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Unselfishness in Plastic

July 20, 1986

The Middle Ages' alchemists were only trying to turn base metals into gold. Modern alchemists have already transformed gold into plastic--and now an outfit in California is changing plastic into good works.

In its own unalloyed words, "Working Assets VISA is a card with a purpose. It's designed for people who care. It's the only credit card that works for peace, human rights and the environment."

And what that means for the card-carrying shopper at I. Magnin or K-Mart is a Working Assets contribution of 5 cents on every credit purchase to Amnesty International, the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood or some other socially active organization. For the first time the two dimensions of materialism and moral purpose merge in the three dimensions of credit-card holography.

Working Assets already operates what it calls a "socially responsible" money fund for people who count the blessings of investment and commitment simultaneously, much like mutual funds that are operated by other firms for similar do-good purposes.

We must respect this latest approach, bringing a higher form of credit to credit cards, even as we await counterexpressions of conscience from borrowers who may champion other causes--say, the defensive investors who might want every nickel sent to nourish lobbyists for the National Rifle Assn. The new alchemy, in its purest form, allows for the performance of the most paradoxical act, changing base acquisition into a small percentage of unselfishness.

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