At the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, teenage protagonist Ferris Bueller notes, “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
No truer, less intentional words were ever spoken about our economy.
We’ve all heard the phrase “too big to fail” a cagillion times in recent months. But maybe there is an essential point of view missing from our economic dialogue. Maybe the problem is that the key elements of our economy are too big to survive. Too big, too fast, and too complicated. That’s certainly how Woody Tasch views it.
A couple of years ago, Woody Tasch started Slow Money, an economic analysis alliance that specializes in merging philanthropy with sustainable investments. And their essential strategy is perfect for these lazy, hazy summer days of finance: slow money down.
“There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big,finance that is too complex,” they note. “Therefore, we must slow our money down.”
Last week, Slow Money held their second annual national gathering (in Shelburne Farms, Vermont, just south of Burlington). And the current issue of The Sun, includes Thea Sullivan’s excellent, extensive interview with Woody Tasch (“Prophet of Modest Profit: Woody Tasch on How Not to Get Rich Quick, unfortunately not available online).
Not surprisingly, Slow Money argues that many of our current socio-economic troubles stem from the fact that in today’s global marketplace, money moves too fast. And that this Fast Money practice has become commonplace.
“Fast money is trillions of dollars a day flowing through currency markets. Fast money is the whole planet focused on the Dow Jones Industrial Average,” Tasch explains to Sullivan. “We’ve ceded our consciousness to those fluctuating figures. We are so caught up in the explosion of wealth and technology that we fail to recognize what a historical aberration it all is.”
An historical aberration that is not sustainable, ecologically or economically. “The twentieth century saw the greatest legal accumulation of wealth in history. Now we have to address this problem of the speed of capital,” suggests Tasch, who wants money to “stay in communities and bioregions.”
Failure to do so will result in the continued societal struggles caused, in large part, by our current economic philosophy. “The world economy is growing at a rate of billions of dollars a year, and there are all kinds of embedded issues of consumerism and materialism and waste,” Tasch tells Sullivan.
The alternative to the entrenched problems of fast moving money, is of course, central to the vision of the Slow Money philosophy.
“What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?” asks the Slow Money Alliance. “We must connect investors to the places where they live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises.”
Borrowing more than just the structured title of Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food Movement, Slow Money’s investments are, to start, focusing on farms and food production. And this is reflected in the title of Woody Tasch’s book Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered.
But food and farms are just the beginning. Their localized strategy, which starts as investments in CSAs (community supported agriculture), regional food restaurants, farms and timber, could provide a blueprint for other sustainable, local investments, from small newspapers and other struggling small-scale community media outlets to affordable green housing.
What’s the catch? The humble (for investors) realities of “modest profit” that, as Sullivan’s interview point out, will not get you rich quick. But Tasch is convinced that this is a price we must pay.
“There are social entrepreneurs who start for-profit businesses to address a social or environmental problem,” Tasch tells Sullivan, but a “venture capitalist business plan has to have hundreds of millions of dollars or more in revenues by the fifth year for a venture capitalist to look at it … They have to offer competitive rates of return, which is virtually impossible.”
Slow Money argues that a (relatively) smaller business with a profit margin of 1 or 2 percent is more feasible and sustainable, and allows the business to stay true to its original intentions, as well as maintain the social contract that is so often lost in the running of big businesses.
Rather than a dozen multinationals whose brand is recognized globally, Tasch would like to see a different company for each localized region.
“We want real diversity: ecological diversity, cultural diversity, and economic diversity, which only a large number of small, decentralized food producers can accomplish. We have to invest in the million small acts of care and restraint that are essential to preserving the soil of the economy.”
Restraint is a practice that is rarely prized in our culture, but its exercise could heal many socio-economic ills. Just because we can do something, after all, doesn’t mean we should. Especially if the consequences of such actions will work directly against the causes we hope will endure: community, ecology, an accessible economy and a highly-valued sense of place.