“We must develop an absolute priority of humans ahead of profit — any humans ahead of any profit. Then we will survive.” Frank Herbert
Is your money doing its best for you?
We expect our money to be loyal, especially when we send it to work for us. After all, it is ours, and it has no wishes of its own, so it must be the ultimate worker. Unfortunately, money has no understanding of its own, either. If we put it in the wrong hands, it can do worse than not working for us. It can do worse even than vanishing. It can work against us.
Actually, it can shatter our world, our society, our family and our belief in ourselves. It can be really mean.
But we won’t put our money in such bad hands, right? We are not that dumb.
Not deliberately, anyway.
It is not easy to ensure that the money we spend, the money we invest, the money other people invest for us (in our pension funds, for instance) really goes to trustworthy hands. Regrettably, we often pay profitable companies that actually saw the branch we are sitting on.
So we better check it out. We better do it now, before we find ourselves fallen on the ground, slightly richer maybe, but mortally wounded.
Over time I learned, as a social activist whose family lives on investments’ profits for quite a few years now, to spot whether the hands reaching for our money are good ones or bad ones. I’m not a professional investment counselor, however. My financial writing is based only on my personal research and experience.
Here are several simple ways I found, to know whether we give our money, and the power that comes with it, to a friend or to a foe.
If we want our money to help both us and others, we better ensure that we give our money to companies that are beneficial – to their workers, to their suppliers, to their clients, and to the communities around them.
Lamentably, we can’t take it for granted.
Corporations’ excessive attempt to make a fast profit can be terribly harmful. When a suicidal pilot crashed a Lufthansa plane and a hundred and fifty people were killed, for instance, it turned out that many flight companies “saved” money and didn’t check if their pilots have mental health issues or addictions. It also turned out that airlines reduced pilots’ salaries over the last decades to sums (such as 20,000$ a year) that force them to fly tens of hours a week and be constantly drowsy. In the name of profit, many corporations are willing to jeopardize their workers, their clients, and other people around.
Moreover, some of the richest companies in the world exploit their workers wickedly. (Amazon, for example, owned by Bezos who is one of the worlds’ wealthiest men, exploits its workers regularly, including stealing from low-paid delivery workers the tips people gave them. I suppose Bezos lives his life feeling insanely deprived if he leads his company in such a gluttonous way.)
The Social Prices
Corporate irresponsibility destroys not only the people involved, but the entire society, and sometimes the entire world.
Some of the mightiest companies have, so it seems, a consistent policy of being evil. Some examples are Nestle, which started with killing millions of babies and goes on damaging; Monsanto, which crushes both numerous farmers and bees worldwide; and McDonald’s, which has a significant part in climate change, among other things.
But even corporations that aren’t run by classic unwavering villains tend not to resist the temptation of making money by trampling over our self-image, showing us fake news, and drive us to take devastating actions.
Do these profit-driven corporations make rewarding investments? For the short run they may, but for the long run, unsurprisingly, irresponsibility is not gainful. Lower paid workers, for example, stay less time, know less, and care less. They don’t improve the company, and they don’t serve the clients well.
Consequently, corporations dismissive of their workers and clients become unprofitable over time. As Henry Ford said,
“The two most important things in any company do not appear in its balance sheet: its reputation and its people.”
A company that seeks nothing but fast revenues is not only bad company (both literally and figuratively). It is also a bad investment.
So we better put our money on the beneficial Socially Responsible Companies, which are also more profitable.
In the long run, investing in sustainable companies can actually be a matter of life and death. Environmentally irresponsible corporations can, as a matter of fact, be deadly. Over the last years, for instance, the average lifespan in America has declined for the first time in decades. Some of the reasons for premature mortality are polluted and carcinogenic food, air and water. If we want our loved ones to have long lives, we should support environmental firms.
Our economy, too, already suffers massively due to climate change and the ruin of nature. The consequences, including the increase of extreme weather events, natural disasters, and plagues, have already cost our economies much more money than we could ever imagine.
We could, for example, reduce the damage of the pandemic significantly. Yet, as Noam Chomsky points out,
“Market signals were clear: There’s no profit in preventing a future catastrophe.”
Our ecological stupidity, then, turns out to be unpredictably expensive.
And it’s only the beginning.
So we better not support, as consumers and as investors, unsustainable corporations.
Indeed, fossil fuels companies still often make much money. Investors can increase the world’s pollution and climate warming by buying their shares. That’s what JPMorgan Chase does, for example. US’ largest bank, which got federal help, invests in oil. The bank makes these investments though it knows that they are “not always consistent” with the hope for “the survival of humanity,” to borrow the phrase of a leaked memo of theirs.
As Proverbs already described such moneymen,
“So are the ways of everyone who is greedy of gain, which takes away the life of its owners.”
Firms like this bank deliver money to destructive companies, that are essentially mercenary, who kill us all slowly but surely. So maybe we better not pay them to do that.
Instead, we can listen to the young generations, who speak for our future, and invest in companies that strengthen our world rather than in ones that undermine it.
In the long run, buying shares of environmental companies is not only the moral thing to do. It can also be the more profitable course of action.
Buying index funds of sustainable companies, then, is a win-win situation, as every good deal is.
The Power to Destruct
Another consideration we better take into account is the vast influence corporations often have. Therefore, we better not give more power to the huge companies, which are too mighty anyway.
The giants tend to use their power to push law-makers into constituting laws that enrich them on our account. The food conglomerates that push the US into subsidizing enormous amounts of corn, for instance, cause much of the food around the globe to be sickeningly unhealthy. For another example, Pharma and Health Insurance companies use their power to raise the prices of healthcarer in the US so much that many people can’t afford medical treatment. In a pandemic, when many people are not treated, it spreads the plague excessively and damages everyone else as well.
Yet, no one requires the giants to pay for the mass losses they cause. When the cocaine-addicted leaders of the financial system crushed the global economy, for example, the kept their jobs and crime profits. They are not only too powerful, but they are also perceived as the people who know what they are doing. They are misguidedly treated as sages, as role models, and as leaders (as previous elections show).
In reality, however, their conduct threatens democracy. As the economist Thomas Piketty warns us,
“We want capitalism and market forces to be the slave of democracy rather than the opposite.
Therefore, we better use our money to restrain the corporations’ unlimited power. A mission our governments fail to carry out, mostly because it is often against our public servants’ personal interests.
We better use our money to empower the giants’ competition – the small and medium companies. The ones that benefit society instead of exploiting it:
We should use our power to help David beat Goliath, because meanwhile, Goliath beats us.
No man is an island. We, as investors and as customers, have to remember that we are not only making a deal with a company. We are also part of the society the company operates in. So when a corporation is destructive to the environment or the society, we are damaged, too.
As investors, we have to make it clear to companies that we condemn their exploitation, even if it’s done allegedly on our behalf.
Therefore, though we generally want our investments in the stock market to be as wide as possible, we have to avoid corporations that ruin our world, and focus on companies that contribute to it, like small and medium, sustainable and socially responsible companies.
We better make good money, for the financial benefit of ourselves, for the benefit of our society, and for the benefit of our world.
Making one good decision at a time.
One good investment at a time.