Why Finance Is Still a Problem

March 9, 2015 | | Time |

Warren Buffett warned investors that bankers were still up to their old tricks in his recent investor letter. Vanguard founder Jack Bogle is writing about how high fee mutual funds are ripping off investors and endangering retirement security. And Fed Chair Janet Yellen is touting new, tougher capital rules for “Too Big to Fail” banks. Despite the recovery and strong jobs numbers last week, the re-regulation of the financial sector isn’t yet finished. But a deeper worry, and one that’s taking center stage amongst academics, is the fact that finance has yet to be re-moored to the real economy. That may be dampening the recovery for many.

A growing slew of research, including several just-published papers, has found that over a multi-decade period, the rise of finance is associated with lower capital investment in the real economy, greater inequality, and the demise of more productive industries. [...]

All this dovetails with the country’s inequality problem, which is an issue that will be big in the 2016 election cycle. As Wallace Turbeville, a Demos fellow who has done yet another influential paper on financialization points out, both the Republican and Democratic positions on inequality are lacking. Conservatives believe in bootstrapping, and liberals in redistribution of wealth. But if the very structure of our capitalism is designed to reward mainly elites (something Thomas Piketty’s best seller Capital in the 21st Century pointed out so well last year), then no amount of redistribution or hard work can fix the problem.