What about personal foibles, such as smoking or drinking, that many people view as no longer socially correct?
If so, and you have any extra cash left over from your bad habits, then maybe you should put it into a vice fund.
While socially responsible investment strategies, that is, putting money only into companies that meet certain ethical standards, is a well-known practice utilized by many investors, some other money managers are banking on the human predilection for things that aren't so good for them.
Take, for example, the eponymous Vice Fund. If you've got $2,500 you can open an account with this no-load mutual fund, whose prospectus clearly notes that the fund advisor "looks for companies that derive a significant portion of their revenues from products or services often considered socially irresponsible."
That means a minimum of 25 percent of the company's revenues are from such things as tobacco, gambling, defense/weapons or liquor. These industries, continues the fund's managers, are nearly recession-proof.
Of course, the prospectus also assures potential investors that that companies also are vetted for their financial soundness and potential growth.
So does being bad pay, at least in the stock market? Apparently so.
According to this New York Times story, "This politically incorrect approach has helped the Vice Fund outperform the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index from its inception in 2002."
Ironically, the fund also has seen its share of alleged criminal fiduciary mismanagement. The newspaper article notes that in 2003 and 2004, civil and criminal charges related to market timing were brought against three executives of the fund's former adviser, Mutuals.com. Those charges are still pending.
But such allegations do make me wonder. If your investments rely on the darker side of human nature, maybe such a mindset is not necessarily an altogether bad thing.
Gambling on a more specific foible: If you're more selective about which bad habits you'll tolerate, then the Gaming and Casino Fund might be for you. Started just this March, according to its Web site the fund will invest primarily in casinos and gaming manufacturers, as well as companies in the pari-mutuel, lottery and electronic/video game industries.
Going for the good: If you want to take the other investing route, check out Pax World Funds, which invests in socially or environmentally responsible firms, or Ave Maria Mutual Funds, which uses Catholic church guidelines to direct its financial choices.
Regardless of which side of the eternal struggle you stand, be sure to follow your secular common sense and check out any investment, for good or ill, thoroughly. And I must repeat the standard disclaimer of all reputable investment firms: Consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses of the funds carefully before investing.
Merchants of Death: If the movie "Thank You For Smoking" didn't make it to your local theater, rent it -- today, now, immediately! It is far and away the funniest movie of the year.
Based on Christopher Buckley's novel of the same title, the movie is a wonderful send up of political correctness run amok, not to mention the power of marketing, Hollywood navel gazing and the battle between Washington, D.C., lobbyists and politicians for ultimate control of the fickle and malleable electorate.
The hubby and I laughed out loud, repeatedly, in the theater. We were not alone. Then we laughed some more, until we literally cried, as we sat in the parking lot and compared our favorite scenes.
How can you not love St. Euthanasia middle school, where the smoking lobbyist's son attends class, or beautifully designed opening credits that resemble cigarette packaging.
Then there's the tour de force scene in which the MOD -- Merchants of Death -- Squad, AKA lobbyists for the firearm, tobacco and alcoholic beverages industries, make their impassioned cases over a power lunch as to which of them, based on the number of deaths connected to their respective employers, is most worthy of death threats from the outraged public.
Amid the jabs, there's an awful lot of truth. This line in particular, uttered by the masterful smoking advocate Nick Naylor, stuck in my head: "99 percent of everything done in the world, good or bad, is done to pay a mortgage. Perhaps the world would be a better place if everyone rented."
And now I must get back to earning my mortgage payment.