God v. Mammon, 2005

Didn’t Brigham Young say something to the effect that he knew the Saints could withstand mobbings and lynchings, but he was worried about the effects prosperity would have on [us]?

Well here is my question: Since leaving school and working for a few years, I’ve been able to put a little money away and now am beginning to invest it. How aware do I need to be of who gets my money? Certainly I’m not going to go out and invest in shares of Phillip Morris or Anheiser Busch or Bally’s Casinos… But what about Coca-Cola? What about companies that SELL tobacco and alcohol, like restaurants & convenience stores, What about studios that make good movies, but also make R-rated ones? What about Marriott, for Pete’s sake, which has porn available as pay-per-view in all its hotel rooms? If I invest in these companies, am I not also profitting from the vices they promote and exploit?

To take it a step further, what if I don’t bother to invest in individual stocks at all, but stick to mutual funds? Am I responsible to monitor each individual company the fund invests in? If I don’t, then in theory, my money could be used to do things I would never dream of doing in person, right?

Perhaps I’m neurotic. After all, Phillip Morris also owns “Kraft”, I could tell myself that I was investing in Velveeta instead of Marlboro. I can go to the casino just for the buffet, right, and tell myself i’m not helping finance people’s addiction to gambling. If I subscribe to HBO, but only watch the PG13 stuff, never mind that i’m also helping produce The Sopranos, right? right?

What’s a gospel-conscious investor/consumer to do?

[For the record, when I mentioned this dilemma to a member of my stake presidency, he told me not to worry about it, because you don’t have enough time to investigate all the uses your money is put to, and because ANY company might be doing something immoral you don’t even know about. I’m not sure I’m satisfied with that answer….]

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Philip Morris is a tobacco company that has successfully diversified, and is now a producer of well-known brands of food and beer. (Its 2000 Annual Report noted that “Fifteen of our brands generated $1 billion or more in revenues last year: Marlboro, Kraft, Basic, Miller Lite, Virginia Slims, Parliament, L&M, Oscar Mayer, Post, Philip Morris, Maxwell House, Jacobs, Philadelphia, Merit and our newest addition, the Nabisco trademark.”)

-(http://www.virginiaplaces.org/econ/philipmorris.html)

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14 Comments

Filed under Doctrine

14 responses to “God v. Mammon, 2005

  1. Anonymous

    Here is one well known quotation to that effect:

    “It is our duty to preach the gospel, gather Israel, pay our tithing, and build temples. The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.”

    –Brigham Young

    (James S. Brown, Life of a Pioneer, Salt Lake City: Geo. Q. Cannon and Sons Co., 1900, pp. 122ā€“23.) 

    Posted by Justin

  2. SRA

    The first thing I thought of to say is that if you use morality as your standard, you shouldn’t pay taxes because of the immoral stuff the Feds fund behind our backs (or in front of them, as the case may be). But that’s just my liberal spirit coming through…so I’ll not pursue that line of thinking.

    So far as investing one’s own money, though…I don’t really know what I would think. I agree that you shouldn’t be satisfied with your stake presidency member’s answer to your question. That’s promoting laziness and blind investment of personal funds, which I don’t think are marks of a “vigilant Latter-day Saint” (my, what a term). Have you ever heard of investment firms that don’t invest in companies that promote vices? I remember reading about one in Newsweek a few months back. I think the article was called “Big Thinkers for Big Business”, from the 13 June edition. I would find out, but it would cost me $3 to read the article online & I’m too cheap.
    After doing a little research, though, I found a site that lists social, ethical, and environmental funds and banks…a sociology professor at Boston College put it together & there are lots of good options there.

    Check out Good Money. There are moral and ethical ways of investing…don’t worry. šŸ™‚
    ~~Stephanie

  3. Anonymous

    You might be interested in the discussion here. 

    I think you should buy a broad based mutual funds (probably index funds) and not worry what you invest in. Phillip Morris doesn’t care if you  invest in them, they care if you buy cigarettes. 

    Posted by ed

  4. Rob

    Stephanie-

    Nice website, but it doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2003. As to taxes, I’m sort of obligated to pay them whether or not I agree with the government. They can throw you in jail for that, and although I admire Thoreau, I have things to do on the outside.

    I’ve heard of these “socially responsible funds” before. The problem is, they’re not LDS-run. Perhaps from their view, Maxwell House (coffee) or Pepsi are great companies, but as LDS we (I) have a different perspective. We need some “mormon funds” out there, I guess. But even Marriott, as I mentioned above….

