Investing with a Gender Lens

May 10, 2013


This post was originally published on TriplePundit

By Marlena John

As a woman entering the finance world, the title of the session at the Slow Money National Gathering, Female Investors: The Most Important Change Agents on Earth, certainly sparked my interest.

Don Shaffer, President & CEO of RSF Social Finance started by telling the story of when he was a golf caddy in New Jersey, slinging golf clubs for Wall Street traders and bankers. Back then, women were not allowed on the golf course, which reflected the situation of most of Wall Street and the finance industry as a whole. The few women who did work in finance got paid a lot less than the men.

Fast-forward twenty or so years. There are a lot more females in the field, taking leadership in investment opportunities, and playing golf. The Equal Pay Act of 1963, signed by President Kennedy, prohibited pay differences based on sex. Great! But, if you think that everything is hunky dory, then you’d be wrong. As it turns out, women are still making less money than men on average, and this is particularly true on Wall Street. Shaffer claims that females on Wall Street make 55-62 percent as much as males do, though I’ve seen statistics that claim it is as high as 77 percent. Even if the 77 percent stat is accurate, women in finance are experiencing a significant, and unwarranted, pay gap.

So, women are getting paid less, and that’s not cool. We also have many more men than women investing and working in finance. But why should we care how many women investors there are? Don Shaffer laid it out well.

Continue reading on TriplePundit


Art as Therapy: Women’s Resource Center of the Grand Traverse Area

May 3, 2013

Grand-Traverse-Womens-Resource-Center_logoby Ellie Lanphier

RSF helps fund education and arts projects that are holistic and therapeutic, especially those that foster spiritual awareness or increase access to learning and the arts.

With this focus in mind, the RSF provided a Seed Fund grant to the Women’s Resource Center of the Grand Traverse Area (WRC). WRC requested support for their new art therapy program, Art for Empowerment, led by Art Therapist Dr. Barbara Macintyre and WRC advocate Susan Britton.

Through community collaboration, the WRC provides education, support, counseling, housing and advocacy to end domestic and sexual violence and promote an equitable, safe environment for all. The WRC serves five counties in northwest Lower Michigan.

The Art for Empowerment teaches domestic violence shelter clients sewing skills while working with an art therapist skilled in addressing victimization and anger management through creativity.

The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living,  or those who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others; cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.”

From January 7th through February 25th 2013, a total of 38 women participated in Art for Empowerment. The goals for clients were to:

  • Learn sewing skills using sewing machines and hand stitching
  • Design and sew basic functional art items such as journals, tote bags and small handbags
  • Learn basic business and entrepreneurship skills to market and sell items
  • Work with an art therapist to address their life situations
  • Develop a sense of empowerment and self-sufficiency

Participants spent the first two sessions creating reflection journals with hand-stitched bindings. Every other page of the journal had an empowerment statement followed by space for the participant to write a reflection. Dr. Macintyre worked with each woman, one on one, to discuss their written responses. The reflection journals were re-visited during the last session and many women found their initial answers had evolved significantly due to an improved outlook on life provided by their experience in Arts for Empowerment.

The women spent the rest remainder of the program creating small purses and tote bags. Discussion followed regarding “cutting, weaving and piecing together” a new life for themselves. The last session involved a discussion on the “value” of each bag, both symbolically and on a retail level.

Exit interviews revealed that all participants found the project “extremely worthwhile,” learned a new useful skill, and would repeat a similar program if offered.

To learn more about the important work of Women’s Resource Center for the Grand Traverse Area, visit their website. To read about other RSF Seed Fund grantees, visit our past blog posts and stay tuned for the announcement of our 2013 grantees later this month.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

A Healthy Stream of Capital

April 25, 2013

by Tammy Childers

Originally published in the Spring 2013 RSF Quarterly.

RSF’s purpose is “to transform the way the world works with money,” but what exactly does that mean? In pondering this question, I recalled time spent outdoors exploring a particular creek. I realized there was a metaphor in the story of that creek for a transformed financial system.

