Excerpted and adapted from The Resilient Investor.
In Local Dollars, Local Sense, a thorough survey of the local investment movement, Michael Shuman makes a compelling case that small businesses comprise about half the GDP of the United States, but most investors are completely missing out. Overinvesting in Wall Street and under investing in Main Street (and other Close to Home Strategies) is a diversification problem that this book, and especially this Strategy, intends to help you overcome. As we mentioned earlier, while this type of financial investment has been difficult at best for most of us, there are encouraging developments underway.
While everyone is involved with at least some, and usually many, “close to home” activities, there are two groups for whom this has become the main focus of their resilient investing practice. The first works to enliven local economies, primarily because of the positive effects that enhanced community resilience would offer under any future scenario, and secondarily as a hedge against systemic economic shocks. They bank local, buy local, and invest in local businesses. Transition Towns, and many other local and regional initiatives are engaged in such proactive “going local” efforts. Others draw investments close to home to prepare for systemic breakdown, with an emphasis on personal and family survival, and in some cases, to strengthen regional resilience. Their goal is to increase their odds of surviving “the end of the world as we know it.” Some are “preppers,” caching food, water, and ammunition on the edge of civilization, while others are deep ecologists who believe we’ve passed irreversible ecological tipping points, and that their energy is best used in personal and regional preparedness.
We might playfully label folks from these two perspectives “bloomers” and “doomers.” For the bloomers, with the intention of building community resilience, the paramount goals are diverse local ownership, sustainability, and helping “dollars stay in the local economy to improve quality of life for all.” Doomers, who aim to ride out “the big reset” through personal resilience, see self-sufficiency and protection against threats as primary; some also stress moral integrity and charity. Both perspectives put a premium on good soil, heirloom skills, personal health, and freedom from dependency. Close-to-home investors include both of these camps and more, including those who take small actions as modest hedges against the possibility of systemic shocks and to fosters cherished human values. As long-standing community activists, we’re motivated more by the desire to be proactive, but we also resonate with the wisdom of “be prepared.”
Our Resilient Investing Map (RIM) invites you to invest in your life in a way that recognizes and grows all of your assets. Indeed, the goal of resilient investing is to consciously and methodically spread your time and your money around the full Map, in order to nourish all the elements of your complete “net-worth.” This will include prudence with your money (Financial Assets), appreciation of your possessions and the built and natural world (Tangible Assets), and nourishing your relationships and inner growth (Personal Assets).
It may feel a little strange to think of, say, the ways you prioritize activities that enhance your child’s wellbeing, and the strategies you’re using to manage a brokerage account, as being parts of a unified investment system. We’re trained to think of these as very different kinds of decisions. But they are indeed related, as both are investments you’re making to bring about a desired result in the future.
Hope Credit Union mortgage client and first-time homeowner Melbatine Hunter. Photo courtesy Hope Credit Union.
As institutions that give profits back to their members rather than to shareholders, credit unions are usually a better banking option than megabanks. However, choosing a credit union is no guarantee that our money is being used most effectively in your communities. There are low-impact credit unions, just like there are low-impact banks.
Diversification is, at its root, a response to the ancient admonition you might have learned from grandma: don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. If that basket drops they could all break, ruining your and grandma’s breakfast! This proverb can be traced back to the 17th century, and was popularized by Cervantes in Don Quixote. (Later, Mark Twain, ever the contrarian, proposed the exact opposite: “pull all your eggs in the one basket and—watch that basket!”
The wisdom of Cervantes goes nearly unquestioned today. Virtually every reputable financial firm teaches people about diversification, extolling the importance of spreading out risk. But—and this is an important but—we contend that however well intentioned, Wall Street’s version suffers from two major omissions: first, they focus solely on one’s financial instruments, and second, they can’t model the possibilities of Breakdown/Breakthrough, so they presume that we’ll be Muddling Through for the foreseeable future.
