Shareholder democracy – returning power to to the people

Merryn and John talk about returning power to the ultimate owners of corporations – the shareholders. Most of us own stakes in companies, but we can't exercise the power that brings. It's time that changed.

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Don't forget – if you want to read more  on shareholder democracy, buy Merryn’s new book, Share Power.

Transcript

Merryn Somerset Webb: Hello, and welcome to the MoneyWeek magazine podcast. I am Merryn Somerset Webb, editor-in-chief of the magazine, and with me today, gosh, what a treat, John Stepek, the executive editor of the magazine. 

Now, today, John and I are going to do this a little differently. Normally, we just have a conversation, which it’s very kind of you to listen to. But today we’re going to choose a particular subject, and you’ll never guess what, it’s the subject of my new book, Share Power: How ordinary people can change the way that capitalism works – and make money too. 

So, we interview a lot of other people about their books, but today, John’s going to talk to me about my book, which I hope is going to work. Is that going to work, John?

John Stepek: Well, I hope so. I’m, kind of, new to this interviewing business, because I’m not used to actually having to prepare things. This is bad. 

Merryn: Hang on, I do a lot of interviewing, and I never prepare. It works just fine. 

What tends to happen is, if people feel they know a lot about something, which they probably should if they’ve written a book about it, all you really need to do is poke them a little bit and they start talking. And once they’ve started talking, you can do your emails, get a nice cup of coffee, etc. 

John: Yes, but I know how hard it is to get you to talk. 

Merryn: I just don’t know how you’re going to find a way in here. 

John: Well, let’s try. 

Merryn: Go on then. 

John: OK, Merryn Somerset Webb, I am here today to talk to you about your book, Share Power

Merryn: Oh, thank you so much for having me on, John. 

John: Well, you’re very welcome. Anyway, so tell us, actually, what is the book about?

Merryn: OK, the book is a call for the renewal of shareholder democracy. This is something that’s been on my mind for so long, and I’ve been meaning to write about it for ages, but I’ll tell you why I haven’t written about it so far, because everyone was always telling me I had to write a long book. Everyone always says a book has to be 80,000 words. Talk to any publisher, and they’re like, yes, a proper book, in our book, is 80,000 words, maybe 90,000 words. 

And I just thought that’s not how I work. I don't think I can write 80/90,000 words about something, particularly as this is a really simple concept, and it’s more of a long column or a pamphlet than 80,000 words. And then I came across this fantastic organisation called Short Books. What a dream. So, I can write a short book, 25/30,000 words. And so that’s what I did, and that’s why I finally got around to doing it, because I was able to write something quite short and snappy that I think everyone should be able to read all of, because I don’t believe that anybody reads all the way through non-fiction books, actually, except for my husband who does. 

But I don’t believe that anybody else does. Everybody else is like me. They read the introduction, they read the conclusion, and then they open a few bits in the middle to see if there’s anything interesting. No one reads 90,000 words about anything non-fiction, do they? Do you?

John: I hate to admit it, I do. 

Merryn: Oh, God, you’re like Sandy. 

John: No, I do tend to, but the thing is, you are right, and this is… Because, obviously, I’ve read the book, and I think it’s brilliant, but…

Merryn: Oh, thank you. 

John: Well, yes, but you’re right. One of the big benefits is that it’s short and, yes, you could have padded it out to 90,000 words, and that’s what most people do. 

Merryn: They pad it out, that’s exactly right. Every book is padded out. 

John: Yes, it’s one idea, whereas this has actually got an awful lot of ideas crammed into a very short, like, area. So, it’s a value investment. 

Merryn: It’s a value investment. I didn’t answer your question at all, you see. I’m better at asking than answering. But the point of the book is to talk about a key change in the UK over the last couple of years, which has been auto-enrolment. So, now, at the moment, pretty much everyone in work in the UK is an owner, an owner of equities one way or another. Most people don’t know this. They don’t know that, via auto-enrolment, they have, not just a pension, which they think of as being a thing in itself, but a pension wrapper, inside which are bonds, equities, etc, but particularly shares. 

