Article | Journal of Economic Perspectives | Spring 2013

The Growth of Finance

by Robin Greenwood and David S. Scharfstein

Abstract

The U.S. financial services industry grew from 4.9% of GDP in 1980 to 7.9% of GDP in 2007. A sizeable portion of the growth can be explained by rising asset management fees, which in turn were driven by increases in the valuation of tradable assets, particularly equity. Another important factor was growth in fees associated with an expansion in household credit, particularly for residential mortgages. This expansion was itself fueled by the development of non-bank credit intermediation (or "shadow banking"). Whether the growth of the financial sector has been socially beneficial depends on one's view of active asset management, the increase in household credit, and the growth of shadow banking. While recognizing some of the benefits of professional asset management, we are skeptical about the marginal value of active asset management. We then raise concerns about whether the potential benefits of increased access to household credit—the main output of the shadow banking system—are outweighed by the risks inherent in this new approach to credit delivery.

Keywords: Asset Management; Research; Finance; Mortgages; Financial Services Industry;

Citation:

Greenwood, Robin, and David S. Scharfstein. "The Growth of Finance." Journal of Economic Perspectives 27, no. 2 (Spring 2013): 3–28.