THERE is a contradiction at the heart of financial capitalism. The creative destruction that drives long-run growth depends on the picking of winners by bold, risk-taking capitalists. Yet the impressive (if not perfect) efficiency of markets means that trying to out-bet other investors is almost inevitably a losing proposition. Algorithmic punters trade away the tiniest of arbitrage opportunities near-instantaneously. Active investment strategies therefore amount to little more than a guessing game: one in which, over time, the losses from bad guesses eventually top the gains from good ones. Betting with the market—through broad index funds, for instance—is therefore a good way to maximise returns. Yet where does that leave capitalism, red in tooth and claw, and its need for bloody-minded nonconformists?

“Passive” investment vehicles, like those low-fee index funds, now soak up enormous amounts of cash. In America, since 2008, about $600 billion in holdings of actively managed mutual funds (which pick investments strategically) have been sold off, while $1 trillion has flowed into passive funds. So the passive funds now hold gargantuan...Continue reading