Every share comes with a vote, and they have those shares inside their wrapper. They’re wrapped up in several things. They’re wrapped up in a fund wrapper and then in a pension wrapper, etc, and quite hard to get to the actual share, but it’s in there. Now, back in the 50s/60s, almost no one in the UK owned shares. About 3% of the population owned shares. Now, it’s the majority of people who own shares. 

Now, it’s different in that back in the 50s/60s/70s when people owned shares, they knew they owned shares. 

They had a bit of paper, a share certificate, and they got invitations to the AGM, they got the annual report, maybe they had shareholder perks, 10% off at Marks & Spencer if you’re a shareholder, etc. So, they were engaged with their holdings, engaged with what they earned. They understood that by owning shares, they owned part of a company, and hence, part of the economy, and they were therefore part of the whole economic system, which works so well for all of us. Over time… Yes, sorry. Go on, ask me a question. It’s much easier. 

John: I think this point about share ownership having been so individual is a really interesting point. So, what then happened is that we handed this over to fund managers, and that expanded the range of people who owned stuff, but it also put distance between the end owners and the companies. Is that right?

Merryn: Yes, that’s exactly right. So, as share ownership has increased, we’ve stopped owning our shares individually, and we’ve started owning them through funds. So, it’s a very different way to do it, and it means that we’ve, effectively, delegated the management of our shares to somebody else, and in the process, given them our vote. So, it’s the fund management industry who now use our vote for us on our behalf. 

Now, in many ways, that’s a great thing. We spend a lot of time, you and I, John, being mean about the fund management industry and bitching and whining about their performance and their fees and their sense of entitlement and how overpaid they are and all this kind of thing. It’s all maddening, maddening, maddening. 

But in the main, they do an adequate job of looking after people’s money. So, if you put your money with a mainstream fund manager, over time, they’ll do just fine. You’ll make a bit of money every year. With a bit of luck, over a ten-year period, you will get more of a return on your money than inflation and all this kind of thing. So, it’s not an awful system at all, and it’s also perfectly possible that the fund managers, to whom you have delegated your vote… 

And you can use that vote, of course, or they can use that vote, at AGMs to vote on all the resolutions, and that’s everything from the future strategy of the company to their remuneration given to the top executives, etc. All these things, they can vote on. It may be that they do that well and exactly as you want them to. It also may not be that they do it like that. It’s impossible to tell. 

John: Well, also, and then, so this moves onto another big point that you make in the book, and this is part of the fact that MoneyWeek was always complaining, and does complain, about how expensive active fund managers are. And so, for the last 20 years or so, we were talking about how, actually, you should move to passive investments because they’re cheaper, basically deliver the same returns. But that then puts almost an extra layer of distance between the end holder and the companies themselves, doesn’t it?

Yes. Once the whole passive thing got going… And again, this is an extraordinary thing, and we’re not here to say passive investing is a terrible thing. 

It isn’t, and it’s a great way to invest, or it has been over the last decade or so. It’s inexpensive, it’s straightforward, it does what it says on the box, in the main. So, this is not a terrible way to invest at all, but it does mean that more and more and more money has poured into the big fund managers. So, you’ve got your really big ones who are very big in this business, got Vanguard, BlackRock, State Street is another one of those. They’re vast fund management companies in the US. 

These companies now, effectively, because of the volume of cash they’ve poured into both their passive businesses and their active businesses, they effectively control, have a controlling stake, and by controlling stake, I don’t mean that they own half the company, I mean that they have enough votes to control how things may or may not go, in pretty much all of the big companies in the West.

It’s absolutely extraordinary, the extent, to which end owners have delegated their responsibilities to a couple of big companies and made them phenomenally powerful. And if you look at the people who run these big companies, Larry Fink  is the classic. He’s the CEO of BlackRock. He may be the most powerful man in the world. 

John: Yes, and I brought this topic up on The Week’s podcast a couple of weeks ago, and people didn’t know who Larry Fink was, which actually, when I think about it, it didn’t surprise me, but it’s actually astonishing that this guy gets to write a letter to the biggest CEOs in the world every year. 

