What are you and your friends talking about most: climate change, impeachment, social injustice, the economy? These are important issues, and they aren’t alone considering soil depletion, extinction events, and various – oh, you can probably fill in with your own list. (Hey, that’s one reason there is a Comments section. Keep it clean, eh?) Check social media and maybe get a different perspective. At least my YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter feeds come with sidebars listing the top topics. The differences are something to keep in mind as I manage my personal finances.
It is easy to think that the things that are affecting governments or the planet should be top priority. If that was the case, encouraging wise financial policies or investing in renewable energy would make the most sense. Find smart banks, or companies that are installing solar panels. They should be in demand, and eventually getting priced at a premium. I’ve quit investing in banks. Their finances are too byzantine. I’ve invested in energy efficiency companies; but the solar power company basically evaporated, and the one that promises to “do for electric cables what fiber optics did for phone lines” hasn’t done much.
So, what are people caring about the most, or at least, which topics get the most attention?
The lists change every second but the common concepts are: entertainment, sports, celebrities. So much for global considerations.
- climate changes,
- injustices prevail,
- and institutions wither.
People still spend time and money on
- buying things that others say they need
- watching other people play sports because others told them to
- pursuing comforts for themselves and not necessities for others.
Some are distracting themselves from news they don’t want to hear. Can you blame them? For them, it is easy to spend hours on Sunday watching football (regardless of whether the football is round or oblong.) If someone spends that much time watching documentaries or political debates they’re labeled weird. What’s weirder: sitting on a sofa watching young millionaires run around on artificial grass in an artificial stadium, or better understanding the dramas played out in the real world?
Bread and circuses was a term Romans used about how to distract the public during difficult times. The Roman Empire may fall? Appease the people. Concentrate on food and a show, and they have less time for contentious issues, which makes them less likely to do anything about them. Good thing that didn’t undermine the empire. Oh, wait. Well. Hmm.
Historically, providing necessities haven’t been as profitable as providing luxuries. Bread is a necessity, but in a modern context think more about the ads you see. Salt was important and less available in Roman times. But the greater profits were in the spice trade, and exotic goods like silk (the production of which was kept a secret – really? caterpillar silk? No way.)
Look at how much money is made by the top performers in sports and movies. They make that much because so many people pay attention to them. They’re celebrated. And some celebrities are celebrities because we celebrate the fact that they’re celebrities. And people buy “their” perfume, as if they were actually doing any of the work.
The world needs more efficient energy transmission, but AMSC’s grid products aren’t making them a stellar performer. Solar panels are increasingly popular (Yay!), but Real Goods is no longer a publicly traded provider of those systems. My portfolio would be performing better if I’d held onto my shares of Apple, which now seems to be marketing primarily to a young elite; or held onto my Pixar shares as they were acquired by Disney.
It is hard to buy shares in Greta Thunberg, or a NOAA research crew, or the ACLU. There are organizations that are changing the world. Giraffe Heroes invests in people (from what I can tell.) Newground Social Investment has found ways to use investing to inspire change. They aren’t alone, but a glance at the interests of the majority of the population shows them to be in an undeserved minority.
Personal finance is personal. I’m an advocate for investing in your interests. Your values matter, and investing according to them makes it easier to pay attention to your investments. But, don’t be surprised to find that your friend who buys some “sin stocks” has a portfolio of companies whose products are in greater demand by a larger portion of the population.
The Romans consciously instigated the bread and circuses strategy. Those colosseums weren’t built for practical purposes. Our stadiums are rarely are used for anything useful, maybe fun, but not useful. And the rationale for spending billions of dollars on something discretionary while ignoring larger issues probably isn’t as conscious a decision. For over two thousand years our societies have practiced generating distractions. It is now considered normal.
“Normal” is another way to say common and another way to label the things that attract large crowds, or customer bases. I’ll continue to invest in what I think are positive, disruptive, maybe even necessary companies and their technologies; but I don’t assume they’ll be as popular as sugary drinks, cars built to break the traffic laws, or the next billion-dollar-blockbuster movie. Hopefully, they’ll be good enough. Stay tuned for that.
Personal finance is personal. So are your values. So are your necessities. If you want something to celebrate, celebrate that you can invest accordingly. Just don’t be surprised if there’s a lot larger crowd attracted to something else. (Hello, tailgate parties with beer and nachos!)