  5. SRA

    *nods* I noticed some of the links didn’t work. There are some good ones, though…but I’m not 100% sure what you are looking for. I personally am a caffeine-drinker (wasn’t until I went to Texas on my internship earlier this year & rediscovered the joys of Dr. Pepper), so investing in Pepsi or a company like that wouldn’t be prohibitive to me. So…maybe find someone in your stake who’s a financial planner (my bishop in Dallas was a CFP) or something like that & talk about this with them. They’d probably be best able to tailor a package to fit what you are looking for, especially since, like you said, even some Christian mutual funds invest in companies that LDS folks might not agree with. ~~

  6. Anonymous

    I thought Mormons owned Coca Cola. 

    Posted by Susan M

  7. Rob

    I thought Mormons owned Coca Cola.

    Um, No.

    I’m not 100% sure what you are looking for.

    What I’m looking for is a company or fund that doesn’t profit from sin. I’m looking for a way to increase the “talents” the Lord has entrusted to me without digging a pit for my neighbor.

    Phillip Morris doesn’t care if you invest in them, they care if you buy cigarettes.

    I respectfully disagree. If everyone dumped Phillip Morris stock, and the price plummeted, the company would soon be out of business a la WorldCom and Enron.

  8. SRA

    How is caffeinated soda (or pop, as they say in my part of the world) “sin”? Really, in investing, it’s next to impossible to find a company that doesn’t have it’s finger in some immoral pie. Philip Morris makes Shredded Wheat AND several brands of cigarettes. Kodak is well-known for the cruel way in which it treats its employees. Same with Wal*Mart & McDonald’s. Seriously…maybe you’re asking too much. Money and how it is invested is not the most logical place to find “nice people”. It’s cutthroat. Maybe you should just open an IRA or CD or something and leave it at that.

  9. Rob,

    If everyone dumped phillip morris stock, the price would plummet, and then those who didn’t care about the morality of the situation would buy it up cheap. Perhaps employees, managers or even competitors.

    The stock ownership would still reside _somewhere_, and the assets would not disappear, tho they may get transfered. Since demand drives the cigarette industry, the removal of one manufacturer would just increase business for others.

    I agree with you that it’s okay or even admirable to invest in accordance with one’s morals.

    However, the responsibility to heavily research may be something like this analogy:

    When I shop, sometimes I count my change at the cash-register, and sometimes I just stuff it in my pocket and just leave. If I verify my receipt and count my change, I’m obligated to give back if the cashier gave me too much change, or undercharged me. But if I’m too busy to count it, and either assume it’s correct, or that overages/shortages even out in the long run, then I don’t feel guilty about it.

    When doing business, there’s nothing wrong with assuming your customer or supplier is honorable, unless there is a problem staring you in the face.

    Plus there may be dishonor in digging for dirt. I’m remdinded of the novel “Catch 22” in which soldiers didn’t want to pass the salt to someone who wasn’t completely loyal. So they required people to repeat the loyalty oath before they would pass them the salt.

    After a while it just gets ridiculous.

    Take the “dolphin-safe tuna” thing. Consumers petition the stores for dolphin-safe tuna, the stores pass along the requests to the canneries. The canneries then require the foreign-flag foreign-owned fishing fleets to “certify” that the tuna was caught with “dolphin-safe” fishing methods. But then the fishing fleet is from some 3rd world country, and they’ll sign anything and swear to it, regardless of what they actually do.

    Now the canneries and the stores can tout that the tuna is “certified” dolphin-safe, yet the whole thing is meaningless.

    You have to have people verify things, then you have to verify the verifiers. Then you have to trust the verifiers of the verifiers. So you end up spending a lot of money on overhead, and it all boils down to “who do you trust?” anyway.

    For instance, the global-warming ozone-hole crowd has been caught in enough lies that I don’t trust them anymore. Yet the mainstream media doesn’t publicize the lies about global-warming, they just repeat the lies as truth. The media doesn’t give airtime to the _majority_ of climatologists and meteorologists who say global-warming is total BUNK. They don’t give airtime to the many members of climate change commissions who were duped, screwed, and lied about, by the prejudiced faction that wanted to promote the global-warming myth, wherein the prejudiced faction controled the release of their final reports and lied, saying the dissenters agreed with the prejudiced faction when indeed they did not.

