Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 27 No. 2 (Spring 2013)


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Asset Management Fees and the Growth of Finance

Article Citation

Malkiel, Burton G. 2013. "Asset Management Fees and the Growth of Finance." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27(2): 97-108.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.27.2.97


From 1980 to 2006, the financial services sector of the US economy grew from 4.9 percent to 8.3 percent of GDP. A substantial share of that increase was comprised of increases in the fees paid for asset management. This paper examines the significant increase in asset management fees charged to both individual and institutional investors. One could argue that the increase in fees charged by actively managed funds could prove to be socially useful if it reflected increasing returns for investors from active management or if it was necessary to improve the efficiency of the market for investors who availed themselves of low-cost passive (index) funds. But neither of these arguments can be supported by the data. Actively managed funds of publicly traded securities have consistently underperformed index funds, and the amount of the underperformance is well approximated by the difference in the fees charged by the two types of funds. Moreover, it appears that there was no change in the efficiency of the market from 1980 to 2011. Thus, the increase in fees is likely to represent a deadweight loss for investors. Indeed, perhaps the greatest inefficiency in the stock market is in "the market" for investment advice.

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Malkiel, Burton G. (Princeton U and Wealthfront)

JEL Classifications

E23: Macroeconomics: Production
E44: Financial Markets and the Macroeconomy
G11: Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
G23: Pension Funds; Non-bank Financial Institutions; Financial Instruments; Institutional Investors
G24: Investment Banking; Venture Capital; Brokerage; Ratings and Ratings Agencies


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