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Money is Political – so did we talk politics at fincon?

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:

political (adjective)

  1. Relating to the government or public affairs of a country.
    1. Relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics.
    2. Interested in or active in politics.
    3. Motivated by a person’s beliefs or actions concerning politics.
  2. 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

Why the World of personal finance needs more politics.

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.

Ms ZiYou borders

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?

Thank you for reading – please leave a comment below and join in the conversation. You can also connect on Twitter or contact me privately.

25 comments on “Money is Political – so did we talk politics at fincon?

  1. Hi Ms ZiYou,
    come to FIWE (financial independence week Europe) next time! We had discussions and workshops about the environment, making an impact (FI for impact), and lots of inspiring people with great ideas and experiences in this field.

    I agree with you that money and politics are closely linked to each other (probably in the US even more than in the EU).
    Thanks for this interesting article. Will share it on FIREhub.eu
    Noemi

  2. Hi Ms ZiYou, and welcome back! Full disclosure, I’ve never been to FinCon. That said, do you think part of the issue with FinCon trying to stay away from politics is also that most of the attendees are American? Meaning, it seems to me (as a French-American who used to teach for a living, i.e. met a LOT of young Americans over the years) many Americans just don’t know enough about politics to feel comfortable discussing it. For example, I bet 80% of Americans don’t know the differences between a social-democrat, a socialist, a communist, or a Marxist. For many Americans, these are all synonyms that mean, essentially, Chavez! A lot of it is due to a deep lack of civic education and/or world history in public schools. I think Europeans (well, at least the French in my experience) are much more willing to discuss politics because 1) they understand the nuances better, and 2) the stakes are lower (very little risk of being shot for offending someone, for example). I completely agree with you that money is tied to politics, and am very sad that the American FIRE community doesn’t discuss it – though given how divided the country is, I can’t say I blame them.

    1. Hi FF – I do think you have some of the reasons that people in America don’t like talking about politics – that it’s not culturally normal or well understood. Oh, yeah – the guns don’t make disagreeing with people any easier.

  3. Interesting insights on FinCon Ms ZiYou. I’m really interested in the interaction of politics and finance. I think when it comes to retirement planning it’s pretty impossible to separate them. In terms of socio-political issues such as privilege etc, I’ve always been a bit too much of a coward to weigh into the debate too heavily on Twitter etc, but I still like reading about what others have to say.

    The personal finance community needs to keep evolving and staying relevant, which generally means evolving with the politics of the time. There’s only so many neutral articles about investing in tracker funds or reducing your grocery expenditure one can read or write!

    1. Thanks FF – I agree that the intersection of politics and finance is fascinating – and impossible to separate in real life. And yes, it will be cool to see how the community evolves with time.

  4. I think the political landscape is relevant to personal finance and is often covered by blogs. I’m thinking of health coverage (in the USA), state pension entitlement (social security in the USA), taxation provisions, and student debt arrangements. The cost of housing and housing as an investment (buy to let) has become a political issue. Ethical and environmentally friendly investment approaches can also be political choices. If you are suggesting that FinCon and personal finance blogs should debate and argue for changes to this political landscape then arguing for better personal finance education is in my view an obvious issue to start with.
    The FIRE movement is still a small niche and I suggest that those individuals pursuing FI will mostly want to concentrate on what they can change, i.e. their personal situation, rather than the wider political landscape which they may think they can’t change.

    1. Thanks gettingminted for sharing your thoughts. For what it’s worth I don’t think my financial education was that bad – it’s a compulsory subject here and taught reasonably well.

        1. Ah you are English? The rest of the UK follows different curriculums. When I went to a comprehensive school in the nineties it was already included between Maths, PSE and Economics.

  5. What a thoughtful, thought-provoking, and honest post.

    I feel like I can’t openly say what I really think about this topic because I’m afraid I’ll get criticized by a lot of people, but the lack of “political talk” at FinCon is one reason I didn’t – and probably won’t – go. I understand that FinCon is purportedly about media and money, and the organizers don’t want to venture into messier topics that don’t directly apply. However, FinCon also encourages people to attend for the social aspect… so… it isn’t really just a media and money conference. It already exceeds those confines. Because of the wide popularity of FinCon, the opportunity is there to do something even more meaningful and impactful.

