Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Sock Drawer and Other Ethical Investment Tools

Dishonest money dwindles away, buy he who gathers money little by little makes it grow. Proverbs 13:11

Have you been wondering when I would get around to actually saying you should throw away your 401K? This could well be the time. What’s in that 401K anyway? Who are you enriching as you gather money toward your golden years? While I’ve got one finger pointed at you, four are coming back at me. To be honest, I have investment products – several in fact, about which I’m rather clueless. I know what they’re called and my balance on them in any given quarter, I know the company through which the investment is held is on the up and up, but I really don’t have a good idea of how my dollar breaks down into nano-units and travels across the globe to impact some poor rice farmer in China. It is conceivable that the negative impact of my invested money could be outweighing the positive impact of my tithes and offerings. In the big balance sheet in the sky, I might be in the red!

It’s the darned global economy, right? How can a person be expected to understand the impact of her money in such a labyrinth? Investing today can be done in such a way that it truly is impossible to know who you’re impacting. We assume it’s all for good – money into the market can’t be hurting anyone can it? The investment company is making a profit – good for them. The financial advisor assigned to my account is getting some kickback – good for him. In a strong economy, I’m making a profit – good for me. The company in which the money is ultimately invested is making a profit – good for its shareholders and employees. Just in the direct investment stream alone I’ve positively impacted thousands of people!

You know what’s coming though, don’t you… How are the companies in which my dollar is being invested impacting the world? Are they selling smut? Are they polluting rivers? Are they using child labor? Are they abusing their adult workers – like the diamond industry is renowned for doing? Or maybe they are a fairly reputable company just going about their business, like Coca Cola Company, for instance, but in the final analysis, not doing the world any favors by being in business. Think of the rotten teeth, malnutrition, obesity, diabetes and other health issues to which consumption of Coca Cola can contribute. Sure, it is consumers’ responsibility to brush their teeth and limit their intake, but on judgment day would you want to be the CEO of a company that produced liquid junk and made it cool?

There is no chance of that for me (even if Coca Cola did have my name on a short list of candidates to next take their helm, I’m sure they have scratched me now!), but there might be a chance that on judgment day I will be held responsible for financially supporting and personally profiting off of a company that produces liquid junk and made it cool. If ignorance of the law is no excuse from the law when I am unknowingly speeding through a school zone, how will I be excused from having invested and profited off of immoral and unethical businesses to make my golden years more comfortable?

Just as my investing practices can be making a negative global impact of which I’m unaware, and yet accountable, my consumption practices are equally perilous in this global economy. That is a whole other sticky wicket, but just thought I would throw that in there to think about and bolster the point that when it comes to buying, selling and even investing, thinking locally has its advantages, foremost of which is I know what I am supporting.

You might think that sticking your money in a bank and letting it gain a pittance of interest is an easy answer to ethical investing, but not only is the return about as good as stuffing your money in a sock drawer, it is not any more ethical than investing in mutual funds. Banks turn right around and use your capital to invest too – and no telling what all they are in to. Another option might be to invest in things that are easy enough to track, like real estate or municipal bonds, but for investors who have small amounts to save each month, this is not feasible. What we need is a way to invest only the good, profitable companies, not the bad, profitable companies. That is not as improbable as it sounds.

There are a number of companies that have investment options that have gone through ethics filters. For example, the Timothy Plan has all the regular investment options, just screened for practices that do not line up with Judeo-Christian principles. And yet, as one of their blogging critics has pointed out, The Timothy Plan does not filter out manufacturers of weapons and ammunitions. War may line up with Judeo principles, but some Christians oppose it as strongly as tobacco and pornography. Another such company, Christian Brothers Investment Services, screens companies with objectionable products and practices and further engages the companies they invest in to become better corporate citizens. Or perhaps if it is good for the environment, it is good enough for you. In that case, you have more choices among the many “green” funds that have sprouted in the last decade. A good starting place to learn more is

If after a thorough study of the scriptures on the matter of money, you feel God leading you to continue to save money and invest it in stocks, it is not going so far out of your way to seek out ethical investments. If you don’t, despite that nagging voice (darn conscience!), don’t be surprised to see your hard-earned money dwindle away, maybe when you need it most. Obviously, this won’t happen to everyone who invests haphazardly, the history of the stock is evidence that many who deal in ugly companies profit handsomely. However, if the Holy Spirit is telling you to get out, there is a good reason. Ignore that voice at your own peril.

Contemplate this: Maybe I should move my money to ethical investments.

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