Use a Bot to Make Ethical Investments


A new company, OpenInvest, wants you to use its bots to make your monetary life more ethical. A very popular way to invest in the market is to use index funds, which are a smorgasbord of stocks which will hopefully rise with the stock market as a whole. Most people don’t control what’s in their index fund because it’s managed by a large firm. However, OpenInvest (and others) want you to design your own index fund based on your morals. The fund is created by answering questions and proclaiming what you don’t want to invest in (like arms or mining). The service is only available in the USA at the moment so let’s hope that competitors pop up proving ethical investing like this.

But instead of buying stocks through index funds, as the other robos do, OpenInvest uses individual stocks. Users click through a series of menus to create an “issue profile,” checking boxes to select investment themes—such as gender equality or reduced carbon emissions—as well as groups of companies to exclude. The preset screens lean left. Users can nix weapons manufacturers, tobacco companies, and even those whose executives have backed Donald Trump.

Based on those preferences, OpenInvest creates a basket of more than 60 stocks that both jibes with its customers’ wishes and should, the company says, track the broader market. It balances factors such as size, sector, and each stock’s sensitivity to the market’s ups and downs. OpenInvest says it’s still passive because beating the market isn’t a goal.

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What Will We Think of the Banks in Years to Come?

IN this TED talk, Michael Metcalfe wonders how will we look back on banks in the future. Will we think of the banks as an unethical industry that contributed greatly to climate change or as a tool that can be used to help the environment.

Will we do whatever it takes to fight climate change? Back in 2008, following the global financial crisis, governments across the world adopted a “whatever it takes” commitment to monetary recovery, issuing $250 billion worth of international currency to stem the collapse of the economy. In this delightfully wonky talk, financial expert Michael Metcalfe suggests we can use that very same unconventional monetary tool to fund a global commitment to a green future.

Ontario to Test Basic Income

Basic income is the idea that people will have enough money to live (food and shelter) regardless of their employment status. Manitoba tried this decades ago and it worked, but was cancelled for political reasons. A basic income is needed now more than ever since robots are going to take all the jobs. Plus, inequality is growing at an alarming rate and we need policies that help stymie this growing disparity in wealth.

Let’s hope this trial run in Ontario is another success!

The general concept is that the government would ensure that all citizens have enough income to cover basic needs. One option for such a program is for the government to set a basic amount, such as $18,000 a year, and people whose income is less could receive payments to bring them up to that level.

“We will be testing the potential of a basic income to determine if it will provide more consistent support to clients, streamline the delivery of income support, and achieve savings in other areas, such as health and housing supports,” Ms. Jaczek said.

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A Way to Think About Digital Currency Replacing Cash

Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and other digital currencies are shaking up how the internet thinks about money. In turn, this has forced countries and large institutions to rethink how money works and who claims to have control over it. Perhaps it’s time for the decentralized blockchain-systems to replaced by a robot-controlled centrally-backed system. Or, at the very least, let’s think about it.

Currently, coins and paper notes are the only state-issued money available for use by you and me; the vast bulk of what we normally call “money” is a deposit with a bank. Up to a limit (currently €100,000 in Europe), this is state-backed in the sense that the government guarantees that it will be available for spending no matter what happens with the bank. Even this is surprisingly recent. On the eve of the financial crisis, the pan-European limit was much lower and EU law explicitly prohibited deposit insurance schemes from being backed by the state (they had to be industry-funded schemes).

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It’s Not Environment Versus Economic Prosperity

Amazingly, there are people who think that environmental protection will cause economic calamity (bankers seem to be good at causing economic collapse all on their own). This old way of thinking still impacts policy and other decisions made around the world. In order to put this archaic notion away, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation’s latest initiative is a year of blogging about how economic and environmental success go hand in hand.

Their first post on the matter is about how the perception of the environment as an asset to economic prosperity.

People often talk about “economic value,” “ecological value,” and “social value” as if they were separate things. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As the discussion above makes clear, the “value” or “benefit” we are talking about here is the contribution to sustainable human well-being. None of these elements (ecological, social/cultural, economic) are mutually exclusive; that is, none can make a contribution to that goal without interacting with the others.

What we can ask is: what is the relative contribution of, for example, natural capital to sustainable human well-being, in combination with other forms of capital (built, human, social), in a particular context?

We have to look at these things in context and as part of an integrated, whole system of humans embedded in cultures, which are, in turn, embedded in the rest of nature.

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