    Anyway, I do strongly agree that there needs to be some kind of conference or workshop that addresses the sociopolitical issues associated with finance. I would pay to attend that gathering.

    1. Hi $76k – firstly I do think it’s worrying that you can’t openly say what you think. I do think the world is always improved by open and honest dialogue.

      I’d also love to see an event that is inclusive and debates the sociopolitical issues with money. There is so much to unpack and so much that needs to change and evolve to meet the demands of the modern world!

  6. One of the more frustrating things of the polarisation of politics nowadays is that the apparent decline of actual debate. Time and again, I’ve responded to a discussion point with peer reviewed links and the original poster simply restates their original position. There’s no challenge or shifting of ground or even an attempt to understand or listen to another point of view. In such a context, keeping politics out, while narrowing the usefulness of any discussion, might be a blessed relief.

    In addition, it seems to me that with the US (compared to us Europeans) everything is shifted to the right and political education – especially on alternatives – is even sorrier than here. You might as well be speaking a foreign language in many cases as the fish know little or nothing about the water they swim in.

    That said, money is inherently political. It’s one of the primary tools of state control over the populace and books like Richistan make it clear that the ultra-wealthy want to buy political influence or even stand themselves!

    1. Hey Greencat – I agree that polite debate and hence understanding of areas where people disagree is hard to find now. And since the dialogue we have is so tense, people are tuning out everywhere. I do also agree that the uber-rich are buying influence which seems like a self perpetuating circle.

  7. Wow a conference in DC. Very nice. I disagree with your views on wealth. Your one woman mission to change the world is a common one. Most of social media has the same evangelism. The SJWs are very vocal but I think the silent majority still is centre right, hence elections often going the “wrong” way. Attempting to redistribute this will ultimately harm the 99 percent, as seen in Venezuela and socialist Hollande in france. Corbyn may be elected next month and we may have the same experiment here too.

    1. Hi Adam – I do like hearing your views, especially as they are quite different from mine.

      I do agree the silent majority is in the centre, but I think they float centre-left (Tony Blair’s New Labour) to centre-right (David Cameron’s Conservatives) depending on how much they like / hate the current government. Yet both Corbyn and Johnson are alienating them at the moment in different ways, so it’s hard to tell where they will land.

      And I’m much more for a Norway model than Venezuela.

  8. I like hearing your views as well, hence I follow this site. I can’t help being triggered sometimes though so apologise if I sound like a troll.

  9. Interesting report. FinCon isn’t something I’ve ever fancied – Comic Con is probably more my cup of tea, if I’m going to spend money flying over to the US!

    Money and politics are inextricably entwined – I do think that we get cocooned in our little FIRE community so many of us will have some similar views – or is that because no one wants to obviously rock the boat with their ‘outlandish’ views? Your blog is one of the few that does touch upon the political.

    Sadly, intelligent debate outside of our community can be hard to find – people state their opinions as if they are fact or just troll to kill discussion.

    1. Hi Weenie – I wouldn’t have you down as a Comic Con fan – it does look fun!

      I know I for one am guilty of being cocooned in the FIRE world and just take some of our principles as common sense and assume everyone does them.

      Your final point is so true – so many people view try to present their opinions as facts and the line is very narrow sometimes.

      1. Been to loads of Comic Cons in the past – in the UK that is, not THE Comic Con in San Diego! No, I’m not into Cos-play or dressing up as a superhero but very much still into comics, gaming and sci-fi/fantasy.

  10. ”The world is unfair and unequal
    And I hope no one disagrees with the statement above.’ I think some would – or at least disagree that this is an issue and / or needs resolving – I am drafting a blog post on this – many of us see all our achievements as completely our own – little to do with luck or good fortune – I think we should talk more about politics, wealth building, equality – this is why I like blogs and podcasts such as Meaningful Money and Money To the Masses – where knowledgeable industry experts recognise that the Financial Services Industry focus on getting the rich richer – but by providing their content free are doing something about it – its redistribution of knowledge for wealth building.

What do you think?