Published on 1/18/2022
BRIEF Thoughts on Christian Investing
Brief is the emphasized word in the title of this post. The topic of Christian Investing and the moral implications that come with it make up an extremely vast subject that no book or college class could ever fully explore. Stocks, bonds, loans, debt investing, art, land, banks, precious metals, and new and varying digital assets are just some of the many investable assets that are currently available in today’s market. All these different assets have their ethical and financial pros as well as cons. In this short post C3 will attempt to explain Christian Investing in brief and give some takeaways to help the reader be a good steward of their capital.
The Church is thought to have provided little guidance on the ethics of investing, but this is not actually true. The USCCB have produced some pretty sound guidelines on the subject and The Church has been detailed on their treatment of the condemnation of Usury.
For those who do not know…Usury – Taking of excessive interest for the loan of money is a common understanding of usury. Usury for much of human history was just the idea of taking any kind if interest on a loan. The Catholic Church condemns usury but does not condemn loaning money and receiving interest because money is no longer thought of as a barren commodity (Further reading on the stance of the Catholic Church HERE). (More In-Depth Reading on Usury)
With this information in mind lets dive into some ideas that are relevant to Christian Investing.
- Capitalism and western culture changed the nature of money. In the past money was considered a barren commodity because there was no such thing as money growing via fruitful investments that were available to the public. Capitalism despites its flaws is the best economic system that humanity has come up with because of this change it caused in money. Money went from barren to fruit producing and this had radical effects on everything.
- The economy is not a zero-sum game. This concept was referenced in the C3 post about the Morality of Bitcoin. Some people believe that whenever you make money that means someone else lost money. This can be true in some respect, but it is misleading because it assumes value and money are one in the same. They are not! I lose money when I go out to dinner because I value the food, I will receive more than I value the money it cost to get the food. Also, regarding morality, when I go out to dinner, I have helped other people to make money and be productive (Cook, waiter, restaurant owner, grocery store, truck drivers, etc.…). Those people who I funded by going out to dinner may now patronize my business or place of work. This same concept also applies to investing in the stock market. Another worthwhile point when talking about the zero sum game idea is that just because the disparity in dollar amount between the rich and the poor grows larger does not mean that the poor are more worse off than they were in the past. Some of whom we considered to be “poor” in America have smartphones, cars, and numerous other luxuries. This is not to say that the wealthy shouldn’t be more charitable or that the poor do not have struggles, but things should always be put into their full and proper context. Jeff Bezos has made a lot of money and perhaps he should be more charitable with that money and treat his workers better, but he has created something that others value. Sometimes Value and money are not perfectly aligned. The economy is not a static thing it is an ever-changing thing that is constantly producing. Just because someone is a billionaire does not mean that another person cannot be a billionaire. In 1980 there were 500,000 millionaires and now there is over 20,000,000 millionaires. (Article on the continued increase in millionaires over time.)
- Reaping where you have not sown is not something that most Judeo-Christian minded people would support. Reaping where one has not sown is unethical but outside of theft or a trust fund baby what examples of this can someone provide? Sure, even theft is a bit miscategorized here given that a burglar had to do some work to gain the reward like pick a lock or break a safe. Some would suggest the stock market as reaping where you have not sown, but when you invest in the stock market you are presumably doing your research on what stocks to buy which is work, and you now own stock in the company which comes with risk and the ability to participate in how the company is to operate, at least to some extent. This line of thinking holds true for most assets (Land, Crypto, Gold, Art). When you invest in these volatile assets you are assuming risk and you play a role, sometimes a very small role, in the future value of the asset. More on the stock market below…
Opposing view & Rebuttal: How would you reconcile buying say a Crypto, sitting on it for a while and then selling it for a profit. This would seem that you made money by doing nothing. The response would be…I took risk in purchasing the Crypto, I presumably took time to research the Crypto, and I engaged in wealth creation by funding an asset I thought could be beneficial to society in some way like hedging against inflation and I only sold because I now value something else like a vacation with my family. As you can see a lot of this line of arguing is dependent on the intent of the individual (As is the case with most things). If you saw a chance to change your currency to another form of currency that was better in your eyes both in terms of ROI and ethics, should you not partake just because you will increase your wealth? (This is not an endorsement of Crypto, it is just a line of reasoning C3 is using to point out the flaws in some warped views of reaping where you have not sown.)
Most Ethical TYPES of investing
C3 has spent a great deal of time going through what forms of investing are the most ethical. Below is a list of what C3 analysts think are the best types of ethical investing. Keep in mind that this list is about types of investing not about the individual assets or things that are involved in the types. The individual assets and things within a type all would require their own specific research to determine their ethics.
- Invest in local small businesses (Or start your own). The local Pizza shop, salon, auto body shop or other business venture where you personally know the owner and you come along side to help them grow their business into a success. This is easily the most Judeo-Christian aligned investing practice. It builds community and promotes friendship. Obviously, this type of investing is also the hardest and riskiest. You may not have the time or resources needed to help someone start a new business because you work yourself and have a family to tend to. Also, the chances of new business startups or small businesses failing and not giving you an ROI is high relative to other investing types. This type of investing has extremely high financial risk/reward potential and prudence is a virtue.
- Land. Land is something you can invest in that is safer but still presents risk and gives you the means to facilitate a thriving family and larger community. The problem here is that land is not liquid and can be hard for people with lower net worth’s to get in on.
- The Stock Market. If you have vetted out the companies you want to buy stock in, and they are not engaged in any nefarious activities than the stock market is probably a great way to go for the Morally principled investor. You can engage in genuine risk, you can play a role in company decision making, and you can be invested for the long-term and help build a brand that in addition to giving you a potentially good ROI is also supporting the Common Good. Of course, heavy research is needed if you want to engage in the stock market in an ethical way. Also, things like ETFs and day-trading on the stock exchange are probably not the way to go for the Judeo-Christian investor (Speculation + no ability to participate in company decisions = Bad Ethics).
- Precious Metals (PMs). A lot of people will disagree with C3 on precious metals being ranked lower than the stock Market, and we are sympathetic to this view. However, PMs are an asset that tend to cause people to hoard, and they don’t really enable the individual to be a participant in society like the other assets on this list. Also, the mining of PMs can be very sketchy business (child labor & slave labor in mines, horrible working conditions, and lower-income countries being taken advantage of). Now, PMs obviously play a lot of crucial roles in promoting the common good when used with care (Think energy conductors, shelter, transportation, and technology).
- Cryptocurrencies. This is entirely dependent on what Crypto you are investing in and what your intent behind it is. Obviously Crypto has its ethical flaws like potential idolization, power consolidation (Most value being held by a few key players), and energy consumption but it has its benefits as well like blockchain security, decentralization, and inflation resistance.
We here at C3 hope this post gets you thinking about and acting upon true moral investing principles. Remember that investing comes with a more serious moral culpability then that of spending. Since investing you are always doing from your excess and spending you often do for necessity.
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Looking for more? THIS ARTICLE is a great read on Christian investing principles.