Last summer, with my family, I visited Filigreen Farm, a diverse Demeter certified Biodynamic fruit farm in Mendocino County. One morning, my mother-in-law, Joellen, and I set out to tromp through the creek that bisects the farm. This creek, the Anderson Creek, is a major tributary feeding into the Navarro River and to the Pacific Ocean twenty miles away.

In the year that had passed since my last visit, the creek had changed. The water was deeper in some places, but there were also more sandbars. Standing up to our knees in cool, clear and slow moving water we marveled at dark pools of circling fry, audible frogs, and lush vegetation. We lingered in shallow water searching for captivating treasures.

By the time the sun was directly over our heads, we were ready to head back to the cool shade of the house, but with willows, shrubs, and grasses crowding the creek banks and islands, we could see no obvious path to the farm on the other side.

When we finally emerged, we ran into Stephanie Tebbutt, one of Filigreen’s managers. We thanked our host, and Joellen commented on what great fun she had in the creek. This creek, Joellen said, struck her as particularly beautiful; she had not seen a stream as clear as this one since she was a child on her family’s farm in Nebraska.

When Stephanie and her husband Chris, both landscape designers, first came to Anderson Valley in 1982, “the stream looked nothing like its present self: curving, clear, and about twenty feet further back from its former location,” Stephanie said. “It looked like others up and down the Anderson Valley: straight, denuded of vegetation. The landowner at that time had bulldozed the creek each autumn to straighten it, clearing any vegetation brave enough to rear its head along the way. What little survived was grazed down by the cattle.” The practice had eroded the farm land, sending topsoil down to the sea, creating a steep cut bank, and facilitating spring flooding.

Lush landscape and Filigreen Fram

Lush landscape and Filigreen Fram

Together the Tebbutts set out to stabilize the creek bank. Bringing the natural rhythm and energy back to the water would be the key to the riparian restoration. “Water is not meant to flow in a straight line,” Stephanie said. “There are unintentional consequences to forcing water in that way: flooding, bank erosion, and a wider, shallower summer creek bed with higher water temperatures unsuitable for nurturing new life.”

They began by planting willows and cottonwoods along the banks, and over a period of 18 years, experimented with an array of engineering techniques to stabilize what was considered one of the worst erosion problems in the county. Many of those early efforts failed, but eventually, Chris came up with a system to build jetties, or “nick points” to slow the creek in flood. The jetties were planted in fast-growing riparian trees and formed the basis for what would eventually become the flowform structure that enabled meander to return to the creek. Now the water would hit a berm, follow the curve, hit another berm, and follow the curve, depositing silt and topsoil from upstream at the back of the jetties, and scouring out deep pools in front, effectively changing the flow of the water back to that of a healthy creek.

In time, silt and soil built up along the banks and native weeds and woody plants moved in to capitalize on the new territory, thus providing habitat for the life we witnessed. Now this half-mile stretch of Anderson Creek is monitored by county and state agencies for its remarkable come-back.

As Stephanie explained this, I exclaimed “That’s what RSF is trying to do with money! We are trying to change the flow of capital so that it flows to the businesses and organizations that are creating a deep, positive social impact.”

With our current financial system, if we speak of the flow of water as the flow of capital, we could say the flow has been interrupted; it has been bulldozed and channeled straight. As a result, the flow is muddy and opaque and the wealth is removed from its origins and deposited far downstream.  When bad news hits, businesses lacking deep roots in the community are wiped out in a flash flood. As aggradation, or the displacement of sediments caused by repeat floods, alters geography resulting in shallow and dispersed water flow, a financial crisis erodes capital from communities and displaces it to far off investors resulting in less capital for local initiatives.

A healthy financial system can be seen as a healthy stream with its meander restored by the actions of the social finance community. Through direct lending, investing, and giving, RSF can contribute to restoring the natural flow of capital to businesses and organizations that encourage a healthy economy, environment, and people.

