Lawrence Summers Goes After 'Greenflation'

Lawrence Summers is probably not getting invited to any Georgetown cocktail parties any time soon. Bill Clinton's former treasury secretary, who chaired the National Economic Council under Barrack Obama, has more recently developed into a thorn in the side of his own party's big spending Progressives, especially those in the Biden administration.

It began quite early on: in March of 2021, just two months after Joe Biden entered the White House, Summers slammed the president's $1.9 trillion Covid relief package as, "the least responsible macroeconomic policy we’ve had in the last 40 years.” While sympathetic to "arguments for providing relief to those hurt by the economic fallout of the pandemic, investing in controlling the virus, and supporting consumer demand," Summers was clearly shocked by the degree to which "the policy discussion has not fully reckoned with the magnitude of what is being debated.”

The U.S. government had already spent a tremendous amount of money on Covid since the virus made its way to our shores from its origins in Wuhan, China. Lockdowns and other pandemic policies had increased unemployment and weighed down economic productivity. Meanwhile government indebtedness was way up. But here was the Biden administration, spending nearly $2 trillion at the stroke of a pen a full year into the pandemic apparently just because Donald Trump got to do it before him. It was utterly irresponsible.

Much to the annoyance of his fellow liberals, Summers continued to prophesy the advent of serious inflation. And to their even greater annoyance— it was clearly a shot at Summers when  Biden claimed "no serious economist" believes "there’s unchecked inflation on the way"—he kept being proved right.

As inflation numbers skyrocketed, Summers pivoted to arguing that the administration and Federal Reserve weren't doing enough to address the real problem. In particular, he worried about the Fed's comparatively small increases in interest rates being too little, too late. He suggested that this might be because the Fed "still believes that inflation is in fact transitory and that it will evaporate as supply chains are restored." For Summers, this line of thinking "never seemed plausible, given accelerating residential and wage inflation and room for acceleration in the costs of health care, airfare and lodging. It seems even less plausible today, with war in Ukraine and Covid lockdowns in Asia."

And he hasn't let up -- in the lead-up to the president's lawless executive order "forgiving" (i.e. using tax dollars to pay off) outstanding student loans, Summers tweeted:

I hope the Administration does not contribute to inflation macro economically by offering unreasonably generous student loan relief or micro economically by encouraging college tuition increases... Student loan debt relief is spending that raises demand and increases inflation. It consumes resources that could be better used helping those who did not, for whatever reason, have the chance to attend college. It will also tend to be inflationary by raising tuitions.

Drowning in college debt? Uncle Sucker can help!

Now the economist has begun to gesture at one of the key drivers of inflation, namely the significant increase in energy rates due to shortages at the point of consumption. “It’s kind of insane that we have truck and trains carrying oil all over this country, rather than constructing pipelines, which would permit accessing more resources and cheaper, safer transmission,” Summers told the Boston Globe’s Globe Summit earlier this month.

He's right once again. In fact, we at The Pipeline have argued that Biden's cancellation of Keystone XL (particularly if understood as a prefigurement of the administration's overarching anti-resource sector policy) was more or less the administration's "original sin," from which the rest of its economic woes and problems have flowed.

Of course, environmentalism is the contemporary Left's sacred cow, so even a prominent liberal like Summers calling for a course correction is unlikely to bring one about. Still, they can't say they weren't warned. Nor can we.

Banks Line Up to Join ‘ESG’ Mob

In the last year, the cost of energy has increased significantly. Gasoline, diesel, and domestic electricity and natural gas prices are now past the point that many people can bear. The problem affects businesses too, including manufacturing and agriculture, with consequences for the wider economy, jobs and the cost of living. It has led to a new word, “greenflation.” Greenflation is harming those who, literally, can least afford it.

However, instead of discerning what is behind these problems, what caused them, what role the federal government had and what it can do to ease the problem, the government is simply blaming others and pressing on. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is not only in denial but serially insists that the problem is that the administration just hasn’t proceeded on the “climate” front fast enough.

