December 09, 2004

Conflicted about making a profit?

I am at a true loss to understand the problem some folks seem to have with having money or resources or wealth or whatever you want to call it. I never considered having money an evil in itself - but I do believe the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. There is a difference.

I believe capitalism and markets of barter and exchange are a natural condition that occurs amongst humans, and I think free and open markets eventually do more good than harm. I will say I truly feel that we should walk carefully to be sure that unfettered capitalism doesn't exploit the unwitting, but I also believe that true free markets take care of that abuse over time.

But I do get a little uneasy about the people who tell me "I DETEST the free market," or "I oppose globalization without reservation," mostly because I don't think these types of folks ever understood the way an open market works, or what the bogeyman of "globalization" has already actually accomplished in the way of raising living standards in poorer countries. All they see is an image of a fat-cat making money and they get to act out their knee-jerk finger-wagging routine where all profit is evil and is the is root of all war and misery all the way back to the cavemen.

I disagree and I believe very strongly that there is another approach and I have been doing it for a long time myself.

Why not marry the forces inherent in the "market" to your worldview? By utilizing the market itself you can direct the market to accomplish the things you deem to be important.

If you reject the function of the marketplace just out-of-hand you simply close a door to one entire avenue that can be used as a means of change. True, the way you are now you get to sulk in window-seats of greasy restaurants and act the misunderstood rebel, which is kind of satisfying in a black-and-white movie kind of way - but this doesn't get anything actually accomplished.

If you read Marx or Proudhon or whoever by candlelight instead of by a lamp just so you can deny the power companies your money - all you get is bad eyesight. Nobody cares. Property isn't theft - property is property. Redistributing my property is theft. Get my view of things? :-D

So I would like to introduce you all to a concept whereby you get to apply your beliefs to the marketplace in a real effort to make a difference.

Here are two investments I am currently holding personally (Please note that this is just a generalized information article. I am not an agent of any company listed here, nor am I reimbursed, nor am I saying these are automatically going to make you lots of money):

PaxWorld Mutual Funds was started up during the Viet Nam era by a group of anti-war ministers who didn't feel right about investing in companies that made napalm. Pretty simple. This was an SRI (Socially Responsible Investments) before the term SRI existed. A Quaker actually runs one of the funds! Well I'll be!! As a matter of fact, this fund has ads in Friends Journal regularly. Go figure! They won't invest in companies that engage child labor internationally, and they will invest in community development banks in our cities.

And speaking of community development banks, check out one of my long-standing favorites, the Chicago Community Loan Fund. This is essentially a loaning institution that offers below-market rates to fledgling "inner city" start-ups that otherwise would not be able to qualify for a loan at the big banks downtown. If you visit this site, you will notice it began with a modest $200,000 in assets just over 12 years ago and is now funded to over $10,000,000 - and I am very proud to say I was there in the early 90s.

But that's right - and no apologies - I intend to make money here. Money is useful. It is ok to have it so long as having it isn't the whole deal. Sorry to have to say this, but we all need money. Gasp! We need money so that - if nothing else - we don't become a burden to our kids when we are old. And my intention is plain. It is just that you can do that and have it work for the right things too. And this, to me, makes more sense than rejecting the realities of the situation in some (what I feel is a) misguided clinging to a principle I'm not exactly sure is really in the Bible to begin with.

Interested in "green" investing? Try these guys. Need a clearinghouse for this kind of information or want to learn more? Go here. Or are you one of those limousine liberals who have money out the ying/yang already and are just a poor little rich boy who is clueless about this stuff but you know you don't like Republicans? If that's you - go see some Quaker friends of mine, and they will help you manage your estate - for cry eye.

Again let me say - I have no vested interest in this, and I am telling you I have some finances in the first two instruments mentioned. This is FYI only. Always read the prospectus and do your "due diligence" before putting Mommy and Daddy's money any place. Ok?

