Seth Magaziner, the treasurer of my state of Rhode Island, loves to make a big political splash and he did just that on Wednesday with a long overdue announcement that the Rhode Island public pension fund will finally stop investing in companies that either operate private for-profit prisons or make assault-style weapons that are sold to civilians. We are the 4th state to do so.
Good for Mr. Treasurer. His longstanding rhetoric about the evils of firearms and for-profit prisons has finally been translated into action—and it only took him being in office since 2015 to make it happen. He chose to wait until campaign season to ensure that the divestment story would get picked up by national outlets and fold neatly into his upcoming run for governor. In other words, he decided to delay what he called yesterday “the morally and responsible thing to do.”
Morality is not urgent in the game of politics, I guess.
“We don’t want to be associated with businesses that we think are fundamentally immoral,” he said during the press conference.
Magaziner admits that the move is “largely symbolic” and “will not have a material impact on our financial performance.”
Hold on a second—if the move is “largely symbolic” and “symbolic gestures are important” and it will have virtually no impact on the financial health of the pension, then what on earth took so long to make it happen?
We know how this works. The governor’s race was too far off to do the right thing from the start.
This is not the first time I have been frustrated and a bit cynical about a big splashy announcement by Treasurer Magaziner—his ultimately successful push for a law mandating that all RI students take a financial literacy course also felt more like a resume builder than a thoughtful and substantive improvement to education in our state.
Most Rhode Island children can’t read on grade level. Only 6 percent of 8th grade boys in Providence are considered proficient in reading and writing. Statewide, two thirds of students do NOT meet state standards in reading.
It is not hyperbole to say that our literacy house is on fire—yet we are diverting much needed fire hoses to financial literacy. People have said my criticism is off base because of course we can walk and chew gum at the same time—can we? Show me evidence that we have succeeded in improving reading instruction and reading outcomes for children while chewing gum. I will gladly issue a correction and publicly celebrate it being true.
Call me naive or an idealist (or an idiot!) but it would really be nice if elected officials could find it in themselves to stop delaying the “moral thing to do” until the moment is so blatantly self-serving and politically expedient.
So congratulations to our treasurer, Seth Magaziner, for finally getting his actions aligned with his rhetoric and for living up to his ideals just before the biggest political campaign of his life.
It is never too late to do the right thing.