Investing Our Way Into Healthier Social Systems
A mailing by Tom Atlee to the CII list Oct 10, 2008
As stocks, retirement savings, and so many other investments
tumble, the very real question arises of what to do with our money,
to maximize safety and return.
The unfolding collapse of the global financial system is so profound
that other questions also arise: What about the fundamental values
and dynamics underlying the entire arrangement? What about the possibility
that now is the time for a shift to something better?
These questions -- where to put our money and how to shift the
system -- are potentially a hot combination: We could put our money
in things that take care of us while they shift the system.
In other words, we could invest in activities that will provide
at least as much social, ecological, and spiritual benefit as financial
returns -- and seek safety in community and sustainability.
After all, maximization of profit and interest -- regardless of
its source -- unleashed the profound backlash that is impacting
We reap what we sow. We are all connected. We are now being called
to become stewards of the world and agents of its transformation,
even as we care for ourselves and those we love. This fresh "call"
is a transformational version of the old injunction to "do
well by doing good." It includes investing, lending, social
entrepreneurship, philanthropy, gifting, and many other creative
uses of money to create value in the world.
The articles below address this. They point out:
- We can invest in CREDIT
UNIONS which, by both spirit and regulation -- and
being owned by their members -- are grounded in the welfare of
those members and their communities, and so do not tend to wander
off into the kind of wild profit-seeking that has infected so
many banks and investment houses -- leaving credit unions far
less vulnerable to collapse.
- We can invest in our LOCAL
ECONOMY, in small local businesses upon which we
and our neighbors will depend more and more if, as expected, the
non-local money-dependent systems continue to deteriorate. We
can support their ability to support us. (Consider how "investment"
supports productive activity -- in ways which can go beyond financial
returns -- while "speculation" gambles for maximal returns
in risky financial deals.)
- We can invest in and support SUSTAINABILITY
INITIATIVES which provide more dependable sources
of energy, food, housing, wise democracy, community resilience,
and other forms of physical and social capital. This could involve
local initiatives, national or international programs, or the
development of widely applicable social and technological innovations,
visions, and information systems.
- We can contribute to efforts to CHANGE THE FINANCIAL
AND ECONOMIC SYSTEMS. Many commentators have noted that
a small percentage tax on speculative financial transactions would
provide vast amounts of money for all sorts of socially beneficial
work. Others have noted how counter-productive it is that we tax
income and production, but not pollution and other environmentally
and socially destructive activities -- and that GDP measures money
spent, not actual value created (and explicitly omits sharing,
non-monetized production (like mowing your own lawn or cooking
your dinner) and the productivity of nature, like oil, oxygen,
and beauty). The discrepancy between rich and poor people is extreme
and dysfunctional -- in the U.S. the top one percent own more
than the bottom 91% and the lower 50% owns only 2.5% of the national
wealth. "Economy" means management of a household, and
shares the same root (household) with "ecology" (the
relationship between living organisms and their home environment).
Building trusteeship into our economic system is one of our greatest
evolutionary challenges and most promising opportunities. (There's
an interesting parallel perspective through which green economists
have computed that more is lost each year through the destruction
of nature than through the financial crash.)
As large-scale systems cease to provide what we need and as transportation
and mass consumption get more costly -- to our pocketbooks, to our
communities, and to our environments -- we will increasingly turn
to our neighbors, local resources, and sustainable systems for support
A recently published book on "transpartisanship" -- VOICE
OF THE PEOPLE: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life
by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner -- finds that the
common ground between heretofore polarized "sides" lies
primarily in community-based solutions. (The transpartisan
movement is a political dialogue initiative in which leaders
and citizens from both Left and Right seek common solutions together.
If you want to participate, there's a major gathering being planned
for next February.)
This community-centered trend is turning up in widely diverse fields
in transition -- from journalism to prison reform, from welfare
systems to agriculture. It indicates an emerging realization that
we are all in this together.
Perhaps most relevant to the current financial crisis, a local
community-economics approach has been developing for years. It is
based at least as much on mutual aid, sharing, gifting,
and local exchange systems (including
local and complementary currencies) as it is on the greater
money economy. It includes the realization that often happiness
is best pursued through simplicity and delight in the free, shared,
and non-material dimensions of life. (My last mailing, "Money
and the Crisis of Civilization" by Charles Eisenstein addressed
this topic with poetic clarity.)
From a systems-thinking perspective, too, localization makes sense
because the feedback loops are tighter. It is easier to rein in
craziness at the local level than at higher levels, and there is
less chance of creating gigantic disasters. Of course, some realms
of governance -- for example, the health of oceans -- require higher
levels of management. But a bias towards appropriate decentralization
and local co-creativity is a major facet of systemic wisdom.
Your money can make a difference in these things, in the shift
to a saner and more sustainable, joyful, meaningful, life-enhancing
culture. It is one more way -- and possibly a more powerful and
uplifting way -- to take care of yourself and those you love.
PS 1: To learn more about using your money to co-create a sustainable
society, see Co-op
America's website which includes guidance for
socially responsible investing and points to the Social
Investment Forum which (among other things) compares various
responsible mutual funds.
PS 2: If you would like to consider a secure investment in the
physical co-op home of the Co-Intelligence Institute, Nonviolent
Communication work, and other world-shifting initiatives, check
out our revolving loan fund at Walnut
PS 3: Finally, an excerpt from a note from an apocryphal Hopi
elder, circulating the web: “This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift
that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold
on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and
will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders
say we must let go off the shore, push off into the middle of
the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this
time in history, we are to take nothing personally... All that
we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration."
Supposing I have come by a fair amount of wealth
either by way of legacy, or by means of trade and
industry -- I must know that all that wealth does not
belong to me; what belongs to me is the right to an
honourable livelihood... The rest of my wealth belongs
to the community and must be used for the welfare
of the community.... It is my conviction that it is
possible to acquire riches without consciously doing
wrong... and become its trustee.... I am inviting those
people who consider themselves as owners today
to act as trustees.
-- M. K. Gandhi
NEXT BRAINSTORM: WHAT ACTIONS CAN WE TAKE TO BAIL **OUT OF** WALL
By Catherine Austin Fitts and Carolyn Betts, Esq.
INVESTORS SEARCHING FOR NEW ASSET CLASSES
by Hazel Henderson, President
Ethical Markets Media, USA
DEMAND A NEW GLOBAL FINANCIAL SYSTEM
by Dick Burkhart
The economy is global, finance is global, but financial regulation
is not global. Nor is there a sound global currency or system of
credit. It is time to push hard for a new global financial system.
And to include all countries in the design and governance of this
To insist that this currency and credit be backed by real wealth
– actual human and natural resources or services. And that
transactions in this currency be taxed to support this new system.
And that credit be directed toward the creation of a sustainable
economy for future generations.
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