I have found this astonishing clip that equates the divestment campaign against Apartheid South Africa with a divestment campaign against fossil fuel companies.
Watch the whole thing if you can – but I am astonished that people can be so crass as to compare the appalling denigration of the human spirit under Apartheid with the immense benefits that cheap and reliable energy has generated.
I had never heard of this person before – but it seems he is an author of a book on the divestment campaign against South Africa in the 1980s. He talks about it in the clip.
The problem with his argument is that the most comprehensive study that I’m aware of into the divestment campaign does not support his view:
We find no support for the common perception—and often vehement rhetoric in the financial media—that the anti-apartheid shareholder and legislative boycotts affected the financial sector adversely: the announcement of legislative or shareholder pressure had no discernible effect on the valuation of banks and corporations with South African operations or on the South African financial markets. There is weak evidence that institutional shareholdings increased when corporations divested, that is, that divesting firms’ investor clienteles changed, and that divesting firms with more returning institutional shareholders received a perhaps slightly more positive but insignificant valuation response. One explanation may be that the boycott primarily reallocated shares and operations from ‘‘socially responsible’’ to more indifferent investors and countries. Our findings are consistent with the view that demand curves for stocks are highly elastic and so have little downward slope.
In all, the evidence from both individual and legislative actions, taken together, suggests that the South African boycott had little valuation effect on the financial sector. Despite the prominence and publicity of the boycott and the multitude of divesting companies, the financial markets’ valuations of targeted companies or even the South African financial markets themselves were not easily visibly affected. The sanctions may have been effective in raising the public moral standards or public awareness of South African repression, but it appears that financial markets managed to avoid the brunt of the sanctions. This may be an important point for future activists who are considering using the tools of the boycott for other causes.
In light of that study and its results I suspect it would be a very brave fund manager who would rely on Massie’s arguments to justify divesting from fossil fuel stocks.