Dean LeBaron is founder of Batterymarch Financial Management, one of the inventors of index funds and a pioneer of quantitative and emerging market investing. He is also getting gloomy (Sandra Ward in Barron's, sub, req'd):
Is the geopolitical scene among the bearish factors [affecting the economy]?
Yes. I've always said that investment managers should not have a political view, but individual investors were allowed the luxury. The U.S. has done incredible damage to itself. I see this in Switzerland. The Swiss people are pretty tolerant of anyone in the world, but they really have an attitude about the United States.
My impression is, most of the world would like to get as far away from the U.S. as possible, be neither friend nor enemy.
Russia goes its own way now. Who would have imagined 10 years ago that Russia would have paid down $22 billon of international debt to the G7 countries and pay a premium of a billion dollars in order to prepay? It is phenomenal. From a financial standpoint, it makes sense if the dollar is declining in value to leave the debt there and pay it off more cheaply. But I think it is just a matter of: Let's just get it away from the United States, let's distance ourselves.
Even China, which does an enormous amount of trade with the U.S., doesn't particularly care what we do anymore. They are concerned with their own domestic market, which is growing at a very rapid rate. If there is some export business on top of that, that's fine. The Chinese will buy up a nickel company in Cuba, or an energy company in the Canadian oil sands. They'll dance around the U.S., and what we do doesn't really affect them too much. [...]
More and more people are voicing concerns about the big gap between the rich and the poor.
It will lead to trouble. The response to it seems to be building bigger fences. The U.S. is going to build a fence on the border of Mexico and the Israelis want a fence between themselves and the Palestinians. A Swiss friend pointed out Americans spend a million dollars to kill one Iraqi when they could hire that person for $10,000. It is such a bargain.
You make it sound simple to end poverty and hunger. Where do you start?
With clean water. Half the world doesn't have clean water. It is not terribly difficult to get clean water to everybody.
Solving the world's real problems is good for business. Solving the world's imaginary problems (Iraqi WMDs, gay marriage, flag burning, tort reform, etc.) is bad for business. It's that simple.
These issues pose a real problem not just for rich capitalists but for any working American who participates in a 401(k) retirement plan: Where should you invest your wages when the world's financial superpower is an Orwellian hornet's nest of corruption?