A Sleeping Money Alert

Ethical Markets - R The Blog

by Billie Best, guest blog, Dec. 5, 2010

Although we may pretend at times we live in the 19th Century, my farm and I live in the modern world, and geopolitics directly impact our income and expenses. Each day I follow the news on the radio and the Internet. Then I have long periods of unplugged time when I can reflect on what I’ve learned about the day’s events. The view from the farm is intensely practical and reality-based.

I was driving home from the dog park early in the morning listening to NPR when I heard a program sponsor’s ad for “a sleeping money alert.” Ally Bank, the online bank of GMAC Financial Services, seemed to be saying, “if your money is resting safely in a bank account earning squat for interest, we’ll will help you find a riskier investment that will keep you and your money awake at night.” This even though economists all over the world say global financial markets would improve if Americans saved more of their income. Do we know the difference between save and speculate? The Chinese do.

I decided to learn a little more about Ally Bank. Below are a few paragraphs I copied from their website. Please allow yourself to laugh.

In 1919, we started out as GMAC.

Our job back then was the same as it is today: to fuel the auto industry with loans that help dealers build their businesses, to support vehicle manufacturers with innovative sales programs, and to provide affordable financing to customers wishing to buy a car or truck.

As years turned to decades, we added more products and services like vehicle service contracts, home mortgages and insurance. In 2006, the next chapter was written when GMAC Financial Services became an independent financial services provider.

Then we took a major step forward. In 2008, we transformed into a bank holding company. That action set us on the path that would eventually lead us to Ally Financial — a company focused on understanding customer concerns and providing a better way to do business.

In 2009, we took the market in a new direction with our online retail bank, Ally Bank (Member FDIC). With it, we introduced 24/7 live customer care and an online savings account that has been named best in 2009 by Kiplinger’s and “Best Savings Account” by Money Magazine in 2010.

“A sleeping money alert” makes it seem as though your money is sleeping on the job when it should be working for you — and that is causing you to lose money! As though sleep is a bad thing. As though things can stay in balance without some form of rest. As though money should always be reproducing itself, unlike everything else in Nature which requires a period of rest and renewal. As though money is completely disconnected from natural systems.

But money is the unique creation of humans, and thus an expression of our species’ culture and values. Today, our group portrait isn’t smiling mainly because most of us aren’t getting near enough rest and renewal. Our species is getting really, really cranky. On the farm we need to rest or we get cranky, too. We need to rest on a macro level (shorter days) so we can restore ourselves on a micro level (fewer nervous twitches). Winter is the season for plants and animals to rest. Shorter days allow people more rest. Sleep is a good thing.

I’d like to see a rotten money alert —  an alert to tell us when our money isn’t serving our best interests, our human interests, our social and environmental interests. When is money building wealth by increasing poverty? When is our money being used against us? When is our money merchandizing our nightmares to stoke our fears?

I would like a rotten money alert if Congress extends reduced income taxes for the richest people in American while we’re engaged in two (possibly three) armed conflicts, millions are unemployed and facing the loss of their unemployment benefits, and the numbers of people receiving government food assistance are the highest in our nation’s history.

I would like a rotten money alert for public policies that encourage the globalization of wealth and the localization of poverty. I would like a rotten money alert for the billions of urban poor who can’t survive in rural communities because of the globalization of food, jobs, and natural resources.

I would like a rotten money alert for the Department of Defense budget which fuels a powerful weapons industry by taking money from education, healthcare, and the environment. I would like a rotten money alert for the consolidation of the media that controls the information most Americans receive; the media that numbs us by pimping consumption, and dumbs us with bumpersticker ideas. Money spent to numb us and dumb us is rotten money.

I would like a rotten money alert for the entire bailout of Wall Street, the big banks, and the auto industry. I think it was a mistake to reward the behavior, industries, and financial systems that gifted us this global meltdown of value. I think for less money we could have had a federal tax holiday on personal income tax for every American. We, the people, could have spent the money into the markets we believe in, instead of our government printing money to put in the hands of the lobbyist-industrialists that keep our politicians among the richest Americans. Adam Smith would call Congressional salaries and benefits rotten money.

I would like a rotten money alert for health insurance premiums paid to health insurance companies that guarantee the high price of healthcare by gaming the media with horror stories and tear jerkers about the dangers of a single payer system. Rotten money says forcing people to buy health insurance is the path to universal healthcare. Really? Christmas is coming. What would Jesus do? Would he tell us to buy health insurance, or share our healthcare system with anyone who needs it?

I would like a rotten money alert for all the useless stuff purchased by consumers on Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving Day. We continue to project an image of Americans as gluttons with too much money and never enough stuff. I would like a rotten money alert for all the coal and petroleum that will be burned to light up Christmas decorations on a holiday whose message is Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men. Imagine Santa doesn’t come this year because his reindeer were gassed out by the smoke from your Christmas lights.

I would like a rotten money alert for all the greenbacks we’ve spent trying to feel safe in the world without ever asking ourselves publicly why terrorists do it? Millions of us are afraid of one person willing to blow themselves up in a strategic location without ever asking what would make it worth it for us to do the same. What would be worth sacrificing yourself for? What would make you so hopeless that death was the only way to a better future? What are terrorists fighting for? Just follow the rotten money. Look at the unemployment, lack of public services, illiteracy, and poverty among women in the countries that produce the most terrorists.

Here on the  farm, it’s obvious the only way to cure the pandemic of rotten money is composting. (What is composting but controlled rotting?) Composting converts assets from one purpose to another. It keeps them working by letting them rest while they redefine their purpose and start a new process. The alchemy of composting transforms the end of one life cycle into the beginning of another. It keeps the whole system in balance by integrating consumption and production. Composting is slow and thoughtful. It is sleep on a macro level to enable a paradigm shift on the micro level. Sleep — saving our money and re-dreaming its purpose — is the transition that allows us to restore our values, re-examine our intentions, and reconsider our choices. Seems like now would be a good time to do that.