Hedge Fund Blindness

Hedge fund managers may be good at investing money. (Or they may just be the beneficiaries of luck, like successful stock mutual fund managers.) But that doesn’t mean they can think clearly.

Andrew Ross Sorkin comments on the letter by fund manager Daniel Loeb, a former Democratic fundraiser, criticizing the supposed anti-business policies of the Obama administration. The letter includes blather like this:

“As every student of American history knows, this country’s core founding principles included nonpunitive taxation, constitutionally guaranteed protections against persecution of the minority and an inexorable right of self-determination.”

Who, in making a list of America’s founding principles, would put “nonpunitive taxation” first? Oh, right. A hedge fund manager.

More seriously, there is this:

“Many people see the collapse of the subprime markets, along with the failure and subsequent rescue of many banks, as failures of capitalism rather than a result of a vile stew of inept management, unaccountable boards of directors and overmatched regulators not just asleep, but comatose, at the proverbial switch.”

This is just sloppy thinking. I’ve written more than most people about “inept management, unaccountable boards of directors, and overmatched regulators.” I’ve criticized the Obama administration in many more words than Daniel Loeb. But putting the blame on certain categories of people does not somehow absolve “capitalism.” Our capitalist system–which until recently we considered the best, most pure version in the world–allowed incompetent people to become executives (and to run hedge funds), allowed incompetent people to become directors and to avoid any responsibility for their actions, and allowed companies to swamp regulators with battalions of high-priced lawyers and lobbyists.

This is a basic category error. Capitalism is an economic system; managers, directors, and regulators are people. They are not mutually exclusive. If you want to say that capitalism necessarily means universally good managers, responsible directors, and effective regulators, then that’s an argument you have to make (and good luck making it).

Just because you make a lot of money doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about. Unfortunately, in this country if you make a lot of money, a lot of people listen to you.

Originally published at The Baseline Scenario and reproduced here with the author’s permission.