With a transformed financial system, we will directly invest in businesses and organizations with deep social impacts that encourage and support their communities. There will be diversity among these businesses and they will add value to their community by investing in people and practices that are good for society and the planet. The flow of capital will be patient and will settle into areas suitable for sparking new opportunities that, in turn, contribute back to the greater flow. More people will have access to and benefit from this flow, increasing the diversity of businesses and organizations. When bad news hits, it will not be a tragedy because our businesses and organizations will have established deep, healthy, community-based roots.

Now I ask you to ponder: What does it mean to you to transform the way the world works with money? How would that world be different than it is today? What needs to happen to make that change? And what can you do to contribute to it?

Tammy Childers is Loan Servicing Manager at RSF Social Finance.

Easter in the Investment Conference Room

March 28, 2013

At this time last year, RSF investor Rosemary Feerick, brought her two sons to our office to open their very own Social Investment Fund accounts. Later, she decided to share the story of her experience that day.

This essay was originally published in the Harvest Time newsletter.

by Rosemary Feerick

When we arrived at RSF Social Finance, Ellie, the receptionist, asked if we wanted a cup of tea.  It was the day after Easter, a day off from school for my sons.  I told the boys that we were going to San  Francisco to invest some of their college savings.

On the way to the city, we stopped at our credit union and withdrew money from a savings account I had set up for my eight year old son Ian. I gave Ian the check to hold in the car. He studied the piece of paper carefully. When we got to RSF Social Finance, he was still holding the check with care.

“I would like a cup of darjeeling, please,” Ian responded to the receptionist’s question.

“Darjeeling. Hmm. Let’s go see if we have some,” she offered, leading us into the kitchen.

Mark Herrera, RSF’s Client Development manager met us there. As Ian and Ellie focused on tea, Mark showed the composter to my 11 year old Roddy and explained what biodynamic sugar is. “These are some of the products made by the companies supported by the fund in which you’ll be investing,” Mark explained.

Next, he led us upstairs to the conference room overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. We felt very important.

In the conference room, Mark gave the boys samples of organic cookies. Together they read the ingredients, all of which actually sounded like food. Then, Mark told the boys about a company that employs people who are newly released from prison. Next, he described with excitement a sustainable fishery in Alaska that is allowing the Eskimo people to keep their way of life. “These are more of the companies the fund you are investing in supports.” The boys nodded.

Mark then sat down with Roddy and Ian and explained the mechanics of the investment, making sure they understood how it worked and what the rate of financial return would be. Together they did the math to figure out what that translated to in terms of the boys’ investments.

Rose Feerick & Sons

Rose with her sons Ian and Roddy.

When Mark was satisfied that Roddy and Ian understood what they were getting into, he had them each fill out an application and sign it. Their accounts were officially open.

On one level, this exchange felt like no big deal; it seemed like how making an investment should work. But as I watched, another part of me wanted to celebrate. I was aware that what I was witnessing was the result of years of my searching for a different way with money.

Twenty years ago, I received a gift of love that came in the form of a financial portfolio. At the time, I understood little of how investments worked. But as I learned about the mutual funds in my portfolio, I realized that I was invested in companies whose products and ways of doing business offended my conscience. I searched for other models of investing and discovered socially responsible mutual funds.

Initially, I felt good about moving my money into those funds. But as I read through the prospectuses and annual reports, I soon realized that in spite of a variety of social screens I was still invested in companies whose products I would not buy. The socially responsible mutual funds I had in my portfolio felt to me like the lesser of two evils.

A few years later, I was attending a conference on Sabbath Economics when Rob Baird of Progressive Investments (now Portfolio 21) got up to speak about investing. He did not have any fancy visuals, but as he spoke, I felt as if fireworks were going off. Listening to Rob, I saw for the first time a way that investments could do something good in the world.

Up until then, I felt I had to hold on to some of my investments in order to care for my family. But I felt horribly conflicted about doing so because it felt that my money was sitting inside of a global economic system that is causing harm. As Rob spoke about different models of investing, a door to a whole new world opened for me. I started to search for investments that could do good.

