Giving, Investing and The Common Good. A reflection
Starting this journey into CST and investing in liveable futures has been an important trigger and reset for me to consider
- What is the common good?
- How best do we use what we have been taught and given to achieve it?
- And by focusing on Investing are we already concluding on a solution without fully exploring all the means by which The Common Good could be achieved?
Because as people, in our own strength we largely do not have the means to create something of out nothing. We have tools and theories and constructs to measure and attribute theoretical excess value. But, outside of the miraculous, every input which generates a theoretical excess must have transformed or extracted or exploited something along the way – every investment return has a cost as well as a consequence.
That is why making money out of doing good without doing any harm is still an awkward concept for me. Someone or something usually “pays” for investors’ excess returns. And whilst it is important to make sure that labour benefits from their share in the excess (profit share wage and ownership models), and worthwhile correcting to redistribute back the excess which has been extracted, there is a wider question as to whether the extract/exploit-profit-redistribute model could be avoided by a different understanding of “enough”.
But that’s for another blog.
In the context of CST and addressing the crisis of the times, there is place for being clear about the tools we have to materialise The Common Good, the different motivations and requirements of giving vs. investing in reaching this aim, and how both probably need to be combined to truly attain liveable futures.
I have a growing sense of the need to start with first things first, and how it is probably premature to have a framework for investing before you have a fully developed philosophy for giving. Common sense teaching is to earn first and see what you can give afterwards – and indeed perhaps even maximize what you earn so you can be extremely generous in what you give. Biblical teaching perhaps reverses this order of events.
Giving should certainly not be forgotten. Though the emphasis and interpretations are applied differently by different traditions, the teachings are there all the way from tithing to being prepared to sell everything and give to the poor. We are told that the poor (those who have little) we will always have with us (regardless of what we do); our responsibility is to redistribute what we have among our communities at every level, so that no one is ever in need/in poverty (not having enough).
That requires a right attitude to giving to restore liveable futures for those in poverty, before we get to the point of investing to sustain them and humanity as a whole.
Otherwise a lot of what we call investing will simply be filling up gaps which would be far less significant if our giving followed biblical principles too, and it could lead to inappropriate expectations and burdens on the people and projects we are investing in, forcing the promise of returns and impact and permanent positive change whilst promising adequate investor liquidity – combinations which do not often work well in the context of addressing poverty.
This is a good point at which to remember that we are all recipients, and whatever class or capital privileges we find ourselves with today, we all ultimately are indebted to our Maker.
As recipients, there is an expectations that what has been given to us will be gainfully employed and invested – although here I stress that difference between the expectations that God rightfully places on us and those we may try to place on others. (When we give to each other, we are called to give to those who ask without requiring justification, so we are not really even called to judge the need, let alone how well those resources will be used. We have an example of an apparently injudicious use of money being praised and not chastised, and the context is everything.)
So as recipients who are in a position to invest, we are guided to recognise our different starting points in terms of talents/opportunities and abilities/gifts, and we are clearly set the expectation that we can and will multiply those – no matter however much or little has been given to begin with.
And even in our investing, we are not called to gather every last drop of return but to leave some for the less fortunate to also gather (perhaps a template for invest for sustaining rather than maximised returns), and to be ready to write-off other’s obligations in season.
So the emphasis is on word Common is what has really stood out for me – making a “common” of our solution-creating capabilities, solving collectively, without gaps, combined and interdependent as one body of actors to ensure the Common Good. And this involves both giving and investing, so that no part of humanity is struggling, but we are all flourishing, whether we have little or much.
By considering the roles of giving and investing, and setting our frameworks for both, we can more appropriately define our objectives, our criteria for action and our measures of success, and we can be more confident in the implications of our below market, venture philanthropy, capital-at-risk vs. capital preservation etc. language and rules.
Confident in the tools and their purposes, we will be better equipped to state “this is how we give to address need and poverty”, and “these are the criteria under which we are comfortable to progress from giving into investing”, and “this is how we take care to ensure that our destinations and methods of investing do not create situations and externalities which result in more poverty – if our investing results in a need that we then have to give for, we rethink and restructure for The Common Good”.