I’ve recently returned home from fincon. Fincon is a big conference held in the states and it was in Washington DC this year, a place I had not yet visited. Given I also had a Canadian and American holiday planned, it seemed a no brainer to attend. And so I arranged my holiday with fincon at the end.
Fincon promotes itself as a financial media conference. And there were representatives from lots of financial services and media firms in abundance. But it was light on politics. Now, given the polarisation across both sides of the pond with politics nowadays, this doesn’t instinctively see like a bad decision.
But money is political.
How to define political?
Before I label things as political, what does the word political mean?
A dictionary gives the following definition:
- Relating to the government or public affairs of a country.
- Relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics.
- Interested in or active in politics.
- Motivated by a person’s beliefs or actions concerning politics.
- Done or acting in the interests of status or power within an organization rather than as a matter of principle.
From this definition, you can see the meaning is broad. Government and public affairs cover most of the ways we live our lives. Laws and legislation cover our basic needs such as water, food and shelter. They also are integral in healthcare and education. And then taxation. An area where people have many different beliefs and proposals, again ultimately controlled by the government.
So I believe we can use the word political, more than that one day every so often when you cast your vote.
The original thought piece
I like different takes, and was surprised to find this opinion in the Washington Post that I agreed with. It’s not unexpected that this got a myriad of reactions. Some people wholeheartedly in agreement, others aghast that people wanted their sacred fincon to evolve.
Ultimately, I love the personal finance sphere’s moto personal finance is personal. Although I also find the implication that you alone are in control of your own destiny problematic.
The world is unfair and unequal
And I hope no one disagrees with the statement above.
I was born to a middle-class family in the UK – and thus have so many more options in life than a baby born to a family scraping by in a war zone. There are certain indicators that can accurately predict your future income level and affluence. Simply put your parent’s background indicates more than your individual intelligence. There are structural barriers all around that prevent people from thriving and succeeding in life. Some of these barriers we can see, others are more hidden.
Your money is linked to politics
How much money you have is directly linked to policies your countries politicians have agreed. I’d argue the Duke of Westminister hasn’t done much other been born a boy to deserve his billion-pound fortune. His wealth is directly connected to politics, and how laws have been influenced to allow his estate to continue as is.
For working and middle classes, laws dictate minimum wages and how much of our incomes we need to give back in tax. And tax policy is used to influence our behaviour with money. The government incentives actions it wants people to take with tax relief. Individuals think they are playing the system and winning – but is the tail wagging the dog or the dog wagging the tail?
And politics is linked to money
This is where it gets messy in my view. If you are lucky enough to have money, you can influence politics more and more. You can attempt to move the rules to benefit you even more. Scandals erupt year after year where politicians and political parties were seen to take money from dubious sources.
Fincon was very inclusive
Back to the topic of fincon itself. My main impression of the event was that, without a doubt, it was very inclusive. Everyone (that bought a ticket, natch) was welcome to attend. Moreover, you were greeted warmly and made to feel welcome everywhere.
It’s probably not a surprise that my political beliefs are on the other side of the spectrum of the fincon organiser. Yet this was not an issue at all. I hosted a financial feminist community event which was approved onto the main schedule.
Fincon political content
On the other hand, one of my main criticisms of fincon was how the vast majority of the sessions had a clear profit motivation and theme. They were politically very libertarian. Hence they did not appeal to me or many people like me.
Ultimately, we used fincon as an excuse to get in the same place and meet like-minded people. And we had those political talks in small groups on the side. In the lobby, in the pool and just hanging out.
Conference organisers hold the cards
At the end of the day, if you take the risk to run the conference, you can choose the program. You can veto talks you find too distasteful or concerning. And to be honest, I feel this is fair. If you shoulder the burden, you deserve some serious privileges and control of the event. Thus there were no political discussion or issues discussed on stage at fincon.
But there is a gap in the market for politics and money to be discussed
Personally I heard quite a few conversations around this on the floor at fincon. How people were looking for a money conference that was wide-ranging and inclusive. Where we could have panels debating different approaches.
If we all accept money is political, the personal finance community can certainly help people with the personal bit – but that still leaves a societal gap. There are lots of issues to discuss that need a structural change and political muscle to nudge along.
Capitalism 201: Evolve or be challenged?
So, what will happen next? I would personally like to see fincon evolving. Allowing more wide-ranging talks. Companies now balance shareholder return alongside environmental concerns and social responsibility. Much more than lip service is given to a companies reputation. As ultimately a bad reputation can impact the bottom line.
In conclusion, if enough people want a financial conference with some political talks the market will no doubt provide it. I know I certainly would love to attend an event with environmental talks, equality and social responsibility discussion panels. Perhaps this will be a future fincon agenda or another conference?
Over to you
- What are your thoughts?
- Politics and money – how linked do you feel they are?
- Do you think fincon should be more political?