Poetry seems to be rather difficult to define. Traditionally, the term refers to literary works with distinctive style and rhythm that somehow evoke intense emotion; therefore, what is considered to be poetry is as varied as the people who read it. To me, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is poetry. This work, the first reading for many new students in the history of economic thought, fuses the wisdom of human psychology and economics into a cohesive vision for the potential for capitalism. It is beautiful and poetic, particularly in our times of severe economic and geopolitical turmoil.
I would suggest that the discipline of “sustainable investing” is also poetry. Considering the definition of poetry noted above, I’m reminded of “The Road Not Taken,” written by Robert Frost in 1915. Just as Frost urged us to wonder what would have happened had we chosen an alternate direction, investors and analysts should consider what would happen if they, too, took a different path for the capital markets and started asking the world’s business leaders different questions.
What if on Wall Street conference calls, instead of inquiring about the most recent quarterly earnings report and stock-price volatility, analysts asked longer-term questions about the material impact of the effective utilization of scarce resources, efforts toward better labor relations and employee engagement, and practices of good corporate governance?
What if incentivization programs within investment banks, asset management groups and wealth management companies, as well as all the other components of the capital markets ecosystem, were all aligned toward optimizing long-term performance outcomes? What if those in any role of authority had the courage of conviction to hold accountable, from top to bottom, those employed toward stewarding the world’s financial capital?
In his famous poem, Frost wrote:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.
To me, this change in the course of investment inquiry would be poetry. This would be the road less traveled. This road could be the path for the future of capitalism. This path could be the poetry of the most powerful system for raising the world’s standard of living that history has ever known.