My Cognitive Dissonance

While describing a gathering of Hedge Fund managers Hamilton Nolan wrote,

Investors imagine that their “business” and “personal” behaviors can be separated, but of course what they do in business ends up having vastly more impact than whatever small, nice things they do in their personal lives.

I am nowhere near as powerful as even the smallest of hedge fund managers, but something hit home. I live in Bangalore. For years, as I returned home from work often late at night, I would have to side step drunks sleeping on the pavement. Each of these men (fortunately there were no women) had families wrecked by alcohol. Sometimes friends would come and pick them up and take them home. More often, they would be left to sleep off their stupor and return home when they had no money left. I have seen husbands drink away their wives’ incomes wreck their children’s futures and kill themselves in the process.

Despite all this, I have for the past few years been investing in a mutual fund that I know has a small stake in a major brewery. This outcome of my investment is certainly contributing to the problem I see around me and in a sense, I am profiting by this misery.

Now, I like most people like to think that while no saint, I am not a truly bad man. I would like to believe that in the greater scheme of things I will leave the world a little better than I found it. Yet there is no accounting. I don’t know my carbon footprint. I don’t even know how much pollution I am causing while writing this post.

What about work? Over the years, I have developed a deep skepticism of “great leaders”. The Steve Jobs wannabes who think its ok to run rough shod over employees on the road to greater goals. If things work out, they are lionized as people who get things done. If they don’t they are forgotten. Nicer people rarely hog the spotlight and hence rarely get the attention they deserve.

Cecil Rhodes (left), Andrew Carnegie (right)

Later in life these titans sometimes turn to philanthropy. The model is classical, from Cecil Rhodes to Andrew Carnegie to J.D. Rockefeller. Fortunes made in blood and legacies that live on in charity. The good they have done is easy to measure, the evil well that is a task for the Angels. For Julius Caesar, Shakespeare wrote

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones

It seems the other way around to me.


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