There is an old saying at work here: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him the rest of his life. I say let's invest in people and things that improve conditions, and if we make money at it as well - what's the problem?


At 10:41 PM, Blogger crystal said...

Hi RW :-). I understand what you're saying about money being neutral morally... but ... while the end (doing good) may be positive, the means must be examined (wealth). The end can't justify the means, so you have to ask if the process of winning wealth is good in itself ... I think that James seems to be saying "nope".

At 11:31 PM, Blogger RW Spryszak said...

Hi Crystal - well, you know, scripture is inter-related. We have been locked into a book of the NT here and that may have informed your opinion of the matter, but I commend you to 1 Timothy 6:16-19. Note that - as I have been trying to say - being wealthy is not the crime, but the abuse of it is.

And I agree with the ends not being able to justify the means. That is why I rejected kwakersaur's example of St Francis in another thread. :-P

At 6:27 AM, Blogger david said...

I don't claim to have the expertise to judge economic policies. I'm honest and up front about that. When I speak from an anti-capitalist perspective I'm coming at it from two directions:

1) Faith. As I have already said, I see the scriptures -- especially the Christian ones advocating income/wealth redistribution. I don't really know what to do with that.

2) Monopolistic Capitalism isn't a free market either. When some players become so successful in the free market they can use their power to skew the free market -- then what?

I think the former Soviet Union has shown us that managed economies -- especially managed on ideological basis are problematic.

So big labour. Big government. Big business. All seem to threaten -- at least to an extent -- the wellbeing of other folks.

I think a better society would be one where the gap between the richest and the poorest were smaller than it is now. I don't know how to get there from here.

At 6:32 AM, Blogger david said...

Question on Ethical Funds.

Back when I was doing better fiancially I went to my credit union (member owned banking institution essentially) and asked about ethical funds.

I was advised by the investments person there to ignore them. They lacked the diversity to be sound investments funds. They tend not to out-perform. If your goal was to support causes -- donate or volunteer.

That was about ten years ago. Has the world of ethical funds changed since then? Or were the arguments flawed from the beginning?

At 1:31 PM, Blogger Marjorie said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Marjorie said...

Hi RW, I enjoyed your passionate post and agreed with most of it. It seemed a bit pointed at the end and I'm not sure who the limosine liberals are, I suppose readers who might drop by, the most liberal on this blog seem to be the most poor. I'm not liberal, I'm not rich and Mommy and Daddy have only given money to fund my education. Then it stopped (sniff, sniff). I'm not making money now because my husband doesn't pay me for the childcare I provide.

My dad is a senior partner in a law firm, earning money off the sweat of others, as Larry said in the comments on a different post. Of course, Dad has said that much of his money is being stolen from him by employees who don't work but spend their time on personal calls and not paying attention to their work. He would complain that his liberal partners hire applicants to meet quotas and then refuse to give them work, while he doesn't care what color a person is if they can do their work.

I enjoy seeing a broadening of viewpoints on this blog, but I find the name-calling a bit distasteful.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Larry said...

Well I don't intend to get into this argument except at a confessional level:
I got into desktop computers about 1982-- pretty early actually. Maybe it was 1983. Whatever, it was the year Big Blue desktops came out.
I instinctively bought something else.
And MSDOS had just made it big. I chose a CPM machine. No doubt my reasoning was pretty subjective and my judgmental attitude shows badly, but I had the opinion that BASIC was started at Harvard as 'open source' software. And then, according to my (subjective?) view of history. Bill Gates took it and pretty well patented it, leaving several buddies in the lurch.
That as I understand it was the source of his wealth. A similar thing happened with the OS. Bill went to CPM to make a deal with him. The CPM man wasn't feeling well that day, and nothing came of it. Then Bill got ahold of a CPM clone and patented it.
Then he made a deal with IBM to supply their desktops with msdos. IBM became the standard, and along with it MSDOS.
Some hackers think it's quite an inferior operating system. A Finn named Linus Torvald, studying at Harvard or MIT, gave to the world Linux.
Well I spent about 8 years getting a Linux that would set me completely free of MSDOS. No kidding the present one is far superior to MSDOS. Today the only use I have for MSDOS is Ellie's computing and when I need to test my Hypertext Bible Commentary on an MSDOS machine.

