If you’ve got about 50 minutes to listen to a half-dozen big-name perspectives covering nearly 50 years of efficient market theory, I recommend Freakonomics’ podcast, “The Stupidest Thing You Can Do With Your Money.” It’s a wide-ranging overview of the active-passive debate that won’t disappoint.
Here are some of my own takeaways from listening in.
John Bogle – Reminisces on when he founded Vanguard in 1975 and launched the world’s first publicly available index fund. The costs make all the difference. With active fund costs ranging upward to 200 basis points (after expense fees and trading costs), versus index funds’ typical 4–10 basis points, the expense hurdle is too tough to overcome. It took a long time for people to get the idea, but now there is a passive revolution.
Ken French – Points out that it took 50 years for passive investing to grow from zero to 20% market share. Then, it jumped from 20% to 30% in the last decade. “Only the top 2-3% of active funds have enough skill to cover their costs,” says Ken. “If you don’t think you are one of the best people out there doing this, you probably shouldn’t even start.”
Eugene Fama – Developed the Efficient Market Hypothesis in the late 1960s (i.e., prices reflect all available information), which led to his being a co-recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. The gap between his early academic inquiries and wide, practical application of the findings is telling. (My take: Remember, one important quality in evidence-based investing is ensuring the theories have withstood the test of time!)
Barry Ritholtz – Reflecting on the title of the podcast, Ritholtz commented: “Sophisticated investors refuse to admit they can’t beat the market. … Costs are a tax on smart people that don’t realize their propensity for doing stupid things.”
I’ve barely skimmed the surface of the many insights, large and small, shared in this fast-paced podcast. Want to know where Mr. and Mrs. Bogle buy their favorite sweaters? Tune in to find out!