i just listened to an interview with charles norton, manager of the vice fund, a stock fund that invests in alcohol, tobacco, gambling and the defence industry. he pronounced the happy news that while people in the western world quit smoking left, right and centre, the tobacco industry is doing very well, thank you very much. most men in china smoke, he says, and in the western hemisphere people who still indulge in cigarettes are willing to pay for “what they enjoy.”
by the way, mr norton tells us, he himself does not smoke, and his grandmother died of lung cancer.
in another article, he muses philosophically.
there’s a professional dilemma for the moral fund manager. “there’s a conflict between social and fiduciary responsibility,” he argues. “a fund manager has a fiduciary responsibility to the beneficiary to achieve the highest return for a fixed level of risk.” this he or she can’t do by shunning the lucrative sin stocks and sticking to weaker-performing “socially responsible” companies. if you want to do good, norton has a suggestion for you: take your investment profits and donate to charities — but don’t make investment decisions based on beliefs.
it occurs to me that charles norton might be the opposite of my friend aaron – remember him, from the cure for cars?
while aaron dedicates himself to making sure that his beliefs and his actions reflect each other, charles norton dedicates himself to making money, no matter how that contradicts social responsibility.
the companies that charles norton supports destroy lives by the millions. many of them are destroyed by lung cancer, the horrible and painful death that his grandmother experienced. and apparently that doesn’t bother him, at least not on the surface.
“if you want to do good,” says the article. if. as in, “if you want to play hockey,” or “if you want to watch this movie.” “if” implies conditionality, a “maybe”, and it does not imply anything terribly important. it’s a little afterthought.
but is there anything more important than doing what’s good and right?
i don’t want to sound holier-than-thou. i certainly don’t always do what’s good and right. but at least i try to walk in the direction of what’s good and right. i try my best to avoid what’s harmful, and i try to think about the obvious consequences of my actions – how these actions affect me, and how they affect others. giving money to people whose actions kill people is a consequence that no amount of benefit to me can outweigh.
i wonder what charles norton thinks about the consequences of his actions. all of them. not just the dollar consequences.
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