SMUG MONEY: Is our money the biggest hypocrisy of the modern age?

Written by Rebecca O'Connor on 3rd Apr 2016

“The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink” 

― George Orwell1984

Hypocrisy, whether it goes as far as Orwell’s doublethink or not, is pretty much unavoidable.

Unless you are just amoral, you probably live by a set of values, even if it’s very subconscious. As a natural consequence of being human, you probably also flout it occasionally. The fallibility of human nature, with its high aims and lower practices, ultimately leaves us all open to accusations of hypocrisy.

There are some obvious hypocritical practices: being an MP claiming unfair expenses but voting for tax increases, claiming to be a greenie but driving a petrol car, claiming to support free education but sending your child to private school.. you get the picture. Generally speaking, the higher-minded your aims and the more open you are about those aims, the more you lay yourself open to the h-word.

But there is one hypocrisy in particular that has huge social and environmental implications that most of us fall foul of, whether we know it or not, and that’s what we do with our money.

There are three main reasons for the disconnect between our values and our money:

Libertarianism. You can’t argue with the essential tenet that people should be free to do what they want with their money. The problem with this philosophy underpinning our finances is that people invariably choose to do things with their money that are damaging, creating a whole new set of problems. The view also assumes that everyone has absolute control over their destinies. Which most of us know by our own experience of the world, is only half true. Wasn’t it Baz Lurhman who said: “Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s”?

Machiavelli_AFMachiavellian view that the ends justify the means when it comes to making profit.  Very dated. And also just a wee bit childish to say I can do what I want if I get what I want. It’s unnecessary too, in a world where good options can be as profitable as bad. Why get 4% and a stable dividend from a tobacco stock when you can get 4% and a stable dividend from a renewable energy company? There’s no reason.

Transparency. There isn’t enough. And because we have no idea where our money goes when it leaves our bank accounts, we aren’t even usually aware that our money is making us a hypocrite.

The result of these factors is that we hand out tins at food banks with one hand while investing in banks and soft drinks on the other; recycle like demons while investing pensions in oil and gas, and complain about long waiting times on the NHS while picking British American Tobacco and Pepsi for stocks and shares ISAs.

Money is power.

Your money is more powerful than you realise. It’s an extension of you – your hopes and fears, education, profession and family values. But at the moment, instead of treating it like a part of us, we treat it like a separate entity. Most of us are barely cognisant of it’s wider impact, generally thinking only of how it serves us individually and not what it does to other people and the planet.

But there is goodsuperman-05.jpg news, because in fact, like water, we can direct the flow of money. And we can direct it to things that match our values. Thanks to the power of your money, you are a superhero in the making. You might think it is harder, or less profitable to do the right thing with your cash, but it isn’t necessarily. So you don’t even have to compromise on your own financial needs to save the world.

So if you are a person of values (and who isn’t?) what can you do to avoid monetary hypocrisy?

A few things:

  1. Avoid big banks wherever possible. Whether it is for your credit card, mortgage, savings account or ISA, there are other preferable options, such as building societies, such as Ecology Building Society, which are not accountable to a greedy set of external shareholders, and challenger banks, such as Virgin or Metro, which are putting service and fairness higher up their agendas to steal a march on the banks. There are ethical banks too, like Charity Bank and Triodos.
  2. Want to do your bit for the planet? Switch to a green energy tariff. This is far and away the most effective “green” step you can take in your own home to help the world switch away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.
  3. Save with building societies and peer-to-peer platforms, such as Abundance Investments, but as above, try to avoid saving with the big banks, who invest your money as they wish in all manner of activities you probably wouldn’t agree with.
  4. Invest in sustainability-rated funds, which give you an insight into the businesses they invest in and only invest in companies that incorporate sustainability in everything they do. There are a few sites worth visiting to this end: Fund EcoMarket, 3D Investing and EQ Investing Positive Portfolios. Alliance Trust has a sustainability range, Pictet, Rathbones and WHEB are all highly rated for responsible funds that are actually responsible.
  5. Move your pension into a sustainable fund. Long term, steady performance is often a characteristic of more sustainably-minded companies. It is also the aim of most pension funds, which want to deliver you a reliable income in retirement. That’s why sustainable funds and pensions go together like the two Ronnies (RIP).

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