Hello from the front lines of Slow Money.
The publication of my book coincides with the launching of a new NGO, and rather than quote from the book (at least, today), I thought I would share comments I wrote this morning for David Orr's article, "Shelf-Life," upcoming in the journal Conservation Biology.
Can't resist some kind of prefatory remark here, though, so I'll opine: the financial meltdown of the past year or so is only a partial punctuation mark in a kind of fiduciary speaking-in-tongues that has been erupting for a few decades now.
Anyhow, more to come over the rest of the week.
I look forward to this opportunity to share with you a few real-time peeks under the hood of this new way of thinking about money, and the work that hundreds of us — food CEOs, farmers, social entrepreneurs, investors, donors, a poet or two, and a philosopher or two (past and present) — are doing at the nexus of social investing, sustainable agriculture, and local economies.
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COMMENTS on "Shelf-Life" by David Orr
What is the shelf-life of derivatives? Will they prove nothing more than a plethora of short-lived cul-de-sacs in the modern consumption-addled "pecuniary imagination"?
Perhaps. But if we are going to get to the durable ideas that will show us the way forward, the way back towards life, then we are going to have to get around one product of "economic fantasy" whose shelf-life has been, and continues to be, particularly stubborn.
This is the myth that was planted in the modern mind by Adam Smith in the late 18th century. This is the myth-masquerading-as-market-making known as the Invisible Hand. Its shelf-life puts irradiation and ultra-pasteurization and EDTA to shame.
We are not just talking about a notion that has survived for a few centuries here. We are talking about a commercial paradigm durable enough to survive the Industrial Revolution and the technological revolution, the American Revolution and the French Revolution and, even, the Communist Revolution. Talk about durability and shelf-life.
The teachable moment to which Orr refers hinges on nothing less than putting the Invisible Hand in its place. And then, of course, putting investors in our places. Each and every one of us. Metaphorically and literally. Reconnected to one piece of land at a time, one household at a time, one community at a time, one bioregion at a time.
Put in our places and slowed down, so that the consequences of our investment decisions are not whisked into virtuality and beyond our ken almost faster than we make them, we can begin to discern, once and for all, the shelf-life of this economic myth that has been hegemonic in scope for longer than we can remember. This is the idea that we can continue each day, with each investment decision, to pledge allegiance to "markets" over "places," and somehow — miraculously, alchemically, fiduciarily — not end up with crazed markets and degraded places.
In this teachable moment, the concept of shelf-life, as it pertains to the hyper-speed and cyber-securitization and mega-complexity of modern finance, is particularly apt. For it is no accident that the culture that invented the CDO and the junk bond and the hedge fund and the 5-billion-share day on Wall Street also fills its supermarkets with empty calories and synthetic nutritional supplements and chemical-laden food "products" whose shelf-life seems, almost, to defy biology.
The culture of junk bonds is the culture of junk food. The superhighway from T-bills to Twinkies is paved with good investments.