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Ethical Gambling?

My wife Louisa and I recently made a visit to our financial advisor to check on our investments.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19 & 21, NRSV

My wife Louisa and I recently made a visit to our financial advisor to check on our investments. Some years ago, after we finally made the last mortgage payment on our house, we decided to continue paying the equivalent of our monthly mortgage payments into an RRSP to provide a bit of a nest egg for our old age. For many years we have used the services of a fine Christian financial counsellor, and several years ago we made sure that our money was “ethically” invested. Ethical investment funds, we understand, are managed to make sure that none of our money is invested directly in tobacco companies, or armament manufacturers and the like. In addition, the fund managers who control our money also monitor the labour practices of the companies in which they invest on our behalf. This sounded to us like good investment practices. 

I highlighted the word “directly” in the paragraph above because it’s a very important adverb. In fact, we are indirectly involved with a whole host of so-called “ethical” companies that may very well be investing in all sorts of enterprises whose practices Louisa and I would find ethically questionable. For example, we have holdings in several Canadian banks and oil companies. My guess is that Canadian banks have very few compunctions about their investment strategies other than to maximize shareholder earnings. They may invest in tobacco and arms manufacturers. With respect to oil companies, I venture to suggest that most of the wars since the middle of the 20th century have been fought over oil and/or access to oil, including wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. These are only two examples of “ethical” investments that may be far from being such.

Morally suspect

Now, I must confess that Louisa and I are conservative, passive investors. By conservative we mean that we have a low tolerance for risk. We want to minimize our chances of losing our investments, but we’d like to make a bit of profit. We are passive investors in that we don’t actively involve ourselves in the investment process other than to visit our advisor a couple of times per year. We have neither the knowledge nor the interest to check the stock markets or to track the performance of our investment portfolio. That’s what we pay our investment counsellor to do on our behalf. By most definitions of gamblers, we fit the bill, although we pay someone else to gamble for us.

As a child growing up in a typical Calvinist household, I was not allowed to play cards because of their association with gambling. Even attending the annual Edmonton Exhibition was verboten (though I snuck in anyway) because of the many “games of chance” featured there. My parents never had any extra money to invest, but my suspicion is that my father would have considered so-called ethical investments an oxymoron akin to “ethical gambling,” in which we seek unearned gain through morally suspect financial activities. Of course, I know about Christ’s parable of the talents and I would value hearing from CC readers who have more insight than I on these matters. 

Author

  • Bob is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton.

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