ROI: Love of Money

written by Community Solutions Fellow, wimbi

In the Jan 18 issue of the New York Times, an opinion piece, “The Love of Money” written by a recovering Wall St. money addict, says:

“Yes, I was sharp, good with numbers. I had marketable talents. But in the end I didn’t really do anything. I was a derivatives trader, and it occurred to me the world would hardly change at all if credit derivatives ceased to exist.”

But, in the process of doing nothing for you or me, he had made a megaton of money.

So what? Well, money started off as a method of transferring real value between me and you. Many millennia ago when we lived in Mesopotamia, I give you a little clay marker saying I owed you one camel for something you had given me.  That chit was a claim on my camel, so you had a counter for something real, a camel.

That bit of clay stamped with a symbol standing for my camel had real value, as long as everybody agreed that it did. Back then we thought it was a pretty clever invention. But then look what happened. Jesus had to drive the money-lenders from the temple, but they came right back. Today, they are offering you a derivative. What is it? Sort of like a bet that somebody else’s bet might pay off somehow, somewhere. What!

But then look what happens when that miserable little chit for a real camel gets all mixed up with all those chits for nothing but derivatives. You can’t tell the difference between them, so the Wall St. trader gets a hundred million symbols for derivatives, and you have one measly one for a camel, he gets to claim your   whole camel for a tiny fraction of his derivatives, which as the guy said, actually stands for nothing of real value to you or me.

That boils down to his having the power to rob me and you of our camel, and do ditto to two hundred million other poverty stricken camel drivers, for his doing nothing more than what a few lines of computer code could have done for the pay of a tiny fraction of a kilowatt-hour of electricity per year.

How’s that for a return on investment!  The trader invested the finger flicks to move a stack of chips from one pile to another, and in return, gets a bigger stack of chips.  His investment was moving the stack, his return was real claims on my camel. I worked hard to grow that camel, and he did nothing for me, but he had set up the game so that he ended up with my camel. Not good. At all.

So, if business measures return on investment in money only, and not in real things, like food, shelter, education, healthcare and all the things we really need, we end up not having the things we need.

“Ah”, you say, “but that keeps the economy going”. Right, but going where?  Ruining the planet, faster and faster, that’s where while doing mighty little good for us, and a great deal of bad to our grandkids.

So what am I getting at here? Well, think it over. Shouldn’t you take your real value chit off the pile in front of that derivative trader and put it back into something real? Like what?

How about investing right here? Make this “the place I would rather be”. If you did, we could have a bunch of school science teachers who really do teach science; a river which, like in all proper college towns, has beautiful recreation possibilities where students can go do whatever it is that they do; and a public transport system full of electric vehicles run from all those solar panels covering the world-famous Athens farmer’s market.

Now that would be a real return on investment! Way better than the alternative, where you put your chips on Wall St., but afterwards have to struggle through the freezing winds, kicking aside a mob of starving beggars, to get up to a curtained window through which you peek to see that Wall St. money addict cavorting with all those nude cuties, while in the background, over a huge roaring fire, they are roasting your camel.