Why the ESG Movement Poses a Threat to Free Society

The following was presented as part of a session at Philanthropy Roundtable’s Annual Meeting in October 2022.

The use of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors to evaluate corporations — in addition to traditional financial measures — is an emerging and often misunderstood threat to free enterprise and a strong American economy.

On Oct. 19, Philanthropy Roundtable hosted a keynote conversation on this topic at the organization’s Annual Meeting, entitled “ESG: An Insidious Threat to Free Society and Philanthropy,” moderated by the Roundtable’s Vice President of Development Windle Jarvis.

Equinox Partners President and CIO Sean Fieler and Philanthropy Roundtable board member, founder of Strive Asset Management and best-selling author Vivek Ramaswamy joined the session as panelists to examine why the philanthropic world should be concerned about ESG and how we can defend free enterprise to ensure our vibrant philanthropic sector continues to be fueled by a robust American economy.

Ramaswamy kicked off the conversation by stating his concerns with the ESG model and how this philosophy could endanger our country’s value system by putting decisions about important social issues into the hands of corporate executives.

“[This model] sent a signal to everyday citizens that their voices did not matter in answering the political questions that we ought to settle in a democratic society through free speech and open debate, whether or how to address systemic racism or climate change or whatever,” he said. “These questions are important enough that everyone’s voice and vote count equally. Just because I was a biotech CEO or a fund manager or whatever didn’t give me more authority on those questions.”

Nevertheless, Fieler said he believes corporations are driving demand for ESG because “these elites [executives and board members] are true believers in this agenda. They’re willing to pursue this ESG agenda … even when it’s not in the financial interest or any normal worldly interest of their business, because they are very much committed ideologically,” he said, to which Ramaswamy offered his own perspective on these motivations. 

As Jarvis navigated the discussion, Ramaswamy and Fieler shed further light on the dangers of ESG, including mandates relating to oil and gas that have negatively impacted domestic production, and why philanthropists should play a role in challenging this model.

“We’re going to have to get off the sidelines if we’re going to win this fight,” Fieler said. “You may work hard in your day jobs making grants, making donations to causes that you think advance a better world … yet our own dollars, through the investment accounts, through the balance sheet where your dollars are invested, are actively undermining the very agendas where you may spend your day job,” Ramaswamy added.

Check out other Annual Meeting videos at the links below.


Ken Griffin Receives 2022 Simon-DeVos Prize for Philanthropic Leadership and Discusses Approach to Charitable Giving

Leaders Discuss Future of Conservative Movement at Philanthropy Roundtable’s 2022 Annual Meeting

Elise Westhoff Gives Welcome Address at Philanthropy Roundtable 2022 Annual Meeting

How Philanthropy Can Defend American Values and Support Smart Foreign Policy

Big Idea Talks:

Diversity Done Differently: United, Not Dividing, with Karith Foster

Philanthropy and Civics Education: Hanna Skandera on How Civics Bees Can Help Inform Today’s Students

Philanthropy and the Dignity of Work: Reimagining Reentry with Brandon Chrostowski

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