How to invest in the solidarity economy

Personal disinvestment in oppression.

Step 1: Consider your current investment choices

It is high-time for individuals — particularly those in “the 20%” (top quintile by either income or assets) who self-identify as “progressive” — to put their money where there mouth is.

That vast majority of Americans with financial assets choose to invest in the stock and bond markets, either directly or indirectly via pooled investment vehicles like mutual funds and ETFs.

It’s something you probably don’t think much of. You’ve an emergency fund in a deposit account with a major bank, and the extra goes into a brokerage account. You may even think to yourself, “what’s the harm?”

The bad news is that every dollar you invest in the status quo stock and bond markets, supports an oppressive global system that structurally marginalises and exploits people, against whom you have no ill will. The further from prevailing power group of affluent, white, straight, protestant and male — the worse-off.

The good news is that it doesn’t need to be this way. The good news is that you — yes you, not “the powers that be” or some mythical other — can choose a more ethical path forward. You can choose solidarity over oppression. And I’m going to teach you how.

Step 2: Choose an asset allocation to solidarity investment, e.g. 10%

Investing in solidarity and disinvesting in oppression is not an all or none proposition. You can start small; for example, a mere 10% allocation of your investable financial assets.

This solidarity investment allocation can then be sub-divided between various solidarity asset classes.

Step 3: Understand “market rate” financial return

The “market rate” is based on the financial returns to oppressive investment. This “market rate” is predicated upon exploitation and appropriation from non-capital stakeholders: labour, land (natural resources) and community.

While some solidarity investments may yield financial returns comparable to oppressive investments, this should not be expected. Fair financial returns are achievable in solidarity investing, but the “market rate” of oppressive investment is an unreasonable benchmark.

Oppressive investments have but one measure: financial return. Non-financial returns are usually highly negative, and usually borne by others. For example, when a large oil & gas company reaps billions in profits for its capital owners, it is not accounting for the negative non-financial impacts of environmental destruction and disempowerment of local communities.

Solidarity investing on the other hand, yields both non-financial and financial returns. The financial return can be expressed similarly to oppressive investment, for example a yield (debt-like solidarity investments), IRR (internal rate of return) or a multiple (equity-like solidarity investment).

Non-financial return on the other hand, doesn’t have a single metric. It can be expressed in many ways: greener communities, education/training opportunities, a more culturally rich community, etc. It’s important to remember that just because a monetary value cannot be easily assigned to non-financial return, does not negate its impact. Is there a price for a habitable planet (clean air/water/land) and shared prosperity in the face of vast material abundance?

The “market rate” financial return you appropriate via oppressive investment is due in-large part to unethical and destructive business practices. Practices that systematically concentrate economic benefit into a few “wealthy” hands, those of the capital “owners”, at the expense of other stakeholders: labour, land and community.

While the financial return may be appealing, the non-financial returns are often very negative, because they aren’t considered costs to the company and are therefore of no consequence to capital. The quest for financial return to capital, and its consequences of appropriation and exploitation are not an accident. In the US, it is the law of the land that directors and management are beholden to capital, and must act in the best financial interest of capital.

Step 4: Understand solidarity investment classes

There are three main investment classes within the solidarity economy:

  • Grants
    - Non-financial return: High 
    - Financial return: None (-100%)
    - Risk: Low-Moderate
  • Debt-like
    - Non-financial return: Moderate 
    - Financial return: Low-Moderate
    - Risk: Low-Moderate
  • Equity-like
    - Non-financial return: Moderate-High
    - Financial return: Moderate-High
    - Risk: Moderate-High

These three investment classes have different characteristics in their returns.

Grants

A grant, or donation if you prefer the term, has a financial return of -100%. From the view of maximising financial return on financial capital, the typical oppression investment perspective, this is a bad investment. The entire investment amount is forfeit in financial terms However, the non-financial return can be enormous.

