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Monday, November 28, 2011

Is it Time to "De-Occupy" Wall Street?

Regardless of our feelings about the “Occupy Wall Street” Movement, most of us are deeply invested in Wall Street traded companies. We have all become increasingly attached to an economic system heavily dependent on promoting self-indulgence and on amassing wealth through producing lots of products we don’t need and are often better off without. The level of consumption required to keep this kind of economy going is simply unsustainable for our planet.

The majority of Americans also do most of their investing for retirement in this Mammon-driven system.

In recent years Alma Jean and I have felt led to move more and more of our modest retirement funds out of Wall Street traded corporations and into microlending programs that benefit people in need by offering them a hand up rather than simply a handout. Glen Kauffman, financial consultant with Everence here in Harrisonburg, helped us do this.

Here are several of our reasons:

1) We believe such investments are more profitable. Even though the actual interest earned is a mere 1-3% (one can choose the rate), investments in microlending seem far more productive in terms of faith-based values. Since Alma Jean and I want our money to really “work for us” in ways that reflect Jesus’ priorities, we are no longer satisfied with just “socially responsible” investments (no alcohol, tobacco or military industries) that still largely subsidize and promote consumerism rather than being about meeting basic needs. We may not be able to be perfectly “pure” in our investment choices, but since we actually have a choice between becoming stakeholders in, say, some water bottling company somewhere versus in a food production coop that can help lift the poor out of poverty, the latter is our obvious preference.

2) Trading in stocks represents a form of speculation not unlike a legal form of gambling. Of course the odds are generally better, and we agree that all business investments involve risk, but business profits are normally made by at least producing actual goods or services. Trading in market holdings represents an attempt to create “wealth without work,” something Ghandi referred to as one of “seven deadly social sins,” in that no products or services are created in such trades, and no actual value is added. I can understand the concept of being paid a reasonable "rent" for capital used to grow businesses, and I realize there are shades of gray between simply being fellow investors (and sharing risk), on the one hand, and the other extreme of people engaging in speculative on-line or other trading that does seem like gambling to me (only with better odds--the house doesn't always win), and/or who are constantly checking their portfolios in hopes of fate or good fortune earning them record-breaking returns. And let's be honest, most of us haven't the slightest sense of actually being a stakeholder in the many companies that are using our retirement money, nor any real interest in affecting their policies. We primarily want one thing, optimal returns for our investment, as long as no obvious harm is being done.

3) We believe microlending programs are actually safer investments. When the economy tanked in 2008, none of our microlending investments were affected. While no investments are 100% safe, the default rate on these loans has been proven to be very low, while we see ominous signs of worsening national and international debt crises that threaten the security of our entire financial system. And when this Babylon falls, most current plans for retirement will collapse with it.

So we are left with the question of whether we will trust our fortunes with the already rich who are bent on becoming ever richer (and who are consistently condemned by Jesus and the prophets) or with the poor who are working hard to support themselves and their families.

For followers of Jesus, the answer should not be that hard to come by.

I welcome your comments.
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