January Walker: Balance should guide our economy, not logical fallacies

Addressing basic human needs is the best thing we can do for a successful economy.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shoppers at the Winter Market at the Rio Grande Depot.

Utah’s Treasurer Marlo Oaks recently testified before the U.S. Committee on Ways and Means and — in my view — encouraged retiree’s to prioritize stock portfolio gains over the well-being of their grandkids in an anti-ESG crusade.

ESGs — or environmental, social and governance financial metrics — are not about “wokeism,” they’re about being a responsible social, environmental and business steward. They foster a respectful balance between business interests and the well-being of communities involved ensuring accountability. Implementing protective safeguards are not coercive measures and are financial business benchmarks that have been around for decades.

In fact, Oaks’ entire testimony was one of fear mongering and logical fallacies. The base of his argument relied on a “straw man fallacy” — a distortion of someone’s argument — when he claimed that ESG investment vehicles prioritize environmental, social and political agendas over shareholder value. This misrepresentation of the true goals of ESG initiatives creates a distorted picture of their intentions. In reality, ESG principles are designed to coexist with — and even enhance — shareholder value, rather than conflict with it. By misrepresenting ESG objectives, Oaks failed to engage in a well-informed discussion about the potential benefits of ESG initiatives.

Oaks’ testimony was increasingly undermined by an “appeal to tradition fallacy” — an argument that ignores the evidence that we should change because we have been doing something for a long time. He asserted that the current economic system, which has historically yielded innovation, wealth and opportunity, is superior to any other alternative. However, Oaks provided neither evidence nor reasoned arguments to support his claim that adopting ESG principles would automatically undermine these achievements. By relying on an appeal to tradition, he assumed that maintaining the status quo is inherently better, without critically evaluating the potential impact of ESG initiatives on innovation and wealth generation.

Perhaps most alarming was that Oaks also presented a “false dichotomy fallacy” in his testimony, which is when someone presents only two choices, outcomes or sides to an argument as the only possibilities, when more are available. He suggested that the only options are either embracing ESG principles, which he portrayed as economic coercion, or lose economic freedom. He failed to acknowledge the ability of integrating ESG principles into the financial system in a way where there is business buy-in, overlooking the potential for a more nuanced approach to the implementation of ESG principles.

As our primary financial state leader, Oaks should know that there is no “free market system” anymore. Any inkling of a free market died in 2008, in my view, when the Federal Reserve pumped money into the market and bailed out the banks with Quantitative Easing (QE). That action by the Fed disconnected the market economy away from the real economy that you and I live in by giving money to the banks and allowing the banks to pick the winners and losers in business.

QE exacerbated income and wealth inequality by primarily benefiting asset owners and investors. Those with significant holdings in stocks and bonds experienced substantial economic gains, while those without such assets did not experience the same level of improvement in their economic well-being. Even Oaks can see evidence of the dead free market in the astronomical inflation, trickle up tax flows and the 573 of billionaires minted in the pandemic. Touting about the free market system in 2023 is living in la-la land and denying economic reality.

Ultimately, Oaks’ position against ESGs seems to deny that companies should be held accountable to specific and measurable responsibilities in the communities they operate. His anti-ESG agenda is not only bizarre, but one of belief and not based on objective fact — he proclaimed ESGs to be a part of “Satan’s plan” earlier this year.

Statements like that have no place in a government where church and state are separate.

In case Oaks is unaware, the greatest threat to retiree’s portfolio earnings is not society requiring companies to operate ethically, environmentally, socially and with governance, it’s that companies are pillaging retiree’s income through inflation. Since the pandemic, corporations have squeezed retiree’s budgets by raising prices in the name of shareholder profits, a vicious cycle with no end and as painful as retirees are feeling inflation. According to The Visual Capitalist — which used the Federal Reserve’s data — Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation still hold nearly 62% of the wealth, while Millennials and Gen Z only hold 8.5% and are experiencing it more acutely.

Money makes the world go around, and it should not be obtained at the expense of other people’s well-being, as I believe Utah’s Treasurer Marlo Oaks has campaigned for. It’s time to recognize that our economic model is upside down. Successful economic benchmarks need to prioritize the real economy that we live in that has real people instead of a gamified market system. Addressing basic human needs like affordable groceries, affordable housing, safe environments to live in and income generation is, in fact, the best thing we can do for a successful economy and America.

There is a balance that can be struck in which our economies are profitable and environmental, social and governance metrics are met. It doesn’t have to be either-or.

(Jaron Horrocks | January for Utah) January Walker

January Walker is running for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.