They pay attention to him because his company and its rivals own, what, about a fifth of their shares or something like that. And yet, nobody knows who he is, particularly, or gets to hear about him, except for the occasional bit in Bloomberg once a year whenever he is talking about this. 

Merryn: Exactly. He, effectively, is controlling the direction, in which capitalism goes, right. 

John: Yes, and I suppose, what I think is interesting to give… This isn’t so much being fair to Larry Fink, as saying that he does seem to try to be walking a line where all of the ESG kicked in, and clearly, the passive companies thought, well, this is a way that we can differentiate from each other by looking as if we care more. And it was always going to be a problem for them because the argument with passive has always been that, well, if you can’t divest from an evil oil company, then what can you do?

But now there’s almost a bit of a backlash against that as well, because people are saying, well, who are you, Larry Fink, to decide what the rest of us should think about everything? And now he’s trying to talk about balancing shareholders with stakeholders again. 

Merryn: Yes. No, he treads a very fine line. They all do. It’s been extraordinary to watch over the last five or six years, this kind of shift on the part of the fund management industry to talking about shareholder capitalism and the primacy of the shareholders, whom they represent, by the way. 

The fund management companies represent shareholders, nobody else. Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be anyway. But over the last couple of years, or, well, five/six years, there’s been this shift to talking about, well, you know, it’s just about the shareholders, it’s about the stakeholders, and it’s about communities, and it’s about suppliers, and it’s about employees, and it’s about the environment, and companies have to pay attention to all these things, as well as to shareholders. 

But one of the points I’m trying to make in the book is that shareholders and stakeholders are, kind of, the same thing these days, right. If everyone is an owner in the UK, give or take, if the majority of people in work are owners, and remember, this isn’t just about auto-enrolment, it’s also about the 3 million-odd people who have stocks and shares ISAs and many millions of people who have SIPs, and also the many hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people who hold shares outside any of those wrappers, because they exist too, so if the majority of the UK population is an owner, then everyone who is a stakeholder is, effectively, also a shareholder. 

So, we get confused in this by trying to divide people up into different groups. And this is the modern world, right, constantly trying to divide people up into different groups, when, in fact, we’re, kind of, all one and the same. And, of course, shareholder capitalism has a wonderful history of working very well to support everybody inside a corporate system. 

So, if you want to be a long-term sustainable company, and when I say sustainable here, I mean if you want to survive for the long term, long term being maybe ten years, 20/30 years, which is what we’re asking as shareholders, right, we want companies who will keep going, keep churning out cash, keep financing our lifestyles indefinitely, if that’s what you’re going to do, you have to treat your suppliers well. You have to treat your employees well. You can’t go round the place, poisoning the water sources around you or all this kind of thing. 

Are there occasionally bad companies who do this stuff? Well, sure there are, but if you want to be a company that is long-term sustainable, you can’t do this stuff. So, again, shareholder capitalism/stakeholder capitalism, it’s wrong to try and make a division between them. It doesn’t really exist. 

John: Well, yes, and isn’t this also part of the problem, in that…? Because I know there’s a lot of our readers who are quite keen on the ideas of ethical investing, ESG, etc. You’ve written about this as well, but it’s this idea that we’re now expecting companies to do everything so that things that should really be… Politicians have been trying to delegate stuff to central banks and corporations for, like, decades now, but these are things that should be in the democratic realm, rather than being bumped onto company management. 

Merryn: Absolutely, and things like gender equality, social justice, all this kind of thing, and climate change is another absolute classic. We’re trying to make companies solve a problem that would be much more easily solved by much higher-level government discussions between the West and, oh, I don't know, China, perhaps. 

I was listening on the radio this morning, slightly off topic, but to a charming-sounding woman talking about the importance of regenerating oyster beds and how oyster shells are a carbon sink and how important that is. And she may be right. I think oyster shells are a carbon sink, just like mussel shells, but it’s not going to make a blind bit of difference to global warming in general when we have a much more intense source of carbon than the oceans around the Northern Islands of Scotland on the other side of the world. 

