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Capitalism is notably effective at commodifying dissent. Though capital must respond to its critics or risk being painted as truly unaccountable, its most effective responses are those that enclose critique within the terms of capitalist discourse. By offering answers which respond to the symptoms rather than treating the illness, the structural relationships of capitalism can carry on unaltered despite the occasional concession that might be required.1

Neoliberal discourse offers its own framework for thinking about this. Effects of productive activity that are not reflected in the price of the output are cast as externalities; external, that is, to the terms on which productive activity is conducted, and in particular external to price. Environmental externalities are a classic example. If waste carbon can be dumped into the atmosphere at no monetary cost to the polluters, then the associated harms, for example climate change, are negative externalities. This discourse also provides a handy solution, which is to internalize the externalities—to assign price and property rights to them. A carbon tax and carbon credits are two internalizations of emissions externalities. Both mechanisms, and indeed all internalizations, work by assigning a price to a previously unpriced stream, in this case emissions. Then the market, possibly with the help of a benevolent state, just has to "get the price right" until the harm stops.2

It is by the same logic that a major push toward what is currently known as "ESG" (environmental-, social-, governance-focused investing) is currently underway. This is an update of what had been known as "corporate social responsibility." Its reincarnation as ESG emphasizes the lack of sacrifice required to undo the harms of capitalism. We see for example a coordinated push by corporate giants along with the Linux Foundation (Allianz, Microsoft, Amazon, Federated Hermes, S&P, Goldman Sachs, OTHERS?) to use market discipline to advance environmental goals. By making available a set of tools that can be used to evaluate companies environmental impact, they propose to harness the logic of capitalism to correct the side-effects of capitalism.

The main contradiction in such a move is oddly hard to perceive within capitalism's logic: the problems, for example environmental devastation, that urgently need solutions are very much side effects of capitalism itself. Why is it that corporate giants should be trusted to resolve these problems? Why are we asking those who have done the harm to be the ones who decide how the harm is to be contained (much less repaired)?


Fisher, Mark. 2009. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester, UK: Zero Books.


Rodgers, Daniel. 2018. “The Uses and Abuses of "Neoliberalism".” Dissent 65 (1).