Some ethical investments
December 31, 2007
Here’s a luxury crisis for you: My wife and I have funds to invest in our IRAs and in our son’s college account. The crisis is that we prefer ethical investments, which are not often the kinds that traditionally make money.
I try to explain this over the phone to the TD Waterhouse rep by confessing that I am a lousy client, for two reasons:
1) Ethical considerations based on social and environmental responsibility.
2) Concerns about the future of the global economy. I tell him that an economic system based on staggering debt and infinite resource exploitation is precarious, that ethics compel me to re-evaluate my portfolio … and blah, blah, blah.
By now the guy on the other end of the line is rolling his eyes with borderline tolerance. Why should he care about fatal flaws in the economic system he’s pimping? If he’s like most of us, he’s just doing his job, trying to get by. And if he did care, what difference would it make on the global marketplace?
I picture him ” headset on and computer monitor scrolling CD issues ” gazing at a glossy wall calendar of a tropical island with a bikini-clad nymph among swaying palms. This tropical beach image is his only solace. Once he’s sold enough “securities” to fools like me, he’ll be shacked up in Fiji sipping rum and coconut milk. Meanwhile, I’m making his life miserable.
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It doesn’t help that I have just finished reading a column by James Howard Kunstler, a prophet whose “Clusterfuck Nation” website offers a litany of doom and gloom so heaped with cynicism and wit that it’s both entertaining and deflating. If you think I’m a naysayer in this column, consider a recent Kunstler harangue about the credit crunch:
“… The truth is that problems in the financial sector have spun wildly out of control. The wheels are coming off and we are in that long sickening moment of sideways sliding motion when no attempt at steering will avail to avoid the crash… What we’re also seeing is a crisis of authority on top of a crisis of capital, and it will probably lead to a crisis of legitimacy – by which I mean a catastrophic loss of faith that this society can govern itself at any level. Leadership across the board has failed, in government, in business, in what used to be called the press, and in education. Leadership in every sector went along with the program, marveling stupidly at their society’s ability to get something for nothing.”
Kunstler’s premise ” what he calls the Long Emergency ” is that our economy, fueled by cheap energy and over-extended credit, will eventually crash, taking Western civilization with it into a Dantean hell that will make Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” seem tame.
I decide not to share this with the Waterhouse guy, and I let him off the hook so he can daydream undisturbed of his mythic Fiji. Then I print out Kunstler’s benediction and give it to my wife so we can discuss our investment strategy from his sober perspective.
The next morning over coffee, my wife reads Kunstler and asks: “If things are really so bad, why don’t we just bury our cash in a strongbox in the backyard?” The next logical step, we agree, is hoarding food, then assembling an arsenal to protect our “compound” during the anarchy that’s sure to follow the crash predicted by Kunstler.
“And what about Tait’s education?” she asks of our 14-year-old son. I suggest that Tait won’t need an education other than in handling an ax and a rifle, skinning a deer, building a weir for catching trout, and performing emergency medical procedures on his aging parents as we struggle through a post-apocalyptic world.
My wife shakes her head and suggests we call Waterhouse back to ask about green mutual funds. Then she cautions: “Perhaps you should delete Kunstler from your ‘favorites.’ He’s getting to you.”
I won’t abandon Kunstler, but I will call the Waterhouse rep and see what he thinks about investing in survival gear – or perhaps in planning an escape to some forgotten corner of the world, far from any Dantean hell. He might know a nice, out-of-the-way place in Fiji.
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