Payments for Environmental Services (PES) has become a popular means to neoliberalize biodiversity conservation throughout the world. Yet research on PES is increasingly focused on debating exactly how neoliberal programmes really are, documenting complexities in PES implementation and concluding that few programmes are very market-based in practice. While we agree that ideal neoliberal implementation of PES does not and cannot exist, we argue that focusing (only) on micro-politics misunderstands the importance of analysing PES as a form of neoliberal conservation. The question is not just whether PES is innately neoliberal but how it functions within a broader neoliberal political economy. By focusing on the overarching governance and power structures that gave rise to PES in the first place, we more clearly see what we call ‘the PES conceit’, namely that the approach implicitly accepts neoliberal capitalism as both the problem and the solution to the ecological crisis. This strategy is not only contradictory but also commonly fails to achieve intended outcomes, falling far short of conservation objectives while also often exacerbating socioeconomic inequality. This problematic conceit, we conclude, cannot be addressed through only micro-oriented studies; it demands connecting micro- and macro political economic analyses to confront broader neoliberal power structures.