Natural Flows of Money

By Michael Kramer

Given the central, powerful role of money and business both in our society and our personal lives, it is astonishing that so little attention is given to the social, ethical and spiritual dimensions of money. We’ve ignored the simple truth that our money is a reflection of who we are and carries our voice to the world.

What has become important to many “cultural creatives” today is the willingness to heal our relationship with our money, to recover from anti-capitalist sentiments and see money as a tool that can be used to foster social justice, environmental stewardship and other worthwhile goals. This is the path of financial integrity and wellness that is entirely natural. In fact, one could easily argue that it is completely unnatural to exclude spiritual, social, environmental, and ethical values when making important financial decisions. In other words, money and values are naturally intertwined, and we conscientious, good-hearted citizens must simply recognize this as part of our overarching natural worldview or interrelated living systems.

“Natural investors” shun conventional wisdom in order to park their savings in socially conscious credit unions and loan funds, using their retirement accounts to improve corporate responsibility and support a regenerative future based on nontoxic, renewable resources that are good for people and the planet. It doesn’t take a lot of money – as little as $50 in some cases – but every dollar counts.

Today, according to the Social Investment Forum, well over two trillion dollars is invested using some sort of ethical criteria; this represents almost one tenth of all investment dollars. Nearly every mainstream investment option now has a values-based equivalent. These vehicles are divided into four main categories:

(1)   Avoidance screening helps people to avoid industries and practices in which they do not wish to participate. Tobacco, military contractors, nuclear power, polluters and sweatshops are some of the commonly used screens. For example, Phillip Morris wouldn’t get through the avoidance screens of an investor who has a “no tobacco products” screen.

(2)   Affirmative screening, which we also call “prospecting,” seeks out investments in activities which people do want to support in order to bring their vision of a positive future into the world. This focuses on leading-edge companies in emerging fields like alternative energy and natural foods, or may include investments in large companies and government agencies that are addressing the concerns of investors. Many prospectors buy stock in companies that demonstrate a high level of commitment to their workers, their communities or the environment.

(3)   Shareholder activism is a potent strategy to change companies from the inside. Through dialogue on issues of concern and sponsorship of shareholder resolutions, people can achieve stunning results in the areas of climate change protocols, diversity, sweatshops, excessive executive pay, and corporate disclosure and transparency.

(4)   Community investing puts money into the hands of grassroots programs and economically marginalized people, locally or globally. It supports affordable housing, loans to small businesses, targeted urban and rural revitalization efforts, eco-business and micro-enterprise throughout the developing world. It is an excellent way to put your savings to work and provide a ‘hand-up’ to those who need access to capital.

In my work with natural investors, I help people identify their hopes for themselves and the world, and assist them to create a financial wellness plan that balances their need to feel financially secure and happy while also addressing the social and ecological issues that directly impact the security of all people on the planet. In delving deeply with clients and exploring their true aspirations, two cardinal, nonmaterial desires nearly always come up. We call these desires “natural” because they transcend all class or cultural groupings and call to each of us in different ways:

(1)   The natural desire to be of service, to “make a difference” and help improve life on earth, for ourselves, our children and children yet unborn; and

(2)   The natural desire for integrity, to “walk our talk” and live in ways that are consistent with our values.

The world today reflects the unnatural separation of money and values. The United States is the richest country ever, and materially it has brought immeasurable progress to the world. But the pursuit of wealth at any cost is also responsible for human suffering, gross inequities in the distribution of this wealth and environmental devastation. Our global economy is the central of human activity on the planet; its influence radiates into every sphere of human endeavor. If we are to fulfill humanity’s potential as stewards of a healthy, prosperous planet, each of us must connect with the seeds of hid or her own natural desires and plant them smack dab in the middle of where we shop, where we bank, where we invest and the overall economic system. As we learn to make money and make a difference, we are bringing essential human values back into the core of our society.

Contact Michael to discuss this topic.

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