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The Slow Money Interview: Can capitalism and socialism be bosom buddies?

This isn’t your grandfather’s socialism.

Yes, as we saw in the presidential election, the word “socialism” has become a slur: code for “anti-American.” But let’s get this straight. Woody Tasch (author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered) and the “holistic investors” like him aren’t trying to turn the US into Sweden, in his words. Instead, they’re “working hard to reintroduce social and environmental relationships into investing decisions and to say that they are essential to long term economic health.”

In other words, there are other things more important than money (although no one is claiming money isn’t important). But equally as important is your relationship to your community, to your food, to the planet.

Woody explains the radical concept of “slow money” in this interview on the SlowFoodUSA blog:

Q: In the book you say “Slow Food gives us a way to engage that is proactive, even celebratory.” What does celebratory investing look like?

Tasch: Let’s just say that when that answer is clear to the world then…it will be a beautiful thing! It’s funny you should ask that because I just shared a day dream with a bunch of investors in Vermont, that at the end of a Slow Money investors conference we would all be dancing together in the aisles like attendees were at the end of Terra Madre.

Right now there is no such thing as celebratory investing; there’s no such thing as investors sharing the joy of building something together and celebrating community like Amish people building a barn. May of us are, in fact, building a new, restorative economy, one bit at a time but we don’t know how to celebrate the process. No, celebratory investing is still a ways off in the distance.

Q: You discuss the economic terms “internal” and “external accounting,” with external accounting being that which takes into account “multiple stakeholders and qualitative distinctions.” Do you think that now, after the collapse of our financial system that investors are finally ready/willing to look at external accounting?

Tasch: The whole question of externalities, it is both aspirational and pragmatic, meaning there are a whole bunch of people right now who have been working on statistically relevant, defensible metrics that can add social and environmental metrics to financial metrics. I consider this very important incremental change, but it’s only incremental because where were trying to get to is an economy where investors are close enough to that which they are investing in that they can make qualitative judgments about it. If you were living down the street, in enough proximity to that which you were investing in, or even just knew enough about that which you were investing in, if you knew the managers of the business personally and trusted their values completely, you wouldn’t need to rely solely on quantitative metrics.

Where we need to head is away from bigger and bigger and more and more complicated enterprises, to an economy that celebrates—there’s that word again—enterprises that are smaller, less centralized, more comprehensible. We need to return to a world where people make qualitative judgments and aren’t afraid to.

Q: The word socialism comes up more than once in the book. As witnessed during the recent presidential election, “socialist” is a slur these days. What’s your take on it? Is socialist a bad word for an investor? Can capitalism and socialism be bosom buddies?

Tasch: You know, the phrase “social investing” is already widely used. It’s not called “socialist investing” and there’s a reason. We are reasserting the value of relationships between people and the environment as equal to economic transactions.

Read the whole interview here.

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