Money and How You Spend It

There was a weird point about ‘political capital’ George W. Bush kept making after he won the 2004 election: he had it (via beating Kerry) and he was going to spend it. A non-sensical notion outright, talking about political capital this way always seemed like one of those things he didn’t understand – to which we can now add painting – whose utilization in this case was not only inappropriate but ultimately futile. Recall that he was going to used his to privatize Social Security. Amazing.

For some reason this comes to mind with the news that the half-billion dollars spent in anti-Obamacare advertising has actually led to increased enrollments in the program.

Divestment is almost political capital in reverse; you have little or no political momentum whatsoever, and so you resort to your next best, perfectly legitimate weapon in a capitalist system  becomes making a moral distinctions about how you spend your money. It might be one of the only uses of morality relevant in a capitalist system, but we’ll leave that to Adorno. The Unitarian Universalist Association, however, have decided to exercise their full rights:

An overwhelming number of the 2,000 delegates present at the meeting voted to approve the resolution. But some did raise concerns about the influence the divestment movement actually has on companies. “Some people said that disinvestment is ineffective because it doesn’t actually affect companies,” Tim Brennan, Chief Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer, told us. “But it’s not about affecting the companies as much as it is about making a strong moral statement.

This a very political use of capital. Identifying Carbon Tracker 200 companies is an aggressive attempt to inform and speed the divestment movement. Just like physicians and insurance companies were within their rights to spend in the service of protecting the status quo, so to are groups seeking to upend the fossil fuel economy. Will it work? Can the moral case be made? Past attempts can be instructive.