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Opinion | Harry and Meghan want to invest ethically. That's harder than it looks.

The couple’s stated purpose is to encourage younger people to invest “sustainably” — a worthy goal. Yet ethical investing is too often a smokescreen.

10/16/2021 6:01:00 PM

Harry and Meghan's stated purpose is to encourage younger people to invest “sustainably” — a worthy goal. Yet ethical investing is too often a smokescreen, Lenore Palladino writes for NBCNewsTHINK.

The couple’s stated purpose is to encourage younger people to invest “sustainably” — a worthy goal. Yet ethical investing is too often a smokescreen.

At the same time, U.S. households who own financial assets — such as stocks and bonds that they hold in a retirement fund or a 529 college account — have largely become fully diversified shareholders of corporate equity, meaning that their wealth is bound up in the entire stock market, not just a small subset of companies. (The wealthiest shareholders often take a more targeted approach via a somewhat complex system that allows some people to buy shares not traded on the stock market.) This means we bear all the effects of corporate “negative externalities” — an economic term that refers to when a company finds a way to avoid paying for problems it created. Think, an oil or chemical manufacturer that pollutes the environment and does not have to pay for it. The climate crisis necessitates new rules to ensure that all asset managers are required to invest with the long-term interests of beneficiaries in mind, not just the short-term payoff.

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In arecent paper with Rick Alexanderof The Shareholder Commons, we propose two specific areas for federal policy reform. The first is a substantive redefinition of asset manager fiduciary duty, so that managers must consider the impacts of their portfolio on their beneficiaries’ common interests, including on the welfare of communities and the environment. The second is a substantive bright line that requires portfolios be carbon neutral by 2050 at the latest, in compliance with the Paris Agreement. Policymakers should revise the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and ERISA such that all asset managers are “responsible for the impact they have on the shared social and natural systems needed for a just, equitable, inclusive, and prosperous economic system.”

One might think that “sustainable investing” would solve this problem, and indeed there’s trillions flowing into “sustainable” portfolios. Read more: NBC News »

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