As the old joke goes, nobody’s getting out of life alive. Keeping our mortality in mind – something most people studiously avoid while shopping, tweeting, and tv watching – has focusing benefits. The Stoics and early Christians knew this, and advised people to “Memento Mori” (“remember you must die”) so that people could remember that a) they didn’t have unlimited time, and b) all problems are inherently temporary.
This insight should inspire us to spend our time on worthy pursuits, and one of the ways to determine someone’s values is to see how they spend their money. I remember the first day of Econ 101 class during my freshman year in college when the professor told us that dollars can be thought of as “votes”, and an economy measures how people “vote” with their money. As the gospel of Matthew famously says, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.
This can extend beyond our consumer purchases to the sorts of companies we work for and the way we invest our money. The creation of 401(k) plans and mutual funds greatly democratized the stock market, so now a bit more than 50% of all families have money in the market. Being mindful of the sorts of companies you’re invested in is difficult but also gives you an opportunity to align your investments with your values.
So it was with disappointment that I read about one of the true titans of the Silicon Valley tech revolution – Marc Andreessen – investing in a newly-created fund focused on so-called “vice” industries – gambling, alcohol, cannibis, sex-tech, tobacco, psychedelics, etc. The fund, named Vice Ventures, has been started by a former Walmart Executive (pausing here to contemplate the irony…), and Andreessen is participating.
“But wait”, you might say, “doesn’t Marc Andreessen have one of the premier funds – Andreessen-Horowitz – in all the world? Why doesn’t he invest in these industries through his own fund?”.
The answer, of course, is that the people investing in Marc’s firm don’t want their money going into industries like this. Also, by hiding his money within someone else’s fund, Marc avoids the shame factor and maintains his membership in Silicon Valley social royalty.
To be sure, there is a strong libertarian streak in the tech world. And many technologies are first employed in the vice industries during their gawky, teenage years. Marc is making this investment knowing that people seldom go broke when preying upon temptation and human weakness.
Marc’s net worth is estimated to be $1.4B, so one can only wonder what he views his purpose in life to be while watching his assets accumulate as his years dwindle. How will he feel when he sees one line in his voluminous financial reports showing a good return because a portfolio company in the Vice fund figured out how to make it easier for poor people to gamble or young people become addicted?
Marc’s not the only one investing in the fund, of course – just the most famous.
None of us has a net worth matching Marc’s (if you do, please contact me). But our time and our assets are every bit as precious as anyone else’s. We decide how we spend those resources while remembering that our time is fleeting. When it’s over for us, all we’ll leave behind is our reputation and the memories of those who truly knew us.