Investing For Fun and Profit
June 19, 2013 § 5 Comments
Last night, after I returned home from a reading and an interview on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Penny – who’d listened to the interview – dressed me down a bit. “You didn’t talk about our investments,” she said, and for a moment, I was a little puzzled, because like most people, my definition of “investment” has been hijacked by the mentality of money. In other words, exactly what investments was she thinking I should have mentioned? The $50 in small bills we have stuffed under our mattress? The half gallon jar of pennies sitting on my desk?
As should be entirely obvious by now, Penny is infinitely wiser than me, and therefore able to clearly see that the realm of investing needn’t be solely about money and finance. It needn’t be about flipping condos, or precious metals. It needn’t be about stocks and bonds and convoluted financial instruments that are generally rooted in the assumption that’s it’s perfectly ethical to screw someone else or ravage the environment in the name of profit. I mean, hey, we live in a dog-eat-dog world. If you ain’t getting yours, someone else is.
But of course these are not the only things we can invest in. I am starting to wonder what the world would look like if we applied the same ingenuity we apply to investing in money and finance to investing in the things that really matter, the things that provide true, unconditional security, not the strictly conditional security of that comes of relying on institutions that are both too big to fail (which almost certainly means they ultimately will) and beyond the sphere of our personal influence. Because let’s be crystal clear: These institutions care for you only so much as you can afford to have them care for you. It’s like paying for love, and we all know how that generally works out.
So the next time I have an opportunity (today, as it turns out: I’ll be on KERA’s Think program at 12:00 central, if you happen to be hanging in Texas and wanting to talk about this stuff) to discuss my family’s investments, here’s what I’m going to say:
Yes, it is true that we do not have much in the way of investments, in so much as investments are assumed to mean money and other assets that can readily be exchanged for money. But this does not mean we are not investing. Indeed, we are always investing: In our land, in our relationships with friends and neighbors, in our children, and in the skills that enable us to thrive outside the realm of money and finance. The tragic irony of monetary investments is that they inevitably divest us of the unconditional security that comes of immersing ourselves in family, community, skills, and the natural world, because if we spend the bulk of our waking hours in a quest for financial accumulation, there is little time or energy remaining to invest in anything else. So yeah, some people buy stocks and bonds in a quest for security. Me, I’m planting trees, putting up hay with the neighbors, and learning how to use hand tools with my boys. And darned if these don’t feel like the most profitable investments I could be making.