The Right Opinion

The Price of Moral Grandstanding

By George Will · Feb. 3, 2013

WASHINGTON – Politics becomes amusing when liberalism becomes theatrical with high-minded gestures. Chicago's government, which is not normally known for elevated thinking, is feeling so morally upright and financially flush that it proposes to rise above the banal business of maximizing the value of its employees' and retirees' pension fund assets. Although seven funds have cumulative unfunded liabilities of $25 billion, Chicago will sacrifice the growth of those assets to the striking of a political pose so pure it is untainted by practicality.

Emulating New York and California, two deep blue states with mammoth unfunded pension liabilities, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has hectored a $5 billion pension fund into divesting its holdings in companies that manufacture firearms. Now he is urging two large banks to deny financing to such companies “that profit from gun violence.” TD Bank provides a $60 million credit line to Smith & Wesson, and Bank of America provides a $25 million line to Sturm, Ruger & Company.

Chicago's current and retired public employees might wish the city had invested more in both companies. Barack Obama, for whom Emanuel was chief of staff, has become a potent gun salesman because of suspicions that he wants to make gun ownership more difficult. Since he was inaugurated four years ago, there have been 65 million requests for background checks of gun purchasers. Four years ago, the price of Smith & Wesson stock was $2.45. Last week it was $8.76, up 258 percent. Four years ago, the price of Sturm Ruger stock was $6.46. Last week it was $51.09, up 691 percent. The Wall Street Journal reports that even before “a $1.2 billion balloon payment for pensions comes due” in 2015, “Chicago's pension funds, which are projected to run dry by the end of the decade, are scraping the bottoms of their barrels.”

Nevertheless, liberals are feeling good about themselves – the usual point of liberalism – because New York state's public pension fund and California's fund for teachers have, The New York Times says, “frozen or divested” gun holdings, and in February Calpers, the fund for other California public employees, may join this gesture jamboree. All this is being compared to the use of divestment to pressure South Africa to dismantle apartheid in the 1980s. Well.

Apartheid was a wicked practice. Guns are legal products in America, legally sold under federal, state and local regulations. Most of the guns sold to Americans are made by Americans. Americans have a right – a constitutional right – to own guns, and 47 percent of American households exercise that portion of the Bill of Rights by possessing at least one firearm.

For Emanuel to say gun makers “profit from gun violence” is as sensible as saying automobile manufacturers “profit from highway carnage” – which, by the way, kills more Americans than guns do. Emanuel, who is more intelligent than he sounds (just as many think Wagner's music is better than it sounds), must know that not one fewer gun will be made, sold or misused because Chicago is wagging its finger at banks.

Moral grandstanding, however, offers steady work and The Chronicle of Higher Education reports a new front in “the battle against climate change”: “Student groups at almost 200 colleges and universities are calling on boards of trustees to divest their colleges' holdings in large fossil-fuel companies.” Of course, not one share of those companies' stock will go unsold because academia is so righteous. Others will profit handsomely from such holdings and from being complicit in supplying what the world needs. Fossil fuels, the basis of modern life, supply 82 percent of U.S. energy, and it is projected that they will supply 78 percent of the global increase in energy demand between 2009 and 2035, by which time the number of cars and trucks on the planet will have doubled to 1.7 billion.

Institutions of higher education will, presumably, warn donors that their endowments will be wielded in support of the political agenda du jour, which might include divesting from any company having anything to do with corn, source of the sweetener in many of the sodas that make some people fat and New York's mayor cranky. Or anything to do with red meat, sugar, salt, trans fats, chickens not lovingly raised. …

Liberal ethicists may decide that the only virtuous investments are in electric cars. The Obama administration says 1 million will be sold by 2015. Maybe 70,000 have been so far. Just imagine how pension funds will prosper by betting on the next 930,000.

© 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

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6 Comments

David Cane in Wesley ARkansas said:

A free people must always be wary of big government. Of the three major factors involved in crime – means, opportunity, and motive – government always has the first two. This indicates that with sufficient motive, government is capable of committing almost any crime, providing only that it further that government’s agenda. History is replete with examples of despots, dictators, and assorted tyrants slaughtering their own people. When the people are defenseless, the task is considerably simpler. If the people can be persuaded to disarm themselves, it then becomes a cakewalk. In our case, the Sandy Hook massacre is the bait. In all probability, the killer in this instance was a professional assassin hired by the government for that very purpose. Okay, I am probably just a deranged right wing nut, but at least consider the possibility. Would a government that is complicit in the murder of 55 million of the most innocent members of society really hesitate to kill 20 more if that furthered its purpose? I can virtually prove that Adam Lanza, convicted in the press without a trial, was innocent. Just for starters, where were the wounded? A random shooter will always injure more than he kills. Government slaughters its own people, makes a convenient scapegoat, tries to persuade the people to disarm, then uses moral posturing to show its own superiority. The stock market may survive government’s withdrawal from gun manufacturers, but the American people will not survive government’s withdrawal of armaments from the people.

Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 1:01 AM

Justin in Austin, TX replied:

You wrote -- Just for starters, where were the wounded? A random shooter will always injure more than he kills.
Highly, HIGHLY relevant as well as alone in it's value and awareness.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 10:31 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

With a loose canon, in the Oval Office, gun makers are kashing in on Karl Marx's anti-Amerikan policies! Chicago skools---failure. Chicago gov policy---failure. Amerikan hell hole---Chicago.Detroit--hell hole.Libs run amok!!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 5:32 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

When have liberals ever used common sense on any issue? Bankrupting the pension funds to make a stupid statement that in the long run will only hurt those depending on those funds when they retire. I'll bet folks depending on those funds were not consulted about this decision, Ole Rahm isn't worried about his retirement because he probably has stolen enough to live comfortably when he decides to retire.

Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 8:05 AM

Red in Cincinnat, OH said:

The only companies who profit from gun violence are Hollywood production companies who make violent movies and the makers of violent video games. Rahm is barking up the wrong tree. When his pension mess all blows up in his face, we (all of the U.S.) tax payers, will be footing the bill.

Monday, February 4, 2013 at 3:13 PM

Justin in Austin, TX said:

RE - Essential Liberty - "Chicago's government,..."
piece by George Will
Is this not the epitome of hypocrisy that a government long known for it's hatred of anything "gun" HAS BEEN INVESTED IN GUNS ??
Would it not be proper for these entities to forgo their profits upon sale in this grandiose "coming out" moment ??
Would it not also be possible that this is the warning bell that the "fat cats" are bailing and taking their profits because they think they are getting ready to screw the rest of the market in what may be an unavoidable market-wide crash ????

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 10:25 AM