Thursday, May 7, 2015

Money, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

When I log onto my computer, the MSN website is displayed first.  I generally glance at the weather for the day, check the state of the stock market, and peruse the "hot" topics, which consist generally of fluff and sensationalism, but occasionally includes something worthwhile.  Today I noticed a blurb about GOP candidate, ex Florida Gov Jeb Bush, and the fact that during his term, state pension money was invested in a video rental company that was known for having an "adult" section in the back of its stores.  Of course, the article used the word porn to attract readers, which, while some adult videos show all forms of sexual intercourse, it is usually of the soft porn type, meant to entertain consenting adults, and generally not hard core pornography that can feature children, bestiality, or violence.

Apparently, Bush did not deny the reports, instead justifying the investment as a way to maximize returns for the Florida taxpayers.  In essence, his excuse was that any vehicle to make money was fine.  I am not a Jeb Bush fan, and, frankly, am not looking forward to a Clinton-Bush presidential election, although I expect that is how it may play out, but I felt a bit sorry for him when I glanced at the article.  (I thought we fought a war, in part, as a protest for government by way of aristocracy, and to me another Bush or Clinton in the White House, belies that fight; it would mean that since 1988, we would have someone of those families as president 24 out of 32 years!)

Unfortunately, for Jeb Bush, the base of his party, loves to inject religion into politics.  Which, of course, is the height of irony since they despise those countries which feature the Muslim religion as a main force of their government.  Oh, that's right.  I forgot that the Christian right is OK with religion in government, as long as it is the religion they follow.  Anyway, poor Jeb is taking some heat from the religious right for contributing to the corruption of Floridians morals, by investing in a company that sells/rents such videos.  My previous prediction not withstanding, it seems clear that the evangelical block of the GOP will not support Bush in the primaries, especially when candidates such as Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and the soon to announce Rick Santorum are running.  I expect, however, that those far right candidates will split the my-religion-is-the-best-of-all-religions voters, Bush will attract the big money from donors who want to actually have a shot at winning the White House, and voila, we are back to Bush-Clinton.

By the way, is it me or did those who are so upset about the investment in that video company, skip right over those movies that have wonton violence, huge amounts of gunplay, and murder.  I guess the lesson here is that a good killing is fine, but good lovemaking corrupts our morals.   

But I digress.

The point of this post was to comment on money, investing, and how much we are willing to compromise to gain wealth at any cost.  I am serious when I say that it is not an easy decision to forego profit, returns, perhaps even future financial security, when making choices about a job, an investment, or even the course of the nation.  For instance, most of us have mutual funds as part of our portfolios, but how many actually read the prospectus for those funds before making our decisions.  Isn't it more likely, we focus on our risk tolerance, check past returns, then choose according to how much money we may earn.  We may have very strong feelings about the environment, the fossil fuel industry, the proliferation of guns, yet may be investing in those very companies through our mutual funds.  

If you are the type of person who discusses investments, ask yourself how many conversations you have had which centered around socially responsible mutual funds, as opposed to the number of conversations that focused on percentage of  returns.  Like most of us, you either have not thought about investing in mutuals that do not include defense contractors, known polluters, companies that produce most of their product overseas with child labor, or whatever social problem you might feel strongly about, or you have decided long ago that the financial security of you and your family comes first and foremost, and how the money is accumulated is secondary.

Frankly, and don't get me wrong, I am not innocent in this area.  We are all guilty of contributing to the very social ills we deplore, if we are not cognizant of how and where our money is invested.  So, while the very rich can use the excuse that they don't know where all their money is invested, after all, that is why they hire investment planners, they are still guilty of contributing to the social problems of the day, if they do not specify industries, and/or companies that should be avoided, but instead just say, get me 10%, or I will find someone who will.

And that goes doubly for where we spend our money.  When we buy the cheapest things we can, not noticing that those products are made overseas to the detriment of American jobs, when we demand $1 stores in every community, and are ignorant of the fact that cheap products are the result of cheap ingredients and poverty wages, then our righteousness concerning those companies that produce and sell those cheap products is misplaced.  It is the person in the mirror who is at fault.

It is easy to get mad at those perpetrators of scams that target grand moms with stories of grand children in trouble who need wire transfers, but what about those who have attained great wealth, not through great ideas and innovations, but through the abuse of employees and the rape of the land.  Do we have a scale that measures wealth and considers the source, or once wealthy, does it not matter how that wealth was accumulated?

But how can we possibly know how all those companies, all those wealthy people came to be rich?  Good question.  And, before the explosion of social media, I would have said, it can be tough.  But, when someone slaps their child and a million people know about it a few days later, it is clear that we have the vehicle.  The bigger question is, do our journalists, our news media outlets, our social networks, spend the time to dig into the important questions, track the dollars, so to speak.  Or, are our media giants bombarding us with information meant to distract us from the real data we need to know.  Is it coincidence that so much of our news is fluff and sensationalistic in nature, or the very distraction necessary to keep us from knowing what we should know.

Money, like all inventions of mankind, can be used for good and for bad.  And, despite what some who are devotees of capitalism might say, some money, some wealth, is accumulated, and used for very wrong reasons, to the detriment of people, not their benefit.  Now, I will admit that sometimes I go too far, mislabeling all those that are rich as someone who must have twisted the rules to their benefit, stepped on the backs of many to gain their advantage, or just paid some politician to make  legal all they do that is unethical.  There are clearly people who have used, and continue to use their wealth to help those in need.  To those philanthropists, kudos for knowing the point of wealth, that, like all tools, it should be used to advance mankind, not be accumulated for its own sake.

But, in the end, it all starts with us.  Like electing public servants that will do the will of the people, keeping our neighborhoods safe and clean, rewarding those corporations and people who do good rather than promote violence and greed, each of us has the responsibility to make conscious choices, and understand the repercussions of those choices. 

I recently heard a phrase on a movie that I know I heard before as I have seen the movie many times before, Bull Durham but didn't really hear.  The phrase was "the world was made for people who are not cursed with self awareness".  Perhaps, with a little bit of effort, we might hear someone say some day, "the world has been remade by those with self awareness".

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