Maryland Retirement Funds used to Fund Terrorism? Oh dear.
May 10, 2007 § 1 Comment
Oh dear is right. HB1333 was voted down, unfortunately, so the state of Maryland Retirement and Pension System will continue to fund companies in countries known to fund terrorism. To quote 1776: “It’s all about a filthy purse-string.”
An excerpt from a paper I wrote on the issue recently, and a link to further information on the problem:
How can this fourfold goodness be applied to ethical problems today? A timely example would be the investment of
Maryland retirement funds in known terrorist countries by the State Retirement and Pension System. In late February, Delegate Ronald A. George (R-Dist. 30) proposed a bill (HB1333) to reform the Maryland retirement fund, saying pointedly that “we in
Maryland who give to public investment funds are active participants in the war, but for the wrong side.” In fact, the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System has nearly $2 billion of funds invested in about 100 companies with known ties to terrorist countries including Sudan, Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Unfortunately, no action was taken after the proposal for reform was heard by the House Appropriations Committee of the Maryland State Legislature. Instead, the Committee approved a bill which proposed to only pull investments from the mere fourteen companies involved in Sudan. Purse strings became the obvious focus in the end: the loss of money incurred by simply pulling investments from fourteen companies is much less than that if Del. George’s bill were passed. Douglas Tallman, a writer for The Gazette, lamented with good reason that “sometimes doing the right thing collides with what colleagues think is a more right thing.”
The application of the formula for fourfold goodness is fairly and conveniently straightforward in this case. To be a good action simply, the genus, object, circumstances, and end of the action must be good. First, the genus of the action or the action itself in this case is the investment of money. It is generally considered a good thing to invest one’s money; the genus of the action is good or at least neutral and not lacking in goodness. Second, the immediate object is the money. Money taken by itself is again a good or at least neutral object. Thirdly, the circumstances are manifold and it will be helpful to choose two in particular for the sake of analysis: (1) the circumstances surrounding the money itself and (2) the circumstances surrounding the companies in which the money is being invested.
In regards to the former circumstances, it can be presumed that the money was obtained by legitimate means by the state of Maryland and hence the circumstances are good in regards to the money. The latter circumstances, on the other hand, are problematic: not only do the companies in which the money is invested have ties to countries which are suspected to fund terrorism, but the U.S. State Department has officially determined and confirmed that these companies both aid and abet terrorism. Clearly, these circumstances are not good and cannot even be said to be neutral. The circumstances are lacking in goodness.
Although the circumstances are enough to prevent the entire action of investment from being good simply, is it helpful to consider the end for the sake of completion. In fact, the end of the action intended by the investors – investing money to support government workers in retirement – turns out to be a good one. But this is not enough to erase the problems which arose with the circumstances surrounding the companies receiving the money. The action as a whole is and remains one lacking in goodness, and Delegate Ronald George can be said to be justified in proposing to pull investments from these companies, even if divesting the equities meant the loss of five to eight million dollars.