None of us can know for sure the full consequences of the pandemic that is sweeping the world.
Some are trying nevertheless, including making predictions that everything will change and nothing will ever be the same again.
Can this be so? Could we go from headstrong capitalism and globalisation to a transformed, brighter future tomorrow, with virtuous economies and solidarity between peoples?
Remember that Talleyrand, the 18th century French diplomat and politician wrote that “everything that is exaggerated is insignificant”. And so it seems.
When grappling for solutions to vital problems and coping with existential anxieties that darken lives, over simplistic solutions are pointless.
- It is impossible to predict how the world will change post-Covid-19
- Business practices have changed dramatically over the past five years
- Carbon emissions have dropped by a fifth in the EU since 1990
History, now and again, is made through violent change. But most of the time it builds through many seemingly minor, subtle changes.
Similarly for anyone involved in investment, their job is to generate wealth through the allocation, over time, of capital for the benefit of the owners of that capital, and for society as a whole.
It is a long process needing patience, careful analysis and vision.
This means being pragmatic and building scenarios guided by clear-headed assessment of facts rather than on lurid predictions. It is nonsensical to claim that our economies can change dramatically overnight or even over a few years.
Expecting them to do so would require massive social, political and financial upheaval.
More dangerously, fixating on the nirvana of short-term economic transformation means ignoring the major shift in corporate behaviour that is already underway.
Remember the way companies judged their priorities just five years ago.
Business thinking has changed fundamentally. Then the focus was almost exclusively on profits, growth and financial returns.
Now it has become purpose, financial resilience and responsibility – doing the right thing. And the process of change continues.
The shock of the past four months has supercharged an effect that was already visible: that companies taking care of their stakeholders benefit from this commitment particularly when, as now, social considerations become paramount.
The businesses doing relatively better during the crisis are those that have shown superior product, health and safety scores, and employment ratings. Taking care of stakeholders is an efficient way to avoid many risks.
The reality of numbers is now meeting common sense. Since the beginning of this pandemic, funds investing in companies with strong environmental, social and governance policies have outperformed. ESG could now be considered as a ‘safe haven’, just like gold has been for ages.
So far, so good. But truly identifying all the companies that have the qualities and mindset to lead to a better form of capitalism is not as straightforward as, well, ESG.
As we emerge from what will plainly be a protracted virus-induced downturn, those investors who have thought through the ESG ramifications will be rewarded. But it may not seem that way at the time.