As my sister, Jeanine, has pointed out, some see the allocation of their hard-earned money not simply as a practical personal matter but as a conscious political one as well. Discriminating investors often want a say in how their dollars are spent. A growing number of them feel that, at least collectively, their assets have clout and should be used for relatively benign purposes.
Some may be down on tobacco companies, others defense industries, gun manufacturers, meat processing corporations, companies associated internationally with child labor infractions, corrupt executives or governments, scantily clad waitresses, stem cell research, gambling, alcohol, apartheid practices, etc.
Sometimes, in fact, disparate values lead to supporting or avoiding competing moral interests: pro and con abortion research and practices, specific foreign military involvements, environmental initiatives, gay rights, birth control, racial and gender equity, and so forth.
An entire class of mutual funds has evolved that caters to the sometimes meshing and at others competing interests of ethically sensitive individuals and groups. "Socially responsible investing" (or SRI) funds had over $2 trillion in assets in 2003, spread among 200 or more mutual funds. Today those figures are almost certainly higher.
A question that comes up is whether the total returns of SRI funds match or even exceed those of their more morally challenged cousins, who do not limit their choices of investments based on ethical criteria. The answer is complicated, the results mixed.