    Global-warming is a lie. And the oft-told thing about freon (CFC’s) depleting the ozone layer is another lie. (One volcanic eruption puts more ozone-destroying chlorine into the upper atmosphere than 500 years worth of man-made CFC’s.) We’d have to stop all, 100%, of future volcanic eruptions in order to affect the ozone layer at all.

    Yet the majority of people believe the lies, without having verified what’s actually going on. There is no one who is non-prejudiced who is verifying the verifiers.

    And people believe the lies solely because the mainstream media repeats the lies, and gives airtime and credence to those pushing the lies, and gives no airtime and no credence to those saying “Hello! That stuff is not true, and here’s why.”

    So it all boils down to who do you believe.

  10. Rob

    BOM Indy-

    I’m really Ok with bad guys investing in and profitting from evil… I mean, after all, they’re bad guys. My point was not “How can we put Phillip Morris out of business?”, it was “Do we have any business investing in companies like Phillip Morris?”

    Also, a company’s assets and its stock price are not quite as independent as you indicate. Frequently companies hold large amounts of their assets IN their own stock, figuring it to be a good investment.

    As to global warming, well, i agree that there are lots of areas where we can’t be sure who exactly, if anyone, is telling us the truth. Dolphin-safe tuna and global warming are interesting, but to me, not as directly a matter of good and evil as, say, Pornography, gambling, alcohol, tobacco, other addictive substances. These, to me seem pretty black and white in terms of their morality. The question is, what to do about companies that dabble in, and profit from them? Some involvment is probably necessary… we could never buy gasoline.. have you ever seen a gas station that didn’t sell cigarettes? So to some degree, if there are no alternatives we are required to participate unless we decide for a very alternative lifestyle. But if there is a CHOICE, as there seems to be in many instances, especially when investing, I think we have the responsibility to make sure we support companies that choose not to blatantly violate traditional moral values and promote spiritual enslavement. And when God asks me why I allowed my money to be used to finance evil, i’m not sure the excuse that “it was too hard to figure out where the money was going” is going to hold water.

  11. Anonymous

    Perhaps I’m neurotic. 

    Perhaps that goes without saying. =)

    I’m not sure why I picked this article as one to mark my foray into commenting and heckling the beloved owners of FPR blog, but, here I am.

    Your stake presidency person probably has the right idea. While you probably shouldn’t knowingly invest in companies that are counter-productive to your morals/ethics, I think it’s probably ok to invest in a diversified mutual fund without personally approving each company that might be a part of it.

    If you try to take your restrictive stance, it sounds like buying Kraft Mac n Cheese (it’s the cheesiest! ) would technically be supporting a company that allows people to smoke. Right?

    Other people might even take the stance that investing is practically a legalized form of gambling (and I hear it can be just as addicting) but that might be going too far off topic.

    Man, I wish I could be cursed with the trial of having too much money! =)

    P.S. As long as you’re rolling in the dough, Rob, I think you owe me a couple of McDonald’s breakfasts.

     

    Posted by FaithHopeLove

  12. Rob

    As long as you’re rolling in the dough, Rob, I think you owe me a couple of McDonald’s breakfasts.

    I’m sure the statute of limitations has passed on those Egg McMuffins šŸ™‚

    If you try to take your restrictive stance, it sounds like buying Kraft Mac n Cheese (it’s the cheesiest! ) would technically be supporting a company that allows people to smoke. Right?

    Well, yes, that is my point. I’m wondering how hard we need to investigate where our money ultimately ends up when we buy seemingly innocuous products, or invest in companies.

    investing is practically a legalized form of gambling

    This isn’t too far off topic, especially since you won’t be seeing any more posts even close to this topic for some time. My reference is the parable where the Lord gave the talents of varying amounts to the servants. The servant who received 5 and made 5 more was praised, then one who buried his one talent in the ground was chastised. So if the Lord blesses me with extra capital, I feel obligated to do something useful with it. I could give it all to charity, I suppose… some (Nibley) have suggested that. However, that’s not what the parable implies to me. The servants didn’t say “well, I don’t need 5 talents, I only need two, so the rest I’ll just give to the poor”… I think the Lord expects us to magnify what he has given to us (as well as be generous to the poor). As for the gambling analogy, at the casino, the odds are stacked against you, and you know that before you walk in. In investing, at least, you can do some research, and hopefully choose your level of risk.

  13. John C.

    Um, I am assuming that the above is spam. If it isn’t clarified or removed in the next 24 hours, I will remove it.

  14. Maybe it’s Frank the Fish n Chip Man’s cousin or something.