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By Sarah Cabell
Occupy Wall Street is challenging the fast money paradigm, whereby people keep getting richer by simply moving money around. The faster they can move it, the richer they get - but at a severe cost to everyone else. What about those who are producing goods and services that we actually need to survive and live a life of modest quality? For example, food production is one of the most important industries on the planet. Without it, we couldn’t wake up every day, raise our children, or even trade on Wall Street. And yet the farmers and artisans producing the high-quality foods our bodies depend on for life and longevity get the short end of the stick.
On average, intermediate farms in America have a household income of less than $60,000 per year. Meanwhile, Wall Street executives have individual base salaries ranging from $100,000 to $1 million, with additional cumulative bonuses totaling over $30 billion. The industry’s bonuses alone equate to half a million intermediate family farms’ income. With food security a growing concern, what if there were a way to strengthen food systems and access to quality food by redirecting money away from the 1%?
I recently attended the 3rd national gathering of Slow Money at Fort Mason in San Francisco, CA. Slow money strives “to enhance food security, food safety and food access; improve nutrition and health; promote cultural, ecological and economic diversity; and accelerate the transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to an economy based on preservation and restoration” through six principles. This is something I can get behind.
At this conference, discussions covered a wide range of issues related to food security, sustainability, and investment. In a breakout panel on slow money financing for new food enterprises, the Southeast chapter leader described her efforts to facilitate small-scale, peer-to-peer loans. Among her community, several investors who once traded on the stock market no longer have faith in our traditional monetary system. They have withdrawn their money and are looking for valuable and meaningful places to invest. Why not invest in the people and businesses they can patron personally in their own communities? Doing so is an opportunity to fund the success of worthy enterprises right there in their town. Not only can they feel good about their investments, but they can benefit from them directly by consuming the very products or services they helped make possible. In this model, investors can put their money where their mouth is (almost literally).
Of course there are risks – that the businesses will fail, or that the borrowers won’t pay back the loans – but the odds of success in the stock market aren’t so great at the moment, either. At least this way lenders know where their money is going. There is no anonymity. And if the business is failing, they can even find ways to help ensure success since it’s in their best interest for the business to succeed. If there is failure, they have direct knowledge of why, how and what’s next – versus the uncertainty that comes from putting your faith in a distant, anonymous, fast-money system.
Much like the mass movement of bank accounts from Bank of America and Chase to local banks and credit unions, if more investors move their money from the stock market and international high finance directly to local food enterprises, we could slow down the fast money bonuses. The move could be powerful enough to help shift our food system, provide food security, and tell Wall Street we won’t tolerate their unsustainable practices.
Sarah Cabell is a first-year graduate student at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco where she is pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Management. Her focus is on increasing collaboration to reduce inequality and improve access to sustainable foods for better health, nutrition, and quality of life.