Few tears will be shed outside Greenwich, Connecticut, at the latest sign that robots are stealing jobs. Hedge funds are losing clients as their returns fail to match those of passive investing and machine-driven trading techniques. That’s bad news for Ivy grads flocking to high-paid hedge fund jobs, but the rest of us will struggle along somehow.
The crazy wealth that financial market managers have been able to accumulate in recent decades is unusual by historical standards, and we shouldn’t assume that the I-bankers and money managers will continue to be fortune’s favored children forever. An over-reliance on financial engineering is not a sign of health in a capitalist economy, and over time we should expect that the real money will be made by those who figure out how to bring the awesome potential of the information revolution to bear on the problems ordinary people encounter in real life. Using the information revolution’s capacities, for example, to transform the health care system so that it is more user friendly and delivers better outcomes at substantially lower costs is going to create more value and fund more fortunes going forward than hedge funds.
The financial industry was uniquely well-positioned to benefit from the early stages of the information revolution. Computers gave smart traders the ability to develop and execute complex strategies, the ability to collect and massage huge amounts of data, to operate globally and to reduce transaction costs and other forms of friction, thus hugely increasing the efficiency of the people who understood the system and could operate on the cutting edge. Many have come to think that finance is and always will be the greatest and perhaps the only real beneficiary of the new age. History suggests that won’t be true.
There will always be smart people who make piles of money in the world of finance. But as the information revolution progresses, the balance of advantage is likely to shift. The information revolution democratizes capital markets, allowing investors to capture the benefits that hedge funds used to provide, without having to pay the premium rates the hedge funds have been able to charge.
Revolutions are famous for devouring their children; the information revolution is chomping on the hedge funds.