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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 us all.

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 and livelihood.

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 socially 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 Street Co-Op.

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

By Catherine Austin Fitts and Carolyn Betts, Esq.

by Hazel Henderson, President
Ethical Markets Media, USA

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 system.

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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