I learned about investing in microcredit; in affordable housing mutual funds; in community development banks; fair trade companies; and social investment funds. I worked with Andy Loving, an advisor who shares my faith and began to move some of my money into those kinds of investments. When the financial statements came each month, I noticed how differently I felt opening the ones that came from investments I had chosen. Instead of feeling guilty, I felt excited. It felt like a privilege to participate in the work of fair trade companies and local organic farms.

Shifting to alternative economic models required that I let go of the possibility of a high financial return. Having been raised to believe that receiving a high financial return was “good stewardship,” that was hard at first. Didn’t I have a responsibility to seek high returns for myself and for my children?

But as I learned about the impact many corporations are having on the ecosystem and the human family, I came to believe that that definition of good stewardship was inadequate. Good stewardship, for me, needed to take into account the world that I am passing on to my children as well as the money that will eventually change hands. I wanted any investments that I participated in to be part of creating a world full of life.

On one level, my visit to RSF Social Finance to invest a portion of my children’s college savings on Easter Monday was simply the next step in my process of shifting the investments I manage into such vehicles. But that day in the conference room I felt as if something else was happening too. There was something there that felt holy.

As a mother, I feel a responsibility to form my children in Easter hope. I try to do that by modeling and letting my children know about ways of living that respond to the crises of this historical moment with alternatives that bring life. My children will inherit this world. For me, it is not enough to bring them to church. I feel I also need to show them how to discern where God is moving in the world and teach them how to participate in that.

That is what it felt like was happening that day at RSF. In the conference room, I sensed that my boys and I were participating in a way of investing money that brings life to everyone it touches. In addition, Mark’s taking the time to teach the boys about how their investment would affect others was powerful. It was as if he understood that giving children life-giving possibilities when it comes to money is a radical investment in the future.

As I witnessed the exchange, I felt a sense of awe and gratitude. I felt a Holy Presence with us as we sipped tea, ate cookies, and filled out investment account forms on Easter Monday.

Between Land and Money: An Economic Consideration, Part V

March 20, 2013

This is the fifth and final post in a series by John Bloom on money (global) and land-based (local) economic systems. While we are largely accustomed to the former, this historical analysis makes the argument for a new kind of economy, one which raises the profile of land-based systems to benefit and balance the global economy as we know it.

In my last post, I described the distinct differences between money and land-based economies.

We need both facets of the economy, but with a renewed awareness of land. By and large the land economy has been adumbrated by the money economy. Everything, it seems, has been monetized. What the Relocalization Movement, Transition Towns, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, TimeBanks, BerkShares, Buy Fresh Buy Local, and Community Supported Agriculture, along with numerous other groups are doing, each in its own way, is trying to reawaken the local-regional economy consciousness with the rebuilding of community and resilience at the core of all initiative. In essence they are encouraging communities and individuals to take back authority as much as possible for the development of economic life out of a sense of interdependence. In some cases these groups are creating their own innovative means of exchange in order to complement the conventional money system. And the new tools are more in alignment with the values they are cultivating. The money economy has set us in competition with one another, atomized us and left some of us in a state of fear of not having enough to take care of ourselves—all on the assumption that the only way to meet one’s needs is through money. Since we are so busy trying to make money, and do not have time to do anything else, we are left with paying someone else to take care of matters. The extreme of the money economy is that we work so hard at our livelihood that we end up outsourcing our life.

The conclusion of all this economic history and analysis is to say that we need a new kind of economy, which raises the local-regional land-based on equal ground with the global, recognizes the value and role each play, and manages capital in a way that supports the interplay between them. This management component would raise community self-determination to a new level beyond politics, recognize the importance of multi-stakeholder participation and at the same time steward the intersections between local and global via larger scale associations of stakeholders. A picture that says only one system is the answer for all, that to be economically viable and profitable, for example, everything must be built out to large-scale efficiencies, no longer works.

Both the money system, though overstretched and fraying at the edges, and land-based systems are already working, even if the latter is still surviving only in the background. However, in many cases the local or regional land-based solution is going to be far more resilient in the future because those who create it usually feel responsible and accountable for what they have co-created and accomplished. To change our economic being will require a radical reconsideration of ownership—how we own, why we own—and a major disruption of the myth of self-interest. The reality of our interdependence in economic life will have a new story that also celebrates the importance of community-interest, both local and global.

