When princes meet!!!(A)
In these trying times, as investment professionals, we follow the volatile, nervous market, attempting to keep emotions out of the process of financial analysis. Emotional reactions are the bane of successful investing, and in these times emotions run high. This is a time when we share our clients’ despair over the seeming inevitability of war, the assault on environmental laws, the de-funding of many progressive organizations, encroachment on consumer and human rights protection, and on and on. It is a time when personal peace is attained best by turning off the news and taking a long walk in a natural setting. I have taken a lot of walks lately.
As Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and the war have monopolized the headlines for a year and a half, much has been happening at home and abroad that, in more normal times, would cause alarm. People are distracted and afraid, so it’s easy to forget other issues as the armies build.
There is some good news. Ironically, staying on track as an investment professional is made easier because the activist members of the socially responsible investment community have gained a great deal of new support (courtesy of Enron and others of the ilk) and are pressing ahead with record numbers of shareholder dialogues. On the sustainability front, CERES and the GRI move along with enormous global support, defining new metrics to measure a company’s human rights record even as armies gather in the Middle East. Compensation and other governance issues are being debated and won, and the S.E.C. passed a watershed rule requiring mutual funds to disclose their votes on proxies to their shareholders.
And on another front, I just returned from a Responsible Wealth conference in Seattle. Bill Gates, Sr., is working with Chuck Collins and the Responsible Wealth staff, as part of United for a Fair Economy, to battle the regressive tax reforms, extravagant executive pay, and other legislative initiatives that they see benefiting corporations and the already wealthy even as they place a greater burden on the middle class and the poor. This is very hopeful work, all undertaken in the name of fairness, compassion and sharing.
But progress on the corporate social front notwithstanding, the sad and frightening war drums still beat in the background of all we do. Over ten years ago, as the first Gulf War came upon us, we included a song by Tom Paxton in an issue of our newsletter. Hearing the song recently brought tears to my eyes again.
When Princes Meet
Tom Paxton, 1973
When princes meet, the poor little men must tremble.
In judgment seat, they speak of their wars – while great armies assemble.
Their armor shines to shame the sun – they move like gods they do resemble,
All bow their necks to iron feet when princes meet.
When castles rise, the poor little men must build them.
To charm the skies, they throw up the turrets where the great lords will them.
They dig the dungeons from the earth – and their brothers, wives and children fill them.
All those below cast down their eyes when castles rise.
God save the king! For he grants us leave to serve him.
His praises sing! And grant that we may deserve him.
Who counts the cost? The cattle and the men to be lost?
Tis no small thing, to serve a king.
When kings make war, the poor little men must fight them.
They must do more; they hold out their necks for great lord’s swords to bite them.
The sons of lords cleave through their ranks – in the hope some warrior king might knight them.
It’s what the poor little men are for, when kings make war.
Hide your cattle in the woods, Francois, the lord is looking your way.
Hide your women and your goods, Francois, they’re coming around to make you pay.
Hide if you can, poor little man, think of a prayer to say.
Hide if you can, poor little man, and think of a prayer to say.