I'm getting around to the moral of this story: For years I have hated what the robber barons represent. I know they made America, but what do we have now? Excessive personal wealth seems to me on the face of it immoral. (I'm not defending that, I'm just confessing it!).

It also seemed to me that this was one of the primary Quaker blind spots. As they say about PA: the Quakers came to America to do good, and they succeeded in doing very well.

Greed seems to me the Achille's heel of our culture. It perplexed me that few of my Quaker friends seemed to have any interest in that fact. I used to rant about Bill Gates, etc. at meeting. One day I did such: no apparent response.

In desperation I asked the clerk if he didn't think one man being worth $40 billion was kind of obscene. (He agreed with me quietly.) Of course Gates has spent multi millions on various charitable interprises (some of them questionable!) But so did Carnegie, Rockfeller, and many others. A really biased person might say that after violating every rule of common decency they tried their best to buy a place in Heaven.

Well I have spoken. I don't mean to defend what I've said.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Marjorie said...

I didn't mean to argue or to attack anyone, and I wasn't personally offended by what anyone said, they said what they think and I'm glad they did that, I want to hear it. I myself love a good, strong statement of one's feelings (I've been known to do that myself, did you see my diatribe about Christmas?)

BTW, Larry, it gets worse, my dad is a PATENT attorney, pharmaceuticals at that!

I see both sides of the argument and both sides are right at times, but I don't think absolutely glorifying either view is the answer, but neither is name-calling, and I mean to say that gently and lovingly.

At 5:41 PM, Blogger RW Spryszak said...

Yikes... my bad. The problem with internet discussions sometimes is that one can't hear the tone of voice. I can be a wise-cracker sometimes and I intended "limousine liberals" as nothing but sarcasm. Sorry. But honest - if you would have heard my voice - I said it kinda funny!

Relative to the value of SRIs compared to the market, actually PAXWORLD has two funds (Balanced and High Yield) that have performed above the published balances of like funds for a couple years now. Mutual funds are so over-done now, mostly, that they just seem to follow the market anyway it goes, and the edge some have over other funds is minimal unless you look at real bad performers.

I think SRIs were very bad investments early on, but that has changed.

Community Loan Funds, on the other hand, start out on the premise that you are going to get a low financial return and there is a high level of risk involved, but your money is going into poor neighborhoods to help build jobs for people who could not qualify for loans at the bigger banks downtown. Excuse me if I don't really see why that, in particular, is not ok.

I think we do more harm to people by just being their nanny and not expecting them to take responsibility for themselves at some point. It is also a back-handed form of a superiority complex to think they can't achieve.

It is easy to make excuses why things can't be done. It is also very easy to be prejudiced against rich people.

That's just a very low apple in the hierarchy of targets, to my way of thinking. And I can't help but wonder if we just sometimes use our religion to rationalize our bias. Just like the Christian Right. You know... "same Bible, different heresy."

At 8:54 PM, Blogger crystal said...

Interesting discussion ... you guys should come on over to the politics forum at the writers bbs where David and I hang out :-).

Marjorie - I have a friend who is a bio-tech patent attorney .... small world :-). And he does spend time at work talking on the phone to me - hehe.

Laryy - happy to meet another person who thinks Bill Gates and the evil empire are ... well ... evil :-). That's why I have a mac.

RW - now worries with your post - it's good to hear all sides of an issue. I'm one of the closer to poor liberals - receive a gov check for legal blindness - but I have no reverance for poverty ... teaching a person to fish is a good thing :-)


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