Finance as rent-seeking

Finance in its modern American form is not productive. It is not conducive to further sustained economic growth. The GDP accruing from these activities is illusory – most of finance is simply a tax on what is done by more productive members of society and a diversion of talent away from genuinely productivity-enhancing activities.

The rise of China does not necessarily imply slowdown or demise for the United States. But if they specialize in making things and we specialize in finance, they will eat our lunch.
That's Simon Johnson at The Baseline Scenario on why finance is rent-seeking. I wouldn't go so far as "our most pressing national and international strategic priority", but I think his point is right.

Update: Here are some more quotes I liked:
China mostly invests in activities that raise productivity, raising the amount of goods and services that they can produce. This could be manufacturing or infrastructure or various kinds of services. Agriculture lags but continues to get some new investment. And of course they pour money into education.

I’m not a fan of the Chinese way of organizing their economy or their society. They no doubt have weaknesses that will catch up with them eventually (including waves of overinvestment in some sectors), and there’s good reason to think they will be the center of a big new “Asia Century” Bubble that is just now starting to emerge.

But contrast their pattern of investment in recent years with ours. What sector in our economy has expanded more than any other? Where should you work if you want both the highest wages on average, potentially very big bonuses, and quasi-retirement by age 40? Finance.

Of course, we need finance and an important part of modern economic development involves intermediating savings and investment. The US did this well, with some bumps in the road, and built a system that worked through the 1960s or 1970s.

But finance as a share of our activities (i.e., percent of GDP) has roughly doubled in the past 40 years. What has this really added in terms of productivity? The ATM and the credit card were great breakthroughs, but they are old.
I'm tempted to excerpt more, but I've already done so for about 30% of the post, so if you like it so far go read the whole thing.

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