anything other than making more money is… worse than naive, it’s a sentiment that is itself counted on and used, where possible, to make more money – a tool like any other. No flag, no empathy, no brotherhood, no fidelity except to profit, where the loyalty is ruthless and unwavering. It has to be.

See the circle? You’re soaking in it.