Book Review: Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money

Most of us have heard about the slow food movement where we savor the taste of a place, know our farmers and sip the wine slowly, not gulp down a beer.

But what about Slow Money?

In Woody Tasch’s visionary book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered (Chelsea Green, 2008), he breaks from the grow-big-and-go-global-fast mode of industrial capitalism and industrial agriculture by providing a remarkable synthesis of the writings, ideas and practices from such authorities on the subject of soil, agriculture, community and commerce as Wendell Berry, Eliot Coleman, Gene Logsdon, Gary Snyder, E.F. Schumacher, Paul Hawken and David Suzuki – calling for and sharing examples of a new economy whereby capitalism creates and sustains life, not destroys it.

Tasch’s observation: “As it circulates the globe with ever accelerating speed, money is sucking the oxygen out of the air, the fertility out of the soil and the culture out of local communities.”

“In our devotion to money, market, and machine, we are destroying not only the fertility of the soil, but the fertility of our imaginations,” continues Tasch. “What is, in the farmer’s field, a struggle between economics and ecology becomes, in the investor’s mind, a struggle between quantity and quality, portfolios and possibilities, numbers and words.” Tasch goes on to document the widespread loss of topsoil and erosion of fertile land, noting that roughly a third of all farmland in the world has been degraded since World War II. “There is another kind of erosion at work here: erosion of social capital, erosion of community, erosion of an understanding of our place in the scheme of things.”

Expertly woven together like the rich tapestry of biological life abundant in a mere teaspoon of soil, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money tugs at our yearning to be connected to the land, to the soil and to the great food it can provide. It also explores our relationship to money and all the things it can, and cannot, buy.

Tasch effectively argues that our problems today are not with technology, but of finance. He harnesses the concepts of slow food and the understanding of how healthy biological systems operate and applies them to our unstable and unsustainable financial system, calling for a new approach to commerce that involves becoming a “nurture capitalist” and a invest in whole new stock exchange call the Main Street Exchange, both aspects touted in his upstart non-profit organization Slow Money.

Don’t be fooled by the title, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money is no academic tome for a new financial system penned from some ivory tower. Tasch not only walks his talk from his solar powered off-the-grid house in New Mexico, working from a home office as I do.  He has also been involved in the investment community as a venture capitalist and in the non-profit sector for years, helping transform how we use money for good, not greed. He is Chairman Emeritus of Investors’ Circle, a nonprofit network of angel investors, venture capitalists, foundations, and family offices that, since 1992, has facilitated the flow of $130 million to 200 early-stage companies and venture funds dedicated to sustainability.

Tasch brings his financial knowledge and melds it with a comprehensive examination of our present agricultural, or should we say, agribusiness, approach to providing our daily meal. As we explore at length in ECOpreneuring, Tasch, likewise, recognizes the localization movement afoot along with powerful, yet politically marginalized, small ecopreneurial enterprises that, more than Fortune 500 companies, account for most of the new job opportunities and innovative changes within the United States.

“GDP growth driven by subdivisions and highways and Mustangs and 727s made sense in a pre-smog, pre-urban-blight, pre-sprawl world,” writes Tasch in Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money. His take on the financial system and greedy corporations echoes my past blog on how GM planned for its obsolescence.  Writes Tasch:  “Buy Low/Sell High made sense in a world that could not conceive of a $350 billion Wal-Mart, a $53 million Christmas bonus, a $400 million golden parachute, or a China that is building one coal-fired power plant a week and more roads in 2008 than it had in the preceding fifty years.”

Tasch dives into the meta- world beneath the soil and above the clouds, for here rests the externalities largely (and conveniently) ignored the “expert” economists and Wall Street, externalities like climate change and disappearing topsoil. He provides a harsh accounting of the realities of capitalism gone bad, yet provides a hopeful vision for a new restoration economy and a form of enterprise where, one day, perhaps fifty percent of the profits from the business are donated to communities and charities, or where most of the investment one makes is made within fifty miles of where one lives.

“Reducing violence, not maximizing growth, would be the primary goal of an economy that was truly oriented toward enhancing human well-being,” concludes Tasch. He calls on us to refocus and be active participants in an economy that restores biodiversity, soil health and the local economy.

Slowing down the over-caffeinated movement of money and reconnecting it to the land on which we all depend for our sustenance is a perfect place to start.

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