Back in the early 70s there was a significant surge in interest in socially responsible investing. There was lively debate with articulate advocates like Milt Moskowitz (book plug here) writing in the New York Times, and smart people like Milton Friedman and Burton Malkiel (see his speech in this anthology) raising concerns about the emerging practice.
And that was really the high-water mark for a long time. The general interest in social investing sharply tapered off as the energy crisis hit and the Nifty 50 era came to a crushing end with the 1973-74 bear market.
The present era bears a lot of similarity with those days. Oil prices are through the roof, and with the $100 forecast now looking kind of plausible, the hot new forecast is for $200 oil.
I suspect some of this has to do with the sophistication of the tools available today - social investors can manage portfolio risk in ways they couldn't in the 1970s. Also, there are more funds in different styles, including some good value and and contrarian choices, so performance hasn't been universally poor during the energy bull market of the past three years, despite the weak recent returns of the social indexes.
Not really a secret as it moves up the best-seller lists, but Freakonomics deserves the praise it's received. At least two chapters - one on the finances of a Chicago crack gang, the other an account of the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan - could be books themselves.
The praise is not unanimous. Some economists have criticized Levitt's methods as imprecise or worse. Saloncomplains that he doesn't offer solutions to the problems he identifies. For my own part, I can't say I'm comfortable with the breathless attempts to turn him into a celebrity. And the title is...not good.
But Levitt's work is very important to social investing. Several of his studies demonstrate that cheating pays in some professions. And he has pioneered analytical techniques (mainly of question framing) that make it possible to detect cheaters in situations you might not have expected. Social investors would do well to borrow some of those tricks.
And yes, there is a blog. Levitt and co-author Dubner helpfully give a list of their negative reviews here.
Here are some blogs I've found useful, some SRI-related and some not. One good way to organize your blog reading is bloglines.com, which also allows convenient access to news services like the BBC.
I wonder when the folks at socialfunds.com are going to be recognized for their outstanding efforts over the years. Where else are you going to read about Pax World's decision on Starbucks, or Adam Seitchik's move from Deutschebank to Trillium? No RSS feed, unfortunately, so you can't use bloglines, but you can get their news e-mailed to you.
For electronic privacy issues and the Microsoft/open-source battle you can't beat Slashdot, the preferred news source for nerds everywhere.
He's not a social investor, but Andrew Tobias knows a lot about money and has a good running conversation with his readers on both financial and social topics.
I've looked for a decent economics blog, and haven't found many - odd, since there are so many economists. I like this one from an economist at the University of Chicago, which gives strong daily commentary on the most important data.