The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
A time traveller from 300 years ago would be awed by new technologies and social changes. But the disoriented extra-temporal visitor would find some aspects of finance very familiar. Many of today’s monetary arrangements are historical relics. Take, for example, debt.
Why did Nikkei buy the Financial Times? As my colleague Rob Cox points out, the best explanation is demographic. Thanks to minimal immigration and a small number of children, the population of the Japanese group’s home market is shrinking by about 30 percent each generation. Many companies that want to grow – as shareholders and managers generally expect big firms to do – have to look abroad for expansion.
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.
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.
Economic systems that work well do not have many heroes. The elevated status of the world’s central bankers – seen in the close attention paid to their annual get-together last weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming – is a sign that the financial system works badly.