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Investing with Your Values (Conscientious Commerce) Paperback – October 1, 2000
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"If you want your money to make money and to make a difference...then this book is for you." -- Martin Rutte, Coauthor of Chicken soup for the Soul at Work
About the Author
The authors are dedicated financial activists who have had a long involvement with SRI. Hal Brill and Jack Brill have been values-based investment consultants for ten years. Cliff Feigenbaum is the editor of GreenMoney Journal. Hal Brill lives is Paonia Colorado; Jack Brill lives in San Diego, California; and Cliff Feigenbaum lives in Spokane Washington. All three authors have been interviewed extensively on radio, TV, and print.
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The book is divided into four large sections, of which the second and third are the most valuable. In Section II, the authors do an excellent job of describing the entire range of SRI activities: avoidance screening, affirmative screening, shareholder activism, and community investing. They lay out the strategies of each, explain the thinking behind them, and discuss issues readers should consider concerning them. For most people, SRI means little more than avoidance screening: refusing to own stocks in tobacco, alcohol, gambling, weapons or nuclear energy companies. The other approaches - all, if anything, more politically productive - have never, to my knowledge, been as fully and usefully presented as they are here.
The authors also do an excellent job of debunking the myth that investing along ethical lines lowers returns. Nobody who invested in the Pax World Fund, the Domini Social Index, or the Citizen Funds over the past several years will be found wringing their hands over missing gains. Socially screened funds have matched or outrun their unscreened competitors consistently. It's nice to see this myth laid to rest with a systematic barrage of pertinent research.
Section Three covers different kinds of investments: mutual funds, closed-end funds, stock, bonds, annuities, etc. The section also includes a catalog of socially screened mutual funds, complete with expense and performance data. This section, along with the many appendices, makes the book an excellent reference for the Responsible Investor.
In Sections II and III, the authors are writing within their expertise. Throughout the book, however, the authors slide from finances and investing into pure discussions of politics, ethics, and spirituality, and the results are always disappointing. When they're discussing SRI, they qualify as lucid, informed experts; when they discuss philosophy, theology, and politics, they're amateurs at best. Section IV spirals deep into New Age pretension and silliness. Even their preferred term for the SRI movement, "Natural Investing," is trendy, ill-conceived cant. (The English and Canadians call it "Ethical Investing," which is less coy and more accurate.) The authors pay lip service to the ancient roots of SRI, but they try to create new roots for it in New Age "spirituality." This tendency reaches its nadir when they rename the "voluntary simplicity" movement "voluntary abundance." Henry David Thoreau and John Woolman would cringe at the smarmy hypocrisy of the term.
Despite the weakness of their philosophizing, however, the book deserves applause for the amount of information on Ethical Investing it presents and the clarity with which it's presented. Despite its flaws, Responsible Investors should buy, read, and keep the book on hand. Or lend it around. Or put a copy in your church library and tell people it's there.
In a future revision, the authors should drop Section IV in its entirety and beef up Section III, on personal finance. They could write an excellent general introduction to personal finance - a "how-to" for nervous, well-meaning beginners - set in the context of SRI. These authors could improve an already fine book if they would take up this challenge.