Saturday, May 24

Swimming with the sharks

Last time I posted, I mentioned a favorite motto of mine "Go big or go home". I'm also fond of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em". It's the latter that's giving me trouble these days.

You see, a couple of months ago, while on a business trip, a new friend and I were discussing real estate, 401ks and investments. I know, not a lot of fun but certainly interesting given my current financial situation. Because I've been saving for a new home I have no mortgage but a decent savings account. I'm therefore considering investing in the market. I have a 401k that is growing (but lately at a bummer of a rate) but I'll never retire on that thing alone so I need to start something new. After all, I'm a single gal who needs to look out for herself. I'm thinking it's time to start an IRA and little stock portfolio before I'm dirt poor and a new homeowner. Thing is my new friend was talking up a rather famous axis of evil variety corporation. She went on and on about how she never would have invested in them but ended up working under one of it's many tentacles for a while and as a result she now has a lucrative portfolio of their stock and enjoys regular dividend checks. That sounds good enough, right? Well, here's the problem, the company she was speaking of is Philip Morris/Altria. Yeah, you heard me. As we continued to talk she finally blurted out "Hey, I was just trying to sell some cheese. Besides, I figure we're talking about grown-ass people. We all know smoking cigarettes kills people. It's no secret. If they want to buy the damn things, who am I to stop them?" It's a dark thought isn't it? Still, it got me thinking about all the evil companies out there that just keep making money hand over fist no matter how much we hate them and how many times they lie before Congress. Is it time to maybe join 'em?

Hear me out, every time I fill up my tank at the gas station I think "Damn! I'd kill for an electric car!!" then "Damn! How can I get a piece of this action?" I drive a 9 year old car and take good care of it. It's reliable and gets better mileage than most of the the gas guzzlers I see on my way to work every day. Yet I paid $60 for a tank of gas the other day and that's nothing compared to what I'm guessing it will get up to. If I invest in those oil bastards do you think I might get some of my money back?

I'm starting to freak out because I can really hold a grudge and have been known to boycott retailers for decades but I feel I may be caving. I've been boycotting Walmart since that famous story aired on 60 Minutes about 20 years ago. I now know many people who work closely with the Walmart folks and I can tell you that company may be evil (it targets small town America and kills main streets all across the country and continues to snuff out every whisper of union talk) but they also happen to be one of the smartest companies out there. The down side was put very well by Alton Brown on NPR today when he said "Show me a dying town and I'll show you a Walmart within 5 miles." So dang true. The fact of the matter is that The Gap may go under but Walmart is here to stay. Perhaps most disturbing is that they managed to go up a notch in my book (*gasp*) when they began undercutting pharmaceutical companies by forcing them to sell generic prescriptions for $4 a pop. I was even impressed. For the record, as far as I'm concerned, the pharmaceutical industry is at the bottom of the barrel in terms of unethical practices followed closely by the health insurance industry. I used to consider Walmart to be right there with them in the scum bucket but now I find myself grinning as I think about big bad Walmart sticking it to those other industries. And let's be clear, Walmart can do it. Walmart can pretty much screw anyone they want. It's scary. Remember that dock workers strike? Guess which company responded by buying their own cargo ships then pulling them right up to the overseas cargo ships and unloading their goods with their own workers? Yup, that would be Walmart. Walmart is the only company out there who can find and buy cargo ships in a 48 hour period and completely work around a major strike. Forget India and China gaining on the US, Walmart is becoming the real Superpower and we really don't want to piss them off.

So in the midst of all of this evil, I find myself considering investing in some big bad companies. To be clear, I work for a ginormous company that many consider to be evil so maybe that has a little something to do with my recent thinking.

Here are the big, bad, dark-side companies I'm considering investing in:

On a slightly less freaky front, I'm also considering:

If I actually go through with this, what other reasonably ethical yet profitable companies should I invest in to wash the stank of greed off my hands? Do any even exist? I know enough to stay away from lenders (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Countrywide) and airlines but what about Starbucks, Whole Foods and Body Shop? They seem like happy, shiny companies. Trouble is I know folks aren't in the mood for over priced coffee, food or lotions. Hmm, it's a lot to consider.

You'll be relieved to know that I still could never stomach Halliburton (queue the Imperial March from Star Wars. Umm, btw, doesn't this seem sort of inappropriate yet perfect all at the same time?). Even me and my new thinking can't go there. Halliburton's just so evil. I've got karma to consider and I'm already treading into dangerous territory with Exxon and Philip Morris. I also don't think I can dive into the Walmart stock pool. I have family friends who do well by Walmart but I just can't do it. Meanwhile, Chevron is supposed to be environmentally worse than Exxon but I'm not sure how. *sigh* I've got a lot of homework to do. Where is that magical alternative energy company I'm looking for?

Damn, do you think I'll have to start wearing a black cloak and extra sun block so I look like the evil doer I'm becoming? Eeek.


shandon said...

Maybe you can find some info to offset your evil investment footprint here:

Ron Robins said...

I can offer you some help. My site covers the latest global news and research on socially responsible investing -- as well as many useful articles and links for someone like yourself.

My site is at

Don't ever believe anyone who tells you that to invest with your conscience means lower returns! Study after study now shows socially responsible investing can produce equivalent or better returns than 'conventional investing.'

Please remember that when we invest in a company, or many companies in the case of a mutual fund, we share in the responsibility for the activities of those companies as well as participate in the outcomes of their corporate activities. Anyone valuing their personal or spiritual growth has to take these things into account when investing.

I believe that if everyone does invest according to their personal values, then, since so many of core values are alike -- and are supportive of higher ideals -- that in the long run, only companies employing these higher values will truly prosper.

Incidentally, I've been following socially responsible investing for forty years.

Good luck and best wishes, Ron Robins