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Slow Money

The dollar meets the dirt with "slow money"

Woody Tasch, venture capital investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist, has written a book that is part economic theory, part philosophy and part call for social action. Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008) asserts that a paradigm shift in the business of capitalism is overdue and that stewardship of soil must be at its foundation.

Taking cues and inspiration from the likes of Carlo Petrini (founder of the Slow Food movement), Wendell Berry (poet, essayist, farmer and novelist), Joan Gussow (academic and activist) and Thomas Merton (poet, social activist and author), Tasch analyzes traditional capitalism, connects the dots between the current economic, social and environmental state, and proposes a new economy based on food, farms and fertility.

The irony that this book was written by a successful investor doesn't escape the author. He makes no secret about his challenge of balancing his personal success as part of the current capitalism with a quieter, contemplative life in New Mexico.

Tasch writes that at the heart of our current capitalism is the need for return: return that requires the least amount of investment for the most—and typically quickest—amount of measurable profit. How does a corporation reconcile the mandate to create profit and wealth for its shareholders with the idea that soil preservation, supporting local economies and cultural stewardship are important, yet the benefits have a much slower return and at first glance are intangible?

Tasch suggests that internal rate of return be defined with different parameters, with small businesses and farms as the new model for investing, and that there is more to IRR than a dollar amount. There is the consideration of community, connection and legacy. But he struggles with how to sell the idea to investors and corporations to convince them of the return rate of fresh-tilled earth.

An economy of slow money will be built from the soil up, he says. It will take into consideration the need to rebuild communities and bioregions; provide access to capital for small, independent, locally rooted companies (such as farms); create wealth and opportunity for entities that are contributing to a restorative economy; return significant profits to these entities; and define principles of corporate scale to keep companies true to their restorative mission. It will measure IRR on lessening carbon output, increasing the nutrient content of the soil, growing regionally based food systems and recognizing when enough growth is enough.

One of the epiphanies in the book is the idea of a social and economic Ground Zero. Tasch makes the connection between the real Ground Zero that has resulted in a war on terror and the intangible one—a Ground Zero of economic and social failure. He sees the war on terror as being symptomatic of the "war on terroir"—a war on the connection to the importance of place. He further hypothesizes that Americans struggle with this connection because the county's history is a culture of conquerors (manifest destiny, westward ho, anyone?). The desire to grow, expand and acquire more, more, more has resulted in ethnocentric behaviors. The resulting lack of connection has made American culture one with little appreciation for the global effect of its pursuits and encapsulates the country in a "bubble of the past" instead of looking to the challenges of the future.

Who knew investing could be so philosophical?

Jylle Lardaro is the director of organic industry alliances for New Hope Natural Media in Boulder, Colo.

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