This is governmental malpractice. But the perpetrators are not without accomplices. The investor class, and big banks foremost among them, share equal responsibility. One of the chief culprits is a pernicious and destructive concept called Environmental, Social, and Governance investing.

Yellen: in "climate" denial.

A 2016 email suggests that modern “ESG” began as anti-energy campaigning against financial institutions in 1999 focusing on hydropower, then morphed into anti-coal advocacy then soon expanded to opposing all abundant energy sources.

Bank of America seems to have been captured first, vowing to not finance hydrocarbon energy (beginning with coal). Freedom of Information Act litigation showed the bank's enthusiasm for the "climate" agenda. A senior bank official, Jim Mahoney, hired former Clinton hands as consultants to get the bank close to then-Secretary of State John Kerry with offers to sponsor as much of the 2015 Paris climate talks as it could.

Yes, financial institutions sponsoring treaty negotiations. More recently, FOIA litigation produced still more craven correspondence, this time to Yellen from, among others, Wells Fargo. In a March 2021 email to a senior Treasury official, former Clinton Treasury official turned Wells lobbyist Elisabeth A. Bresee laid out the bank’s “climate” plan:

I'm reaching out to share an exciting climate change announcement. Wells Fargo just announced that we're setting a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, including in its financed emissions, by 2050. Wells Fargo believes that climate change is one of the most urgent environmental and social issues of our time and, as one of the largest financial institutions, we are committed to taking action, including aligning our activities to support the goals of the Paris Agreement.

In recent years, we've made tremendous progress in meeting and exceeding sustainability goals in our operations, working with NGOs and other stakeholders on climate-finance strategies, enhancing our transparency and disclosure, and partnering to advance clean technology innovation, community resiliency, and green jobs. We've also put in place a strong foundation and processes for managing climate risk across the enterprise and accelerating sustainable finance in our lines of business, including providing financing for utility-scale renewables and clean technologies, underwriting sustainability bonds. and innovating in ESG-linked lending.

Our path forward includes five focus areas:

The email closed by checking every box in the woke liturgy, about being—

committed to fostering an inclusive recovery from Covid-19 and to building a more inclusive and sustainable future for all.… includ[ing] supporting greater racial equity across our business and philanthropic giving and addressing evolving issues like climate change,” with a nod to the bank’s “clients and stakeholders.

This week, the bank announced it was demanding Paris-like emission cuts from companies it lends to.

This inherently conflicted, inane equivalence between and even preference for “stakeholders” (pressure groups and political interests) over shareholders and clients is, according to the Wall Street Journal, "using the ethical-custom concept to impose a progressive agenda on American businesses. It will have negative implications for investor returns.” 

Yet the costs of this public-private tag-team are far greater. For example, in late 2021 some U.S. traditional energy producers, particularly coal and related industries (e.g., rail), were unable to affordably access capital markets to purchase (or, in some cases, re-purchase) equipment to ramp up production and transport in the face of a looming energy crisis (which continues today), leading to serious energy security concerns. The companies were informed by lenders that loaning money to, e.g., coal, gave the banks an “ESG problem.” 

Wall Street, we have an ESG problem.

This resulted not from regulation but pressure campaigns including from a Biden administration that has made clear it has targeted hydrocarbon energy interests for extinction and that assisting them would not be well-received in Washington. 

Such a policy directly threatens U.S. national security. The broader consequence of greenflation has pushed prices and the cost of living upwards, and destabilized manufacturing sectors in the U.S., U.K. and Europe. It has been a major contributor to European dependence on Russian energy, undermining the West’s geopolitical position and global security. 

It has made firms worldwide increasingly dependent on China’s so-very-not-ESG manufacturing and materials. What this agenda demands of targeted industries is strongly contrary to America’s interests but is precisely as countries who wish us ill would have things.

Financial institutions draw from the same talent pool from which the Biden administration staffs itself, with the same woke priorities. This misguided partnership poses a grave danger to the U.S.