Take for example a $500 grant/donation to the Massachusetts Bail Fund, an organisation that posts cash bail so that presumed-innocent individuals pending charge or trial, need not be imprisoned due only to their inability to pay. The non-financial returns are manifold: making a political statement about the injustice of the cash bail system, enabling a fellow human being the dignity to continue their normal lives while awaiting charge or trial, decreasing the number of incarcerated Americans, avoiding the life-long detriment of an innocent man pleading guilty just to get out of jail, etc.

Examples of grant/donation investment for non-financial return include non-profit organisations, community organisations and religious institutions.

Debt-like

Debt-like solidarity investments may yield both non-financial and financial returns. A typical oppressive debt investment would be corporate bond. In its simplest form, a corporation borrows a principle, and agrees to pay-back the principle plus interest at an agreed upon date or on an agreed upon schedule.

For example, Raytheon, a US defense contractor, issues debt with financial yields (YTM) ranging from 2–4% financial yield [1]. An oppression investor wouldn’t consider the very negative non-financial return. Raytheon weapons systems, such as the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, are used to kill and maim civilians, including children [2].

Consider instead a solidarity investment like the CERO (Composting and Recycling Worker Cooperative), who issued debt via a DPO (direct public offering) with a financial yield of 4%. The non-financial returns are plentiful: empowering workers via cooperative ownership, directly contributing to a greener community by reducing landfill waste, reduced non-organic fertilizer consumption by local farmers, etc.

Examples: Social enterprises, Cooperatives (particularly those with hard assets like equipment or real estate)

Equity-like

Akin to debt-like investment, equity-like solidarity investment may yield both non-financial and financial returns. With debt, interest is due at a fixed date or a fixed schedule. This can be difficult if a company doesn’t have predictable cash flows, or if cash would be better spend reinvesting in the business.

In oppression investing, equity holders “own” the company. For a simple example, if you hold 80% of the equity of a company, you get 80% of the votes. If you hold 0.00001% of the company, you get 0.00001% of the votes. By definition, oppression investing serves the interest of capital “owners” at the expense of those who don’t have a seat at the table: labour, land and community.

Let’s take an example of oppression investing in the US stock market. Vanguard offers a mutual fund that invest in the largest US corporations via an index called the S&P 500 [3]. When you buy-into this mutual fund, you become, by proxy, an owner of companies such as Monsanto and Philip Morris.

Alternatively, you could choose solidarity investment, e.g. as a investor in your local cooperative investment club. Your investment is pooled, like an oppression economy mutual fund; however, rather than becoming capital owners by proxy in unethical business, you support the solidarity economy via investment in social enterprise, housing, worker and platform cooperatives.

Unlike oppression investment in equity, equity-like solidarity investment usually doesn’t claim long-term “ownership” of an enterprise. Rather, the equity-like investment may claim a percentage of profits for a fixed period of time, or have flexible repayment up to a multiple of the investment amount. Voting is also not tied directly to capital “ownership.” For example, your cooperative investment club could make an equity-like investment in a worker cooperative that would repay up to 3x the investment amount over 10 years; however, voting and control would remain with cooperative: one worker, one vote.

Step 5: Select specific investments

Like oppression investment, beginners in solidarity investment would be advised to start with pooled investments.

As you gain experience, consider direct investment. Options include:

Grant/Donation

There is so much injustice in the world, that there is more than enough to go around. Whether you choose to redress educational, economic, housing discrimination, or judicial/legal injustice — pick your poison. What non-financial return matters the most to you?

Debt-like

Loads of options for debt-like pooled investment. These organisation invest in cooperatives of all types (worker, housing, platform), social enterprises and non-profits.

Equity-like

Unfortunately, for individual investors, there are fewer options for equity-like investments in the solidarity economy.

Other

Conclusion

There is no natural law that dictates that the great material abundance of the world should accrue to the few hands of capital, as opposed to the many — our workers, our shared home, our community. By investing in the solidarity economy, your dollars are helping redress injustice and oppression, in its many forms.

To bind yourself to the status quo, is to bind yourself to oppression.

Choose to invest in solidarity. Our futures, and the dignified futures of generations to come, depend on your choice.