We hope by now some of our new readers are feeling eager to explore the soaring vision of resilient investing that most of our clients share. Be aware, though: if you want to be a resilient investor, you need a pioneering spirit. In these volatile, uncertain times, the old road maps that guided 20th century investors are no longer sufficient. The landscape has changed, and you’ll be traveling on new pathways that have yet to see much traffic. This can be disconcerting, as it lacks the appearance of stability. That Rock of Gibraltar was once an image of the financial industry, but turned out to be a mirage.
The uncertainty that plagues today’s investors became clear to us over the past several years, as clients and friends shared their notion that the world has come unmoored, and that “business as usual” is no longer a reliable anchor for making decisions about their investments, or their lives. While these wide-ranging conversations are often rich with insight and full of passion, our role as investment advisors asks us to act from an objective view of the world, free of personal and emotional bias. As you can imagine, this is no easy task!
As frontrunners of the socially responsible investing movement, we at Natural Investments are “resilient investors” who are working off a radical new map of the investing universe. We invite you to navigate your own path across this vast terrain. But before we start exploring the nooks and crannies, let’s take a moment to ask the fundamental question: why invest?
Some would say this is obvious—we invest to build wealth. And what’s the point of building wealth? To be secure? To then build even more security and more wealth? Isn’t that what we all want? Well, no, at least not in the way it’s usually presented. While we take it as a given that most people want to increase their financial assets (at least up to a point) and have some nice things, traditional measurements of personal wealth are inadequate, often ignoring that which gives us the most satisfaction. Economists measure our “standard of living,” but what we’re really after is a higher “quality of life”—and while there is overlap, those two are not the same thing! The point of investing, we’d like to suggest, isn’t just about having more, but about being happy in a full, classical sense.
Let’s look back—back as far as 2500 years—for help in answering these questions. Aristotle, writing in the Nicomachean Ethics, described the point of a well-lived life, the goal we should be aiming for, as “blessedness.” For Aristotle, blessedness meant enjoying family and friends, with a deep feeling of well-being and contentment. In our day, this ideal might suggest a mature experience of knowing one’s mission, succeeding at pursuing that mission, having a solid primary relationship and close friends and family, having sufficient financial resources to live well according to your own standards, to be making a contribution and leaving a legacy one can be proud of, and staying in right relationship to the natural world that sustains life. It’s not about more—it’s about better!
We don’t think of investing as simply a professional, numbers-crunching discipline; for us it’s something much more fundamental. We believe investing should support financial goals (buy a house, start a business) and it should support the bigger and deeper and more profound purpose of a life: Aristotle’s blessedness. Investing can help each of us live a better life, and it can help improve communities and build a better world for all.
To do this, we must first break out of the confines that limit our ideas about wealth. Financial choices are just one part of a continual process of giving and receiving, balancing risk and reward, and exchanging time, energy, and money with those around you. So let’s make room for values and communities, for society and the Earth. And let’s expand our vision to include the interior realms of emotional and spiritual well-being as well, which are enduring elements of healthy human development. By doing so, we are bound to get more relevant, and more life-nourishing results.
Many people are motivated by the desire to be as prepared as possible for an uncertain future, but they recognize that this is no easy task. We encourage you to take a big picture view of the world and consider the many ways that the future could unfold. You’ll want to envision where you would like to be going in both the near-term and in years to come, and to keep abreast of the wide and growing range of investment choices available to you. By thinking in this broad, creative way, resilient investinggives you the tools to design a personalized plan. This will show you where you’re currently investing your time and money, highlight areas that you might be over or under emphasizing, and provide the guidance you’ll need to move forward in your chosen directions.
As you put your plan into action, you’ll notice a newfound sense of calm, one that rests on the knowledge that you’ve taken measured steps to future-proof your life and are ready to ride out the inevitable storms and surprises that come your way. You can’t eliminate risk, but you can dial down your stress levels and have more peace of mind by knowing that you’re prepared. Having a comprehensive and diverse set of investments will provide genuine benefits when one or another market you’ve invested in has a downturn (whether it be a sudden drop in the Dow, a dry spell that decreases yields in your garden or regional food network, or an unexpected health challenge). While it is always painful to suffer a hit in one area, investments in other Zones will likely be doing better and help carry you through.