There’s an excellent article in The Atlantic this month by Henry Blodget on the ins and outs of “socially responsible investing.” Blodget manages to put into words something I’ve long felt but have never been able to adequately express:
At some level, after all, our very economic system is socially problematic. The benefits accrue disproportionately to owners (investors, this means you), who make fortunes off the labor of rank-and-file employees. Luck plays a role, as does timing. Education, connections, and money give some people an edge, and hard work doesn’t always carry the day. The key to increasing profit and wealth is improving productivity, and an owner’s glee at producing the same amount with 50 workers as with 100 is not often shared by those who got canned. If you’re going to invest in any free-market enterprise, you’re going to have to accept that no matter how enlightened you choices, your money will be supporting wealth disparity, inequality, and other arguably unfair conditions that go hand in hand with a successful free-market economy.
What’s in that paragraph that’s missing from almost anything else that considers the subject is simply the admission that owning a piece of the market economy is, simply by definition, unfair. For me, that’s the key, and it makes considering the issue so much easier because deciding whether to become an investor or not is thus a simple matter of deciding whether I can live with that essential quality of the enterprise.
If I can, then all bets, so to speak, are off: I could easily become an aggressive and completely socially irresponsible investor (tobacco, whale killing, nuclear plants: bring it on!).