I don’t want to discuss socially responsible investment, just investment plain and simple. Deciding how to invest my money: what type of assets, where to invest, which industry, which company or government, etc. When I was young(er), ethics manuals talked about the responsibility of cooperating with the actions of others (whether good or bad).

An assortment of United States coins, including quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Author: Elembis.
An assortment of United States coins, including quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Author: Elembis.

Someone who sells the gun to a murderer, or adds a harmful dye to a food product because their boss tells them to, or cooks the books to make the numbers look good clearly has a certain responsibility, which can be substantial in some cases and miniscule in others. But they do have a responsibility. Investment is no different.

I read a letter to the editor of the Financial Times from November 19, in which the author (Philip G. Cerny, professor emeritus at the University of Manchester and Rutgers University) notes that there is no conflict of interest between shareholders and bank executives, as reported in the manuals, but rather an agreement, because both gain from the strategy of maximizing shareholder value since in the short term, both share the revenues generated by the opportunism of the bankers.” “Impatient capital (…) is prioritized over long-term investment, by shareholders and bankers alike. The result is a fragile circle of toxic innovations with inflated profits followed by inevitable crises.” 

I would never stick my hand in an old lady’s purse to steal her wallet. Nor would I alert a thief of an open purse for them to reach into and steal from. But I wonder if perhaps I may be too light-minded with my investments, placing them wherever. Is it me being dead set on profitability? Why is it easy for me to justify it by saying it’s out of my hands, that if I don’t do it someone else will, or that I wasn’t properly informed?

Antonio Argandona | Business EthicsAntonio Argandoña is Emeritus Professor in the Economics and Business Ethics departments and holder of the “la Caixa” Chair of Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Governance at IESE. 

He teaches mainly in the areas of macroeconomics, monetary economics and international economics, and publishes research on business ethics, corporate social responsibility and organizational governance. Prof. Argandoña is the autor of the blog Economía, Ética y RSE  (in Spanish).