Excerpt from SLOW MONEY by Woody Tasch
Beauty was good enough for the title of E. F. Schumacher’s seminal work, and it should be good enough for us. He could have chosen Small Is Appropriate, or Small Is Good, or Small Is the Key to Health and Happiness. He chose the word beautiful; his attention focused on issues of scale, nonviolence, self-sufficiency and a “meta-economic” understanding of man’s place: “Divergent problems, as it were, force man to strain himself to a level above himself; they demand, and thus provoke the supply of, forces from a higher level, thus bringing love, beauty, goodness, and truth into our lives. It is only with the help of these higher forces that the opposites can be reconciled in the living situation.”
The unrelenting exercise of the calculus of economics has facilitated the slide toward one-dimensional management decision making, ugly commercial landscapes, horribly littered media spaces, and dumbed-down public discourse. We have noted, and debated with varying degrees of heat, the Death of God. Some have even noted what they have called the Death of Money, as currency shifted from gold to paper to bits of information. It is the Death of Beauty that concerns us here.
Products produced cheaply create ugly work lives and ugly households and ugly communities. Profits produced quickly cannot purchase patience and care. Patience is beautiful. Restraint and care are beautiful. Peace is beautiful. A small, diversified organic farm is beautiful.
There is nothing beautiful in the idea that we will only do no harm if we can, in so doing, make as much money as is generated in the doing of harm.
Pioneering companies like Stonyfield Farm seek to capture increasing amounts of Wal-Mart shelf space for organics and responsibly produced consumer goods. Pioneering venture funds like Greenmont Capital provide venture capital to organic food companies.
These important enterprises redirect capital away from destructive industrial activity and toward restorative economic activity. However, they do not influence directly the speed of money or redefine directly the role of investors in the evolution of capital markets.
Despite the comercial success of a number of small socially responsible companies, such as Ben & Jerry’s, Aveda, and Stonyfield, along with the dramatic growth of the organics and LOHAS markets, as evidenced by Whole Foods’ rapid approach to the threshold of the Fortune 500, fundamental questions remain unanswered:
• How is mission inexorably compromised when a company goes public or is acquired?
• What happens to “local” when a company scales?
• Can alternatives to the traditional corporate charter be designed, creating ownership and governance structures that embed a “stakeholder accountability” culture that cannot be diluted as a company grows?
• Would the food system, in particular, and the economy, as a whole, be safer and healthier if tens of thousands of small, independent, mission-driven companies were supported by capital that prioritized local control?
These questions go to the fundamental imperatives of an economic transformation that started with the Jeffersonian ideal of a small farmer and ends with Twinkies, TV dinners, nutraceuticals, and a bunch of eco-farmers who don’t know whether they are a movement or an industry.
Investors who invest in organic food companies without addressing these fundamental questions are too much like organic gardeners who use organic fertilizers and organic pest control, but who know nothing of the joys of composting and the mysteries of soil health. The result is a system that produces organic food companies and puts organic food products on the shelves, but leaves the soil of the community less fertile, less full of life, and less capable of supporting future generations. •
Reprinted with permission from Chelsea Green (www.chelseagreen.com)