So, when we push our companies to do these things that may or may not make a difference, but whether they do or do not, are really more the responsibility of democratic governments than the corporate world, we take away their focus on the thing that companies are supposed to do. We talk about the purpose of a company, but the purpose of a company is to make stuff, make it well, employ people who help with the making of it, treat those people well, sell the stuff, make money, use some of that money to reinvest in a good business, and the rest of the money to return to shareholders, in order to compensate them for having to put their capital up in the first place. That’s it. 

And when you worry about these things being different, stakeholder capitalism/shareholder capitalism, here’s an example for you. Go back to the beginning of the pandemic, right, when, if you were a big retailer or any big company in the UK, you’d been working with lots of suppliers over the previous years. 

Come the pandemic, you don’t need the stuff they supply, right. You don’t need it at all. So, some companies would have said, well, I’m sorry, suppliers, this is your problem now. You have to deal with all this leftover inventory. Oh, are you going bust? Sorry. Other companies might have said, you know what, we’ve got this really long relationship here, and let’s share this pain, or let me take this pain. I can afford it. Give me the stuff, we’ll stick it in some warehouses, we’ll deal with it later. 

Now, of course, as you know, there is a huge supply crunch globally. The supply chain is partly broken and partly overwhelmed. And if you are a big company in the UK and you’re looking for supply of anything under the sun, be it tellies or machine parts, it’s quite hard to get. Now, who do you think are the companies who are, right now, getting the supply of stuff they need, and who are the companies who are not? 

And that’s what I mean when I say that shareholder capitalism and stakeholder capitalism are, kind of, the same thing. A successful company will have treated its suppliers right two years ago and is now reaping the rewards of that. 

John: Yes, you’re, basically, talking about longer-term thinking, rather than the short-termism that people often get a bit exasperated about. But it’s that tricky thing where it then ends up mutating into something weird like Unilever having a minor ice cream division that starts talking about NATO expansionism in the Ukraine and things like that. 

Merryn: I know, and that’s totally not part of their core purpose. Just make the ice cream. Make the ice cream well. Don’t use slave labour while you’re making the ice cream. Don’t pour off dirty water into rivers. Pay your employees, and, kind of, stop there. 

John: Yes, exactly. 

Merryn: But they don’t, and this whole idea of the return of stakeholder capitalism, well, it never left us in the first place, is some kind of cover for big companies to get ridiculously involved in politics and grandstand, right. Everyone likes to grandstand. Everyone likes to have an oar in everything, but it’s not necessarily the right way for corporate executives to behave. Anyway, so the point of the book is to say, it’s our shout whether they behave like that or not, or it should be our shout whether they behave like that or not. 

John: So, how do we get there?

Merryn: Well, there you go. 

John: That’s the question. 

Merryn: So, right now, if you own shares, a lot of us own individual shares on platform, I’m sure you do, John. I do, on Hargreaves Lansdown, interactive investor, whatever. We own shares, and we know which shares they are. We own Shell or we own whatever, individual companies, but until relatively recently, it’s been really hard for us to act like the owners of those shares. 

So, platforms have been the most amazing innovation, a way for us to do our investing in a paperless and very simple way. But when we hold shares on a platform, technically, the ownership, kind of, shifts to them. So, they have to give us back our vote. And all of them are perfectly capable of doing this, but until relatively recently, it hasn’t been very easy, or they haven’t made it very easy. You have to telephone, and you have a paper proxy vote on it. 

Until a couple of years ago, you had to pay to get your own vote, right. That’s changing. So, interactive investor are way ahead of the game on this. They’re very good at this. They recently introduced a system whereby you opt out of your power, rather than opt into your power. So, everyone automatically gets the information, gets the right to go to the AGM, gets the right to vote at the AGM, gets the annual report, etc. 

So, this is good, it’s very good, and the other platforms have made it much easier now to use your vote, and they will all gradually shift over to this current system where you automatically have your vote. And that’s fantastic, although how we got to this place in the first place is ridiculous, but we’re coming out of it now. That’s OK. 

But the second thing here that is almost more important because this is how most people hold their equities, they hold them inside funds, and until very recently, fund managers have said, well, there’s nothing we can do about that. 