What we seriously lack in order to move toward this new level of economic system consciousness is an educational infrastructure that seriously challenges the current economic and money paradigm while researching and experimenting far more broadly the methodologies and benefits of the land-based economy. But nothing will happen in this direction unless each of us steps out of consumer consciousness—one endgame of the money economy—and finds a way to really reconnect with land, not as real estate, but as the source of all economic life.

John Bloom is Senior Director, Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

Growing Economic Viability with Kitchen Table Advisors

March 12, 2013

by Ellie Lanphier

“Sustainable food is about farmers being good to the land, making sure that the land is useful and rich for future generations,” says Anthony Chang, founder and Executive Director of Kitchen Table Advisors in Mountain View, CA. However, the chances of survival for small, sustainable farms in the U.S. can look pretty bleak. According to USDA research, 50% of small farms fail in the first 5 years and only 25% will survive for 15 years. Kitchen Table Advisors,  a 2012 RSF Seed Fund grantee, is working to improve those percentages, helping sustainable farms become sustainable businesses by providing them with in-depth financial management support and the tools needed to stay viable for the long term.

Catching up with Chang on their progress since receiving the Seed Fund grant, he reported that Kitchen Table Advisors officially launched their pilot project last month, featuring a small group of sustainable farmers in Northern California who are working to create a better food system. Chang will sit down at the kitchen table with these farmers, one-on-one, to discuss business planning, record keeping and strategies for using business and financial data to achieve long term goals and objectives on their farms.

Among the pilot group are Caleb Barron and Jonathan [Johnny] Wilson of Fogline Farm, an integrated organic farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Chang says “After going through UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Food Systems program, Johnny started Fogline Farm in his late 20s as a way to make the world a better place through growing good food and taking care of the land with regular crop rotations, animals roaming in the orchards, minimal inputs and waste.” Fogline Farms strives to grow the highest quality fruits, vegetables and meats for their community. Kitchen Table Advisors seeks to empower Johnny and Caleb, and all the farmers in their pilot project, with the business tools, resources and knowledge they need to ensure their long term economic viability.

You can join Kitchen Table Advisors in their effort to build a healthier regional food system by becoming an advocate, volunteering or making a financial contribution.  Follow Kitchen Table Advisors on Facebook or LinkedIn for the latest news and opportunities to support the economic viability of sustainable small farms. Email if you’re interested in volunteer opportunities related to marketing & communications, business development, events or fundraising. Or donate here to Kitchen Table Advisors through their fiscal sponsor, the Trust for Conservation Innovation.

Click here for more information about the Seed Fund and how you can provide support.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Between Land and Money: An Economic Consideration, Part IV

March 7, 2013

This is the fourth post in a series by John Bloom on money (global) and land-based (local) economic systems. While we are largely accustomed to the former, this historical analysis makes the argument for a new kind of economy, one which raises the profile of land-based systems to benefit and balance the global economy as we know it.

In my last post, I described the rise of various visionary economic thinkers who viewed the economy as a whole system in contrast to the limited money-based view.

The money economy is global. It allows for trade and the movement of manufactured goods across political boundaries, and money can move around the world at electronic speed. It supports scale and efficiency and has made the accumulation of wealth a bedfellow of unparalleled poverty. Much of that wealth is a result of enclosing and owning natural resources and newer technological infrastructure that could more rightly be considered in the commons. It was this disparity and the injustice that accompanies it which led Henry George to seek a remedy. It is not hard to see both the genius and shadows of the money economy; many of us benefit and suffer from it. It has, unfortunately, pervaded all aspects of economic life to the exclusion of other ways of being economic.

