Could Principled Investors Make the Walt Disney Company Great Again?

Robert Nozick defended firms that maximize profits subject to ethical side constraints. Presumably the ethical side constraints include not capitulating to totalitarian governments that suppress free speech. The recent “meme” investors in GameStop and AMC sparked in me the question whether principled investors loyal to ethical side constraints could return the Walt Disney Company to the principled greatness of Walt Disney, the man?

(p. 1) It has been a year since Mat Bowen, who was the pastor of a small church in Gibson City, Ill., had the dream — the one where Elon Musk, the head of Tesla, urged him to buy Dogecoin.

Mr. Bowen had just begun to dabble in investing. He soon discovered WallStreetBets, the online forum on Reddit where throngs of small investors were plotting to buy shares of GameStop, the troubled video game retailer, in a bid to teach Wall Street a lesson. Some hedge funds had bet that shares of GameStop would fall. Instead, they took off, as the investors banded together last January to drive the price up more than 1,700 percent.

Caught up in the frenzy, Mr. Bowen bought GameStop, too. In July [2021], he quit the church to become a full-time trader, convinced he was joining a fight against financial injustice.

The beliefs underpinning last year’s meme stock phenomenon are stronger than ever. For a large number of individual investors, the stock market has become the battleground on which they join forces to right perceived wrongs and fight the powerful. So much so that when the stock market seesawed this past week, many small investors were undeterred. Falling prices were another opportunity to buy more shares of their favorite companies.

“The reason I am still in this, and the reason I am willing to ride these stocks to zero, is for my fellow citizens,” said Mr. Bowen, who received his master’s degree in divinity (p. 7) at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He cast the so-called meme stock fight in moral terms. “The battle of good versus evil is not just limited to the walls of a church or a synagogue or a mosque,” he said.

. . .

Jesus Gonzalez was drawn into the meme stock trade by what he saw as a power imbalance. Mr. Gonzalez, 22, had invested in stocks off and on as a teenager, but “AMC and GameStop are different from any other play in the stock market,” he said. “We have never seen a congregation of retail investors who have collectively come together on the internet and formed the largest, most powerful decentralized hedge fund in the world.”

Mr. Gonzalez, who graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in finance last month, is buying more shares of GameStop and AMC, even though his $220,000 portfolio is off 37 percent from its November [2021] high, he said.

His 34-year-old sister, Ruby Gonzalez, a behavioral health therapist who works at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and is studying to become a nurse, followed her brother’s lead and invested most of her savings in the two companies. “I want to change market manipulation,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Tara Siegel Bernard, Emily Flitter and Anupreeta Das. “How GameStop Turned into a Fight for Good vs. Evil.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, January 30, 2022): 1 & 7.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 29, 2022, and has the title “Buy GameStop, Fight Injustice. Just Don’t Sell.”)

Robert Nozick’s libertarian masterpiece is:

Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1974.

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