This stuff is all mixed up. You’ve delegated it to us. It’s a bit like a political democracy. By putting your money with us, you’ve voted for us, and now we’re going to go ahead and do what we want with your money. And it’s very hard to disaggregate the individual ownership and the votes that might come with that. And I accept that until relatively recently, that was true. We’ve been through a period when a technology didn’t necessarily exist, for them to allow us to have our say. 

Now, that’s just not true anymore. It’s absolutely not true anymore. The technology definitely exists for us to be able to get a look-through vote of some kind. Now, you’re seeing the beginning of this in companies in the UK, like there’s a wonderful little company called Tumelo, which has a platform that it offers to fund managers, where you can go onto the platform, and you can see the fund you own and every equity that is held inside that fund. 

And you can then see when their AGM is and what votes are coming up, and you can go on, and you can state your preference as to how the vote might be used. And they’re very good. They explain what’s behind the vote and what the pros and cons are on each side. Most resolutions at AGMs just pass, and they’re normally totally fine, but you get some that aren’t, and you get interesting resolutions occasionally put up by activists or worried groups of shareholders, etc. 

And you can then show how you would vote if you were able to use your vote. Now, right now, this isn’t binding at all, but the fund managers who are using it, do promise to look at this, think about it, take it into account. And they then go back onto the platform and explain why they’ve voted how they’ve voted. So, this is a really valuable beginning and a phenomenal way for ordinary people to start to understand what share ownership means, what it means to be an owner and how it allows you to engage with the corporate world. 

So, this is a beginning. But I think, A, it’s an excellent beginning, and if you go onto any of these sites and look at them, you can really get a sense of how people who feel disengaged from capitalism could re-engage with it via this route, because one of the reasons that people are disengaged from capitalism is because they don’t feel connected to it. They don’t know that they own part of all these big companies. They don’t know this. 

John: Yes, I suppose, this is the thing that I was curious about, because I can see how, if you own individual shares… I’m with ii, and it is good because you get told, oh, look, there’s votes coming up. Here’s what it means, and so obviously, if you own an individual company, you have, at least, some interest in it because you’ve had to go out there and actually choose it, even if your reasons for choosing it weren’t incredibly impressive. 

Merryn: Or lost in time. A lot of the things in my portfolio have been there forever. I have no idea why I chose them in the first place, but there you go. 

John: Exactly. You should keep an investment journal, as I always tell people. 

Merryn: Oh, God, yes, I should, or I should read some magazines on this stuff. 

John: Yes, but the thing that I wondered about is, a lot of people don’t actually even know they’ve got an auto-enrolled pension, and then beyond that, if they are auto-enrolled, they probably own passive funds because there’s pressure, obviously, on the inbetweeners to cut costs as much as possible. So, if you’re then sitting there, and first of all, you have to get people to understand that they own shares in their pension, and then it’s like you’ve got about 100 of them, and it’s like which of these things are you going to vote on, I’m just curious, how do we, or is it even necessary, get people more engaged with that process whenever they’re already overwhelmed by even the idea of a pension?

Merryn: Mm-hmm. Well, I think everyone always says the answer to this is education, but it’s really not very complicated. Someone starts an auto-enrolment pension. They get an email immediately saying, this is what your pension is. It’s what having a pension means. Normally, you get one saying, oh, your money is invested in the blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah, blah-blah, AA something-something fund, totally meaningless. 

And what it should say is, we’ve invested your money in a fund. Inside the fund, we hold a variety of companies. These include blah-blah-blah-blah and blah-blah. If you’d like to know more about these companies, click here. And I totally accept that 50% of people aren’t going to click, in the same way 50% of people, well, not quite that many, but a very high percentage of people, never vote in democratic elections, right. How many people actually turn up to the ballot box? It’s exactly the same, because I know lots of people aren’t going to do it.

But what it does mean, that anyone who is disengaged with capitalism, who is angry about capitalism, and all the people that go and protest outside the offices of big oil companies, completely pointlessly, big oil companies, they’re not the enemy, but you can show your feelings about big energy, for example, like this. And you can show your feelings. Perhaps you’re a bit fed up with Unilever and its touchy-feely muck and what you want is them to sort the business out and pay a proper dividend. 