A land-based economy is by definition rooted in place, animated by its inhabitants, and conditioned by the natural resources that make up the span of its geography, however that is defined—one day’s horse ride, river or mountain boundaries. Agriculture, for example, cannot be anything other than land based. In many ways, I would venture that most economies prior to the modern era and certainly prior to the ascent of the money economy worked that way. Such an economy understands and depends upon a social ethos in order to function, and every community member is valued though each has different capacities. In its ideal, it is a kind of gift economy. The Sarvodaya Movement in Sri Lanka founded by Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne is a living example. There are now some 15,000 villages practicing economic self-reliance based upon the land. Everyone is cared for, and everyone has meaningful work to contribute to the community regardless of age. They never talk about full employment as we do in Western culture. Instead they speak of full engagement. The beauty of such an economy is that the quality of community life is lifted and with it each individual. While a land-based economy may not generate such enormous wealth for individuals, it is, as in the case of Sarvodaya villages, more likely to foster a more fair economy that produces sufficiency. Of course, the risk involved in working this way is a shadow, a closed community that oppresses the life of the individual.

An example of the transformation of a land-based economy to a money-based one might help illustrate the distinction between the two. In Indonesia, prior to its independence following World War II, village life was very strong. The staple food crop was an indigenous variety of red rice, which provided a wide range of nutrients and supported people’s wellbeing; there was little disease or starvation. Following upon independence, the new government wished to participate in the emerging global economy and essentially directed rice growers to cultivate white rice that could be exported to hungry markets. The government provided the necessary subsidies and support. Shortly thereafter, with a shortage of red rice for nutrition and white rice transported out of the community to the marketplace, there was a rise in disease, malnutrition, and poverty. At the same time, wealth accrued to those who controlled the marketplace, who did not live in the villages, but rather in the ports and centers of capital. This portrayal is oversimplified to make the point, but the facts remain and the circumstances are nonetheless true—and, sadly, it is not an isolated case.

In the land economy, people are connected to the food they eat, the people that grow it, and the soil in which it is grown. Land based enterprise might include food processing, crafts and manufacture from regional materials, localized energy production through wind or solar, and the list I am sure can be much longer. The point here is that the economy emerges from working on the land. This framework does not in any way limit exchange between communities because the exchange remains between people who have their own connection to the land. Because the land held in common is a source of production, and not economic in and of itself, the land economy is much less likely to have externalized costs. And, there will be more ecological consciousness as the community has to live with the consequences of its own activities. In a land economy, transparency means that a product can be traced to its sources and makers.

On the other hand, the money economy makes it possible to manufacture on a scale and with efficiency not possible at a regional level. It would be absurd, for example, to think that each region has to make its own mass transportation vehicles. One question would be whether externalized costs and other less visible human and environmental consequences of manufacturing can be accounted and paid for, and mitigated in a restorative manner.

John Bloom is Senior Director, Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

2012 Year End Grant Making Activity

March 4, 2013

By Ellie Lanphier

As we barrel full speed ahead into 2013, we wanted to take a moment to recognize all of the giving that took place within our wonderful donor community at the end of 2012.

In November and December of 2012 we made 127 grants, totaling $1,859,345; processed 103 gifts (including 10 stock gifts) totaling $9,373,839; and opened 6 new Donor Advised Funds!

During this giving spree, Global Citizen Year (GCY), a San Francisco based non-profit, received a grant from one of our donor advised funds in December of 2012. GCY promotes the global Bridge Year, a year of service and learning for graduated high school seniors before they begin college. Through facilitating this experience, GCY hopes to help create the next generation of global leaders by encouraging them to reimagine their own role in the world.

GCY recruits and trains high performing high school seniors to become Global Citizen Year Fellows, who then dedicate their Bridge Year to highly immersive apprenticeships in areas such as education, public health, or microfinance in communities throughout the developing world. The 2012 class of Fellows completed their apprenticeships in Brazil, Senegal and Ecuador. You can read about their experiences on their blog From the Field. Program fees for the experience are determined on a sliding scale, based on the ability of the Fellow and the Fellow’s family to contribute, and are capped at a tuition ceiling.

