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Greece to the Rescue. Or, The Meaning of Security

3p Contributor | Thursday May 20th, 2010 | 0 Comments

by Woody Tasch, Slow Money Alliance

If we ever forgot, the 1,000-point plunge in the Dow Jones Industrial Average last Thursday should be a permanent reminder: We’re all Greeks.

We’re all floating on an ocean of debt. We’re all subject to the volatility of international capital markets, so intertwined that a single error is capable of acting like the financial equivalent of a blown oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. We’re all over-exposed, over-weighted, over-bought and over-sold, lost in a sea of securities, so complex and so abstract that they end up making us all substantially less secure.

Security. The very meaning of the word has become perverted. Fundamentally, it means “freedom from danger” or “freedom from care.” Applied to finance, it refers to property pledged to secure an investment. But caught up in the financial frenzy of the past few decades, we’ve dangerously expanded its definition to “freedom from responsibility” or “freedom from the laws of gravity” or “freedom from the future.”

This is where Greece comes to the rescue–but not modern Greece, whose economy has made socialism and capitalism into such debt-begetting bedfellows. It’s to ancient Greece that we must repair.

Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, one of the few 20th century economists to insist that economics is ultimately disciplined by the laws of nature, observed: “We have not yet discovered one single problem of understanding that the Greek philosophers did not formulate.” Following his lead, we may ask: Which is the better guide for our behavior—The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which promotes unlimited economic growth, or the idea of the Golden Mean, which promotes the idea of balance and moderation? The myth of the Invisible Hand, which promotes a kind of market fundamentalism, or the myth of Icarus, which warns that there is such a thing as flying too high?

Odysseus tied himself to the mast. Yet here we are, today, racing after all manner of sweetly singing sirens: the siren of genetically modified food, the siren of steroids and growth hormones, the siren of Miracle-Gro, the siren of atomic fission, the siren of virtual reality, the siren of trillions of instructions per second and trillions of dollars a day circulating so fast that it is impossible to say where they are, what they are financing or what they might really be worth.

Turmoil in Greece and extreme volatility in the stock market remind us to resist these sirens and chart a truer course toward home.

While international bankers and national politicians labor to stop the economic hemorrhaging, let’s build a new legion of local investors who want to put money to work closer to home, in enterprises that we understand, in businesses that are contributing directly to the health of our communities and our bioregions.

A growing number of us have already begun. We’re buying local. We’re depositing money in community banks and credit unions. We’re buying shares of Community Supported Agriculture farms. We’re shopping at farmers markets. Some of us are even investing in organic seed companies, home delivery of local organic produce, local meat processors, slow food restaurants and niche organic brands.

Because the final frontier in our search for a healthier, more stable economy is not out there, half way around the world, in the false diversification and fleeting security of transactions dreamt up by the Fast Money Masters of the Universe.

The final frontier is right here, in our own backyards, putting Slow Money to work in ways that truly enhance diversity and security, reconnecting us to one another, to the places where we live and to the earth.

***

Woody Tasch is founding chairman of the Slow Money Alliance, a national network of investors, entrepreneurs and just plain concerned citizens dedicated to steering new sources of capital to small food enterprises. The Slow Money Alliance is hosting a national gathering at Shelburne Farms, VT, June 9-11. Tasch is author of “Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered.”


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