I’m a financial journalist, I write about pension funds and their role in funding a huge range of industries, and I believe they have grown to become the most significant contributer to collapse.
At the end of last year pension funds in the 22 biggest markets were worth a record $36.4 trillion. And all of this money is looking for that magic word – growth. As people who understand collapse issues know, infinite growth and the pressures it puts on the planet is, at some point, going to be largely incompatible with continued civilised society.
The most dangerous aspect of a pension fund is its very mission – to chase “liability-linked” growth. What that means is they are investing for growth in 30 years, hoping they can ensure the 30-something today has that yacht when he is 60-something. And by actively promoting future growth, they are funding the collapse conditions running into the future.
At the moment I’m writing a lot about agriculture, and I see an increasing number of pension funds establishing specialised agri-business teams to invest either directly or through fund managers in farmland, timber, beef, dairy and fertiliser companies. And the model they promote is blunt: buying up adjoining parcels of land (that were often smaller family run farms) and converting them into industrial mono-culture farms (often chasing the latest cash crop – almonds are a big favourite at the moment), with a heavy reliance on fossil-fuel based feed (for animal farms) fertiliser, pesticide and herbicide inputs. For meat, dairy, timber or crops that are then transported all around the world.
And when they are not investing in agri, they are of course heavily investing in any industry, country or company which promises future growth, including mining and fossil fuel companies. And despite their CSR, ESG, etc strategies, there is no sustainable approach to sourcing growth. The endless hunt for long-term growth (which of course is not long-term at all) ensures our actual long-term undoing.
The strange thing is the almost complete absence of debate, even within the concerned community, about the role of pension funds in promoting an out-dated system of growth which funds not only ecological degradation but which breeds huge societal inequities. Why? Because we simply can’t imagine a different way of saving for the future? Because to question the role of pension funds is to question the entire structure of the system. Without pension funds investing in the future activities of companies, fund managers, banks, it all collapses.
On a related note, it’s also going to mess people up when the good times they were saving for turn out not to be so good. It’s no good having half a million in retirement funds waiting to be spent when society is failing. That’s going to be a lot of unfulfilled expectations, and I don’t expect that will take us anywhere good politically, or societally.