The little question for asset managers is why they earn so much. Buyside pay could soon overtake that of the investment bankers, the traditional “masters of the universe.” But the bigger question is what the industry should do with the $150 trillion it manages.
Negative interest rates show finance has gone postmodern. The system has become self-referential and value-free, in a way that might please cultural theorists. That’s supposed to help the real economy run more smoothly. But it’s risky, high-handed and not fair to savers.
If Greece had its own currency, the country’s crisis would attract little attention. On the contrary, the economic news from Athens would be all too familiar to followers of countries which have trouble increasing their citizens’ average annual income to much above $25,000. Such middle-income countries have a habit of running into fiscal or financial trouble.
Outsider parties are disrupting the political system in many developed economies. Greece is leading the way, with Syriza’s victory in the Jan. 25 election on a platform of radical economic change. Spain, where the new Podemos party leads the polls, could follow later this year. Fringe movements are also gaining traction in France, Italy and the UK. Something similar is happening even in the United States, where the Tea Party movement is shaking things up from within one of the established parties.
After a dozen job changes over 35 years, it is too late for me to become a loyal employee. But I know the model of the faithful worker. The dental assistant who used to tend to my teeth worked at the same small practice for about 35 years before retiring, with deep regret, two years ago. She stopped by regularly afterwards, because she wanted to stay in touch with the community that had defined so much of her life.