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George F. Will: The price of moral grandstanding

Published: February 3, 2013
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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.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP