The Buck Slows Here – Why the Time for Slow Money is Now

Vandana Shiva on InvestingBy Woody Tasch

There is no such thing as money that is too fast.

This was one of the certainties of the Old World of Finance.

But now, here we are, on the shores of a New World of Finance that none of us asked to explore — listening to the blandishments of investment bank CEOs apologizing for $6 billion mistakes and, then, to halting arguments about regulation that strike some as a bunch of pea shooters aiming at a predator drone.

It’s as if, on our way to the far-flung territories of Endless Growth and Unending Consumer Confidence and a 20,000 Dow, we’d awoken after a superstorm, stranded on the shores of R.H. Tawney’s seminal historic insight: “The certainties of one age are the problems of the next.”

There is no such thing as money that is too fast.

This certainty of our age is leaving many mounting problems for the next.

There are problems of debt.  In the foreground, government budget deficits and the national debt.  In the background, a deep structural debt that is even harder to face: fossil fuel debt, dense carbon debt—each day, on a global basis, we use petrochemical energy it took 10,000 years to make.

There are problems of doubt.  In the foreground, climate change:  Is it manmade?  Is it catastrophic?  What can we do about it?  In the background, doubt of the economic and financial kind: With $600 trillion in derivatives still hovering somewhere just out of sight, what is the connection between Wall Street and our wellbeing?  Are ever-accelerating global financial markets the best path to preservation and restoration?

We need a new kind of reckoning.  And our first bit of reckoning must be this:

There is such a thing as money that is too fast.

Money that is too fast is money that has become so detached from people, place and the activities that it is financing that not even the experts understand it fully.  Money that is too fast makes it impossible to say whether the world economy is going through a correction in the credit markets, triggered by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, or whether we are teetering on the edge of something much deeper and more challenging, tied to petrodollars, derivatives, hedge funds, futures, arbitrage and a byzantine hyper-securitized system of intermediation that no quant, no program trader, no speculator, no investment bank CEO can any longer fully understand or manage. 

Just as no one can say precisely where the meat in a hamburger comes from (it may contain meat from as many as a hundred or a thousand animals), no one can say where the money in this or that security has come from, where it is going or what is behind it. No one can say for sure whether — if it were to be “stopped” and held by someone for more than a few instants — it represents any intrinsic or real value.   Money that is too fast creates an environment in which, when questioned about the outcome of the credit crisis, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin could only respond, “No one knows.”

When they cant drink the waterThe buck didn’t stop there, for sure, but we can slow a few of ours, here.

I’ll see your global financial shenanigans and raise you Local Harvest.  I’ll see your GMOs and raise you Coyote Creek Feed Mill.  I’ll see your Dodd-Frank and raise you Carlo Petrini and Jack Lazor.  I’ll see your Farm Bill and raise you MM Local.  I’ll see your CDOs and raise you Slow Money.

Let’s take a few of those trillions-of-dollars-a-day that are zooming through cyberspace, financing everything from smokestacks in Chongqing to parking lots in Las Vegas to frost-resistant fish genes in tomatoes, and put them to work near where we live. There it can support the next generation of small farms, grain mills, creameries, seed companies, processing and distribution companies, food hubs, urban farms and more, improving our local economy, building soil fertility and supporting the next generation of small food entrepreneurs who are fixing our economy from the ground up.

With a little bit of gumption (and a little fun, too, because being under the tent with thousands of farmers, small food entrepreneurs, investors and activists, all working together to rebuild local food systems, is more fun than an Initial Public Offering), we can say, together,  “The buck slows here.”

Woody Tasch is the founder of Slow Money and the author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered.  Slow Money’s 4th National Gathering is in Boulder, CO on April 29-30.  Since 2010, Slow Money’s 17 chapters and six investment clubs have facilitated the flow of $23 million to 185 small food enterprises around the country.

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