Quite a few colleges in the US are beginning to encourage college freshman to defer enrollment for one year, and spend that year learning outside the classroom. These colleges have noticed more maturity, focus and perspective in students who have taken a Bridge Year. You can read Harvard’s view on the Bridge Year, or Gap Year, on their website.

The CEO and founder of Global Citizen Year, Abigail Falik, announced a goal to facilitate a global Bridge Year for 10,000 American students by the year 2020. With a great start and a goal like that, we at RSF look forward to following their exciting story.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Between Land and Money: An Economic Consideration, Part III

February 28, 2013

This is the third post in a series by John Bloom on money (global) and land-based (local) economic systems. While we are largely accustomed to the former, this historical analysis makes the argument for a new kind of economy, one which raises the profile of land-based systems to benefit and balance the global economy as we know it.

In my last post, I discussed the evolution of the American version of economic life: an industry of limitless production fueled by commoditized land and labor, growing economic inequality, and volatile market fluctuation.

Numerous economists have observed the cyclical patterns of boom and bust, the disparity of wealth and poverty that seem an endemic part of the industrialized and global economy. But, none has addressed it as directly as Henry George with the publication of Progress and Poverty in 1880. In the book, which caused no little controversy, George argued that land and natural resources should be owned in the commons, and that private ownership and the control of rents was one of the major contributing causes of impoverishment of the many at the hands of the few. As a remedy, he proposed a single tax on the value of land. This tax would return to the public the monetary resources that in some senses were sequestered in the land and in private hands. He hoped to free up enterprise and enliven the diversity of the free market by eliminating production taxes. He argued that the single land tax would provide adequate revenue for the government’s needs. It was simple and brilliant, and a threat to those in power. What George was trying to do was find a monetary equivalent for decommoditizing the land, to make it in the community’s interest to make sure that the land was rightfully used and stewarded for future generations. George’s was a land-based economy in which the community benefited from the wealth generated by the increasing value of land. He was mostly concerned with the multiplier effect of manufacturing and production on the value, especially in cities, and less concerned about the role of land in agriculture since it was not subject to the same kind of dynamic of development.

Henry George’s approach to economics represents a view that land and all natural resources are not economic unto themselves. That is, they do not enter the economic stream until someone works on that resource; the product of that work is economic. Rudolf Steiner in his lectures on Economics given in 1922 put forth a similar concept and elaborated further that this work on the land generates one kind of value. He also identified a second kind of value stream: that which emerges when intelligence is applied to labor. These dynamically related principles lie at the heart of economic life, lead naturally to the division of labor, and the capacity to arrange that labor in such a way as to achieve efficiency and surplus capital. In some ways we have lost sight of the first value stream as our consciousness and technical capacities have developed. The land-based stream has been devalued as it tends toward place, and stands against the imperative of capital and global markets.

Steiner’s insights into evolving economic life, which he saw as global in nature, run counter to the prevailing market money paradigm in which everything down to genetic structure is owned and commoditized. Steiner stated that all the essential elements of the economy—land, labor, and capital—were phenomena not commodities. Economic life as we experience it emerges from the interactions between them, and is embodied in people’s capacities to recognize and meet each other’s material needs. For example, it was an invention of industrial society to be able to attach a price to someone’s work. It was as if to parse an individual’s capacity into machine-like component of production. In essence, Steiner also said that capital is not a singular thing, but instead could be traced in movement through its various functions. The value of that capital would be realized in how it could serve initiative and enterprise in the economy. In his far-reaching view he felt that treating capital and money as a thing would lead to a world of speculative or virtual rather than real value.

In her study of economic life, especially in an urban environment in the late 20th century, Jane Jacobs developed a vision of self-sustaining regional economies based upon what she called import replacement. Hers was a vision of small to medium-scale entrepreneurs and manufacturers who would find ways to make things locally that the community needed but had gotten by importing them. Her imagination was of a vibrant diverse and interconnected economy that depends on outside inputs only in so far as they enable local innovation. She indicated that this approach would sustain the local entrepreneurship, the job market and the rest of the local economy, and at the same time reduce the environmental degradation that results from extensive transportation of goods. Her vision also includes that which both Hamilton and Jefferson missed—a mindfulness of organic systems that looks at waste as an integral part of the economic whole and which finds innovative ways to transform that waste into new value. From a financial standpoint she realized that money kept in local circulation as a result of import replacement would have significant added value for the quality of community life. It should come as no surprise that her work has become a prime inspiration and philosophical framework for the local living economies movement. Jacobs crafted an economics of place in which land and regional natural resources play an important part, but her take on land itself in relation to economic value is not directly addressed.

