financial independence

Ethics: The New Luxury

I  strive to live an ethical life. Do you?

If not, it’s probably because you can’t afford it.

There are many benefits to living a financially independent life. You don’t have to answer to a boss. You don’t have to lie awake at night worrying about debt. You can travel, spend time on your passions – your time is your own.

You can also afford to buy things that are really important to you. Quality products that last forever. An extended vacation with your family. Just read the blogs, there are many examples.

But there is  one luxury I rarely see mentioned by the FI community: Ethics.

Financial independence allows you to live an ethical life. And the more money you have, the more ethical you can be.

Some Examples

I myself have indulged in several ethical luxuries since achieving financial independence. Luxuries that are not available to the masses. Just to name a few ethical behaviors that can be pretty pricey if you’re strapped for cash:

  • Sustainable eating: I buy free range eggs and avoid farmed salmon. I have a good friend who goes much further – he’s a devout vegan. In fact, he won’t even wear leather. Lucky for him that his former salary as a highly compensated partner in a Los Angeles law firm helps fund this lifestyle. Fresh produce, custom hemp clothing, vegan restaurant meals all come at a price.
  • Ethical employment/careers: I couldn’t imagine working for a cigarette company, or these days, one that sold flavored tobacco vapes, strip-mined coal, or destroyed the rain forest. Fortunately, as a Wharton MBA, I never had to consider making these compromises. Working in a coal mine was for people that had no other choice, not me. So my advice to anyone starting a new career would be to avoid unethical industries – if you can afford to.
  • Climate change sensitivity (e.g., driving a hybrid): I used to drive a Prius electric hybrid. I didn’t care that it cost $5000 more and went from zero to sixty in a minute and a half. I could afford the $5k and had a Porsche in the garage when I felt the need for speed. And now, I can have both sustainability and performance with a Tesla. Its premium price is offset by gas savings after 7 or 8 years. That’s a long wait to see a return, but it’s OK. I can afford it.
  • Impact investing: I don’t invest in gun manufacturers, cigarette companies, or anything the Sackler family owns. And, if all my real estate investments pay off, I may even be able to boycott Google (defense contracting), Home Depot (they build migrant camps), and Facebook (privacy, fake news). When I hit $10m in net worth, I will ask my friends (judgmentally) the about the demographic composition of the boards of the companies they own stock in.
  • Telling the truth: I was always completely open about my background when interviewing for jobs, back in my full time employment days. I always had a clean record, so telling the truth was easy. But if I was a convicted felon, or even had declared bankruptcy…I’m not so sure. If you really, really, need a job and have something to hide, well… the truth can be a pretty costly proposition.

A Historical Context

Although impact investing, veganism, and climate sensitivity are new, the idea of buying morality is not. Back in the Middle Ages, the wealthy could literally erase their sins and make it into the kingdom of heaven by buying indulgences. The transactional nature of sin was more straightforward then, but I imagine today’s world is a little uncomfortable with such a direct connection.

Speaking of old ideas, the process of buying ethics taps into another age old social dynamic: conspicuous consumption. The wealthy used to use clothes, jewelry and other finery to signal their superior financial and social status. Now they use solar panels, electric cars, and sustainable eating to achieve the same ends.

So What?

So you may be asking the point of this post. Well, I hope to highlight two important facts about financial independence and ethics:

  • You can use FI to achieve more than just world travel and the freedom to pursue your dream. You can use it to, in a small way, make the word better (or at least less terrible).
  • But: we should also all recognize that the vast majority of the world does not have the means to live a truly ethical life, i.e., one that does not directly or indirectly hurt, exploit or subjugate another living thing.

One great thing about financial independence is that it allows you to afford a very expensive commodity: ethics. If you’ve got money to spare, by all means, indulge in these luxuriously ethical behaviors. Just don’t judge those that are on the FI path and can’t quite afford them just yet.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank the following bloggers for works that inspired this post:

Mr. Money Mustache: So I Bought an Electric Car

Tim Nash: The Sustainable Economist

What are your pious pleasures? Or have you not socked away enough yet to partake? Tell me about it in the comments below!

2 replies »

  1. This is an awesome piece. I don’t know that ethics are only available to the financially independent, but reducing your reliance on a job that doesn’t align with your beliefs and being able to afford more than just the cheapest option does allow you to live more ethically. When I started managing my money better and getting the debt under control, I was better able to prioritize my ethics with my finances. For me, that’s more important than the fastest route to FI. Thanks for writing, Contrarian!

    • Living ethically is one of the little discussed benefits of financial security. It’s one we should value, but also understand that others may not be able to yet afford such choice. Thanks for sharing your personal experience and glad you liked the piece!

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