Monday, September 19, 2005
Jay Goetting reviews "The Challenge To Power" in The Napa Valley Register:
We're running out of time.
And if we don't exercise some control over our investments, start taking some responsibility for decision making and going to the polls, our world could change for the worse.
That's the premise of a new book, "The Challenge to Power: Money, Investing, and Democracy." by Napa investment specialist John C. Harrington. It serves as not only an excellent primer for those looking for socially responsible investing techniques, but it's a platform for Harrington's progressive philosophies that have served him and his various financial ventures well over the past three decades.
Running out of time is a scary premise, but Harrington said, "That's the whole purpose of the book. We're losing democracy."
Without some fundamental change, America -- and, indeed, the world -- may become slaves to giant corporations run amok. Corporate influence is becoming more pervasive, but Harrington says there are still ways to take back control.
Greater access to corporate ballot boxes and making it easier for shareholders to nominate and elect candidates to boards of directors is a good start.
From publisher Chelsea Green's pre-release notes, "'The Challenge to Power' gives the reader strategies to thwart corporate domination of the earth's resources, decentralize and democratize the economy, restore participatory democracy, tame corruption and revitalize community control of our capital. Anybody who has an interest in the health of our democracy must read this book."
Who should care about the issues set forth in Harrington's book? The short answer is everybody. People who invest, people involved in politics, nonprofit groups and environmental individuals and organizations are just some of those who have a stake in the future as the author sees it unfolding.
Harrington called his first book, "Investing With Your Conscience," basically a how-to book. "The Challenge to Power" is broader in its perspective. "That's very important to me," he said, noting more than $2 trillion dollars has been poured into socially responsible investments, much of it in "feel good while doing good" mutual funds.
Harrington founded Working Assets, one of the first SRI firms. He was instrumental in getting investment groups, pension funds and others to stop capital that had been pouring into South Africa when Apartheid was still official national policy.
When the average investor who may have money in a pension fund, public or private, puts down Harrington's book, he'd like to see the reader moved to become more involved in corporate affairs.
"Find out what your pension fund is doing, where they're investing," said Harrington, "then make sure they vote right."
Perhaps most importantly, Harrington believes in local investing. He encourages Napans, for instance, to put their money into local financial institutions and small businesses. "Generally, local and small businesses are more responsive to their investors," he said.
As corporations merge and power becomes more centralized, individual investors have less influence. They can't even affect change on a board of directors under most current corporate by-laws.
"Stalin would have loved our system," said Harrington, adding he sees corporations continuing to merge, but coming up short of becoming monopolies which then subject themselves to greater scrutiny and control. The Wal-Marts and Coca Colas of the world are oligopolies that could evolve to monopolies.
The wine industry is much more diversified despite the mergers and buyouts that frequent our new reports, besides noted Harrington, "It's an agricultural commodity that could be more susceptible to purchase by a large food conglomerate."
To the surprise of few, America's political parties fall into the same bag as huge corporations. The two major parties are controlled by similar, if not the same, interests. "They pretty much homogenize the issues," said Harrington.
Bottom line: Be aware of how you consume and invest, exercise your right to vote and use your money responsibly.
Harrington is about to embark on a master's thesis with the theme, "The Morality of Materialistic Self Interest." It will draw on his expertise in matters financial as well as his studies in philosophy and governance. Perhaps book three will evolve from that along with the changes that continue to occur in the corporate world.
"The Challenge to Power" is being released this month by Chelsea Green Publishing. It is available in both hard-cover and paperback. Harrington heads Harrington Investment with offices in downtown Napa. He plans a national book tour to unveil it later this fall.
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