Right Hooks

The Good and Bad of Labor's Fiduciary Rule

It has been argued that a moral people need no laws.

Business Review Board · Apr. 7, 2016
Photo courtesy Arturo Di Modica, Wikimedia Commons

The Labor Department unveiled rules Wednesday that have the potential to change the financial services industry by requiring financial advisors and brokers to act in the best interest of their clients saving for retirement. Currently, Americans saved up $7.3 trillion in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and $6.7 trillion in 401(k)s, which they can convert into IRAs. And some of those Americans will turn to brokers and financial advisors that — despite assumptions those investors may have — don’t have a fiduciary duty to give the best financial advice to the Americans who seek them out. Instead, those advisors may direct those investors to accounts that offer the broker or advisor a bigger kickback, ones that may offer a lesser return for the investor’s retirement account. Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors estimates this system costs Americans saving for retirement $17 billion every year. If that’s true, as a result of financial advisors with misaligned values, Americans have to delay retirement, or reduce their cost of living in the golden years.

Founder of The Vanguard Group, John Bogle, said in a recent interview he had long supported a rule requiring fiduciary duty, at least for retirement accounts. As Bogle pointed out: many financial advisors work for companies owned by shareholders. “So, to whom do you have the fiduciary duty?” he asked. “I tried to think of a good phrase for this, so I looked it up in the Bible: ‘No man can serve two masters.’”

It has been argued that a moral people need no laws. But the Obama administration’s fiduciary rule comes with a double standard of its own, for it creates an exception for government-run IRA accounts. In regulating one base human motivation, the government is allowing another, the equally as sordid human instinct of bureaucratic favoritism, to run amok.

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