Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Intergenerational blindness

I am somebody who gets stressed thinking about money. I'm a bit like the shoemaker in the children's book about the rich man, the shoemaker and the bag of money. Basically, the rich man gives the shoemaker a bag of money in order to get him to stop singing while he works. Apparently the happy singing was annoying to the rich man. The burden the money bag creates stresses the shoemaker out so much that he ends up giving it back. The moral I took from the story was that happiness is worth more than money.

But, anyway, back to me. I have my own small bag of money, so to speak, and it worries me that I'm probably not investing it as wisely or ethically as I could be. So, the other day I met with a financial consultant. Somebody had recommended him as being independent and ethical, which were my two criteria. Alas, it was quickly evident that we had fairly different definitions of "ethical". I explained that I was concerned with the future of the planet and the treatment of people and wanted to invest money in enterprises that were not damaging in those areas. He talked more of "tithing" and being compassionate with people as they sorted out their wills.

I think he may have used the word "idealistic" about a hundred times in our conversation, in relation to me. He cited an example of an ethical enterprise that went belly up as reason to not even try. He was also very concerned about economic growth, and the fact that my generation was likely to live longer than his, and thus would need greater superannuation resources to draw upon. Basically my choices were, as he saw it, to either continue being a naive idealist and waste my money investing in stupid fluffy idealistic notions, ending up as a burden on society....or I could do the sensible thing and sign up with a balanced fund that his company managed for a fee of ~2%pa. Sigh.

Around the same time our esteemed Federal Treasurer released his Inter-generational Report, which predicts the future context for our economy. It too, was full of concern for a projected increase in life expectancy and the burden that our aging population would place on society by 2050. There was no mention of climate change, the growing gap between rich and poor, or increasing worldwide militarism and violence.

I actually think that if the definition of idealism is having one's head in the sand and pursuing a particular ideology regardless of the facts, then our treasurer and his colleagues are the naive idealists. Do they think, as the First Dog on the Moon Cartoon in the Guardian depicts below, that we will be contentedly serving out our retirement in bubbles floating above earth because we ignored climate change, or will those who survived the nuclear winter in their underground bunkers be grateful that we made a good return when we invested in all those armaments?

First Dog on the Moon, in the Guardian
So, I have given up the idea of finding an "independant and ethical" financial advisor. Instead, a friend who is very good at understanding complex concepts cos she's a scientist, and also shares my ethical position, has offered to share with me the findings of her research into the matter. I am now confident that I can invest my little bag of dosh in a fund that is ethical, reliable and which will set me up as not too much of a burden on society when I'm like a million years old. And, if Joe Hockey's prediction is true and I do live to a ridiculous age, I reckon it will be BECAUSE enough of us invested in future oriented enterprises now. I, for one, don't want to destroy the only planet we've got to grow old on.

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