Sunday, October 24, 2010

Laundry List, Part II, Ethical Investing

Can you ethically invest in unethical companies? Felix Salmon says 'no'.

He's particularly unimpressed with the argument that buying shares in a company whose policies you disagree with grants you voting power over their actions:

I don’t buy it. For one thing, using the vote as a comparison is setting the bar unbelievably low, since voting is statistically certain to make no difference at all:

"Even for the most passionate partisan, it’s hard to argue that voting is a good use of your time. Instead of waiting in line to vote, you could wait in line to buy a lottery ticket, hoping to win $100 million and use it to advance your causes—and all with an almost indescribably greater chance of success than you’d have in the voting booth."

I can agree with that though it's necessary to note that I'm philosophically somewhat biased against elections in general. I don't like popularity contests.

However, an important question to be raised is "Does this rule still apply regardless of the scale of investment?"

No. Clearly not. If you invest more, you have a larger shareholders vote. If you're capable of investing heavily, then you're certainly capable of having considerably more say in a companies behavior.

Even if you're a small investor (in this case, the article is directed at an investor with $46,000 invested so take that as it is), you're still making money that can be used to further investments in areas that you do consider ethical. You could, if you wish, sell your shares after making a profit and invest in a different company promoting policies more suitable to your positions, including companies in direct competition with the firm you supported initially.

So can you ethically invest in companies that behave in ways you feel are unethical? I think: yes. With the caveat that you have to be in a position where you can actively sway the firm in question or where you can re-invest heavily in companies that you consider more deserving.

Which brings up of course "means justifying the ends" and....well, we're back at the beginning, aren't we?

No comments:

Post a Comment