It's (Still) Good to be Norway
If only everybody could be Norway. A green gem, adorned by turquoise fjords and bordered by the mighty North Sea, a sea whose oil deposits -- since their discovery in 1969 -- have made Norway "stupendously, incomprehensibly rich" as a jealous-sounding Huffington Post Canada article put it in 2014.
The country created a government-run pension fund in the 70s and began investing profits abroad in 1990. Today, according to The Economist, "No sovereign-wealth fund is bigger. It owns more than 2% of all listed shares in Europe and over 1% globally. Its largest holdings are in Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft and Nestlé, among 9,000-odd firms in 78 countries."
With the decline in oil prices, however, making solid investments becomes more crucial.
And even with the canniest managers, the fund may not be the envy of the world forever. It may be impossible for democracies to sustain a rich wealth fund, the Economist points out. Too many people have a say in where they funds are invested and many of them put ideology over high returns.
"Such restrictions create dilemmas," notes the Economist, "The fund still invests in oil, for example: Royal Dutch Shell is one of its biggest holdings. Its ethical advisers argue that it can achieve more by promoting good practices within oil firms. But a former adviser admits the fund’s climate-change brief makes such investments a 'paradox'."
"In effect, the fund is exporting Norwegian values as well as capital. In the future it could turn against more products—sugar and fast-food, say, because of obesity. So far the fund’s managers see no serious financial cost from blacklisting 100 or so companies. But they do not deny that some ethical decisions do entail trade-offs. Their own shareholders, the Norwegians themselves, may not always let them do what is right rather than what pays."