Thursday, May 04, 2006

'Don't Be Evil' investment strategies

It had to happen, I suppose. For years a handful of organizations have focused on advocating socially conscious investing, encouraging individuals and organizations to weed out of their investment portfolios those companies that perpetrate environmental, cultural and political ills. So what's a red-meat right-winger do to? Fight fire with fire (or money with money), of course, and launch a mutual fund pledged "to defend free enterprise from the Left’s use of capitalism against capitalism." Hence we have the Free Enterprise Action Fund, which Daniel Gross entertainingly smacks around in Slate today. It seems that fighting the Left's crimes against capitalism doesn't yet deliver better returns than the S&P 500.

Sort of in line with my last post: I've never been a fan of the line that a corporation's primary responsibility is to make money for its shareholders. There are things more important than absolute dollar returns, but it's become a business cliché for CEOs to spout off that their legal and fiduciary duty is to do whatever will make the most money for stockholders. Worse, this gets spun as some sort of democratic affirmation, because for public companies, anyone can be a shareholder and lots of everyday people are, thanks to mutual-fund-packed 401ks and pension plans. And, of course, we don't want to see bad things happen to corporate America and tank Grandma's pension, do we? Why, those nasty representatives in Congress considering an excess profits tax would just be snatching money from the millions of Americans with Exxon stock in their retirement plans!

Me to Congress: Please snatch money from my retirement plan. I have no idea what stocks are in the mutual-fund mix in my 401k, but personally, I'm perfectly ok with taking a hit there in return for tighter controls on the petroleum companies that are currently reporting annual profits surpassing the GDPs of most developing nations.

Someday soon I need to quit being lazy and explore options like Working Assets' range of financial products.