Well, you can go on, and you can explain that. So, I don't think it takes much to get to the beginning of helping people to reengage, getting them to understand that they’re part owners of the system that some of them like and some of them don’t like. And one of the things I say in the book, which I’m always saying to people, is that a lot of people are very keen on socialism at the moment. And there was a survey out yesterday about the percentage of young people in the US who think we should live in a socialist system, not a capitalist system. 

Now, what does socialism promise you? It promises you that everyone will be an owner, communal ownership. And what’s the result in the end? That nobody owns anything, except for the people at the top who effectively own everything because they’re the ones with control over it. 

But what does shareholder democracy deliver? Actual ownership for everybody. In this system, you are an owner, and that makes a difference. All we need to do is make everybody understand that they’re an owner and make them feel like an owner. 

John: So, you’re saying that your end goal is a socialist paradise? That sounds very MoneyWeek. 

Merryn: Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. But in the end, it’ll feel a lot more like the socialist paradise, social paradise supporters think they’re going to get, if you see what I mean. 

John: I think, no, that’s a really good point. So, this is a slightly naff question, but I’ll ask it anyway. 

Merryn: Go on then. 

John: If you could wave a magic wand and make one change today, right away, what would it be?

Merryn: Larry Fink’s next letter to say we have the technology to give you a look-through vote. Click here to get it. And actually, do you know what, he is coming round. 

John: He is. 

Merryn: His latest letter. And we talked earlier about the tightrope that he has to walk to keep everybody on board, because he has to be all things to all men all the time, because everybody, one way or another, in the end, is somehow invested with BlackRock. And so, he has to support the ESG crowd, and remember that in that, you’ve got the E crowd, the S crowd and the G crowd. And he has to be aware of the fact that not everybody agrees with the views that he spouts on this stuff. 

And let’s not forget that BlackRock is a very big investor in all the companies that his letters, kind of, disapprove of, or suggest he, kind of, disapproves of. So, he’s walking this tightrope, and in his last letter, he did say that one of the aims that BlackRock has is to give people back their votes. And that has begun with BlackRock asking pension funds what it is that they want. So, big fund manager gives some power to other big fund manager. 

So, it’s not quite what we’re after here, but he did say, at the end of the last letter, that he could see a day when even the individual investor, so even his end client, even the person who pays all his bills, even the person who is the end owner, yes, even us, one day, he sees a time when he can possibly, conceivably, let us have our power back. 

John: Even the little people. 

Merryn: Even the little people. Thanks, Larry. 

John: I can see that Larry Fink does not necessarily want to be in this position, but that’s the one thing… 

It would be much easier for him if everyone could just vote, because then, if anyone says Larry, I don’t agree with your position on this, he’d say, well, vote. It’s not up to me. So, I can see, it’s logical that the passive funds would eventually want to bump everything back down to the end user, purely for the politics of it all. And also, I suppose, that’s another area of competitive advantage now. If you can get people excited about the idea of being able to vote, then you can say, well, our funds offer you that opportunity. 

Merryn: I think it’s one of the greatest marketing opportunities left. The last couple of years have all been about marketing other people’s views of ESG, so give us your money, and we’ll invest it in the way that we think is good. But the next stage of this has got to be, your money, your vote. Your money, your power. Give me your money, and I will invest it well, but also constantly ask you what you think or remember that you’re the owner, that it’s your money, that they’re your equities, that it’s your stake in the global economy. That’s incredibly powerful marketing. 

John: Yes, so we’re going to need to wrap this up, but I did actually just want to raise one other topic just to think about it. One of the interesting things here then is, does shareholder democracy eventually look a bit like voter democracy? The one thing that I wonder about is, are execs going to come in every day, worrying about what the next big activist campaign that they’re getting from this corner of the voter base, and then fending off another one from another corner of the voter base and a whole load of, essentially, vexatious proposals in every AGM? Can you see…?

Merryn: Well, mm-hmm, that’s a really good point, but is that a bad thing?

John: Not necessarily. 