Each of these visionary economic thinkers saw the economy as a whole system, and each brought a new perspective based upon the reality of their respective times. The purpose of narrating these various views of land and money is to tease out of them some sense of how we can actually live in a dynamic tension between the two, and to resurrect the shared reality and importance of land and natural resources, not as economic in and of themselves, but as part of a livable economic future—and before it is too late to do so. And further, to revise our understanding of capital; to the extent that it represents applied intelligence, it serves as something of a mediator, moderator, and motivator of the two.

Between Land and Money: An Economic Consideration Part II

February 21, 2013

This is the second post in a series by John Bloom on money (global) and land-based (local) economic systems. While we are largely accustomed to the former, this historical analysis makes the argument for a new kind of economy, one which raises the profile of land-based systems to benefit and balance the global economy as we know it.

In my last post, I described the development of Paterson Great Falls into the first industrial park under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton’s economic vision became essentially the American version of economic life. Consistent with the pattern of the wider Industrial Revolution beginning in England, his approach created the conditions that drew labor from the countryside to urban industry while diminishing the agrarian foundation that had sustained the American colonists. But, there was another imagination articulated and fought for by Thomas Jefferson as Hamilton was carrying the day. That vision was less sympathetic to the manufacturing and money economy than it was to the deep value of agriculture as the primary driver for American economic life. Jefferson’s view was grounded in an ever-expanding land base that could support regional economic subsistence and produce plant-based products such as tobacco and cotton for foreign markets, especially Europe. Jefferson, a farmer himself, reaped economic benefit from agriculture aided by slave labor, and also celebrated the pedagogical value of tillage for the development of character. He understood that a good farmer is also a land steward; soil fertility and economic productivity are entwined.

Jefferson saw the expansion of the American land base as essential for more farming and agricultural product growth, access to markets, and ever-wider distribution—thus the Louisiana Purchase and the implementation of the doctrine of manifest destiny. This “destiny” was used to justify the merciless destruction of the Native American peoples, and their way of life that was reverently open land based. When the US government granted significant land tracts to soldiers who had fought in the Revolutionary war in lieu of pay (the government had no money), that land had to be parceled into ownership, measured, fenced, and priced—anathema to the ethos of land as shared commons. Those fences enclosed land and brought an end to the dynamic, reciprocal flow between man and nature that had long marked the economic life of Native America.

Both Hamilton and Jefferson knew the need for natural resources of all kinds would increase continually to support economic and national development. From their place in time, both could see no limits to the kind of economic growth they were imagining. And both contributed to what would become the industrialization of everything, including agriculture. The value of a human being would be measured by his or her capacity to produce economically; land itself became a store of value as well as a source of production. Land and labor were commoditized in a way that was material to all economic matters. In essence, with the emergence of property rights granted to individuals and corporations by the government, the mutuality of “ownership” in common gave way to the self-interest described so ably by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, first published 1776, the same year as the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Nothing in Adam Smith’s text would have predicted the level of greed and manipulation that have pervaded our current financial system. Smith assumed a standard of morality in the economic sphere that was guided by the dominant religious principles of his time. But much has changed in the human psyche since then. Wealth has become a game of never enough, of winners and losers. Greed is not a modern invention, it is one of the seven deadly sins; neither is manipulation of the market for private benefit. But the scale and affects of recent events indicate an extreme disconnect between money and land to the extent that land itself accrued economic value as a store-place for money. Land is a treasury unto itself measured in ever-rising prices, which, in turn, present insurmountable barriers to access, especially for farmers.

John Bloom is Senior Director, Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

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