Merryn: In some ways, it’s a bad thing. If we’re talking about small groups of people with extreme opinions constantly badgering companies, well, they do that already, right. And those groups already use the shareholder system to put down resolutions and force votes on things that they’re interested in. But what this does is, it opens it to everybody, and to an extent, takes away some of the agitation abilities of small groups, because everyone else gets to vote too. 

John: Yes. No, that’s a good point. More freedom of speech is never a bad thing. 

Merryn: We are very pro-freedom of speech, and when it comes to the corporate capitalist system, there’s often a lot to criticise, and people feel very angry about a lot of stuff. But if they can go to a company and they have two things in their mind, I want you to behave well, but I also understand that I am an owner, and I want that behaviour to also produce the profits I require to have the retirement that I’m after, it’s a different conversation, isn’t it?

John: Yes, it’s that whole thing of everyone acting like adults. 

Merryn: Yes, and I wonder if we would have the energy disaster that we have at the moment on the go if, over the last ten years, we’d been saying to people, we’re going to need gas for a long time to come, probably oil as well, we’re going to need it for a long time to come. 

Would you like us to keep producing it or not? We may be living in a less difficult time if we’d asked the shareholders the question, rather than allowed activist groups to pre-answer it. 

John: Yes, I think that…

Merryn: You think I’m a pathetic optimist, don’t you?

John: I think it’s a bit optimistic, simply because we’ve got lots of idiots calling for windfall taxes now, because the oil companies have made money back that they lost last year. But you never know. 

Merryn: But listen, if everyone knew that they were the ones who were going to pay the windfall tax, would they still call for the same windfall tax? Would they look at last year and say, jeez, I didn’t make any money out of my Shell dividends last year, but this year I could, but I’m deciding to cut my nose off to spite my face?

John: Yes, that’s true. Yes, it’s all about knowing you’ve got the stake as well. 

Merryn: Yes, I’m hoping that it would make people think a little bit, well, in a slightly more nuanced way about this kind of thing. 

John: Yes. I think you’re right, and I think that everyone should go out and buy your book right now. 

Merryn: So do I. 

John: So, it’s Share Power, in case you missed the title. How ordinary people can change the way that capitalism works - and make money too. You can get it on Amazon. You can get it in your local bookshop, if you like Edinburgh, certainly. 

Merryn: You absolutely can. No, you can get it in all bookshops, all good bookshops, should I say. You can currently buy signed copies in Toppings in Edinburgh and, I believe, Bath, and I did nip into Blackwell’s in Edinburgh the day before yesterday and signed their copies. So, if they aren’t sold out, you can probably get a signed copy there too. 

John: Excellent. So, run in and buy it. You can read it in, like, a day. It’ll give you plenty of food for thought, and, yes, it’s really enjoyable.

Merryn: Thanks, John. 

John: So, thank you very much for writing it, Merryn. 

Merryn: Thanks for having me on, John. You’re a great interviewer. 

John: Well, thank you. I’m getting my practice in now. Anyway…

Merryn: You can do next week’s as well. 

John: Well, yes, actually, I don't know if the readers, or, sorry, the listeners, will care particularly, but we’ve now had up to more than a million downloads since February 2020, which was actually when the pandemic kicked off. 

Merryn: I know. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Yes, and we’re not really sure how many we had before that because we moved platforms, so we can only really count from February 2020. But over a million. It’s fantastic. 

John: Yes, it’s great, so we’re cracking open the Champagne. 

Merryn: Thanks for listening, everyone. Well, we would if we were in the same room.

John: If you haven’t reviewed us and you think we’re amazing, then please, do review us on the podcast app of your choice. Five stars, thank you. 

Merryn: Yes, same for the book, by the way, when you’ve finished reading it. Five stars.

John: Oh, yes, definitely. Yes, because the reviews really help. I know this from experience, so do, especially if you’re buying it on Amazon, then go and review it, and, yes, obviously, five stars. And, yes, if you want to follow us on Twitter, Merryn, you’re at…

Merryn: @MerrynSW

John: And I’m at @John_Stepek, and sign up for Money Morning, our free daily email newsletter. And Merryn will see you again next week for a proper interview. 

Merryn: Thanks, John. 

John: Thanks, Merryn.

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