Efficient Frontier
Efficient Frontiers Logo
William J. Bernstein

In Memoriam

Few things stir the memory as does emptying out a house. It can move you to tears and arouse wonder, and it can also make you count your blessings, as happened to me a decade ago as I was paging through a stack of correspondence long since forgotten. As my wife and I were downsizing a decade ago, one letter hit me with a jolt: a two-page, single-spaced missive from Jack Bogle written in the early 1990s in response to what I suspect was a crotchety letter asking why Vanguard wasn't offering a fund in this or that asset class.

At the time, I had not yet begun to write about finance and was just one among a million or two Vanguard shareholders. This is who Jack was. He cared. He cared enough to forego an enormous fortune and bequeath ownership of Vanguard to its fund shareholders; he cared enough to tirelessly crusade against the soulless rapacity of the financial services industry; he cared enough to greet by name thousands of Vanguard employees and eat his lunches with them in the company cafeteria, and he cared enough to hit the phone banks when call volume spiked. And he also cared enough to pen a polite and thoughtful letter to Vanguard customer #1,500,000 or so.

Jack's influence was a stone tossed into the global financial pond. At its center were his family and the lucky few who worked closely with him at Vanguard; further out were the movers and shakers of finance and government who labored to reform the industry; further out still were those like myself who were inspired by his example and, if lucky enough, benefited from the odd email, snippet of face time, and generous encouragement. (One relatively small but influential group, of which I'm proud to be a member, the Bogleheads, meets annually near the Vanguard campus in Valley Forge and devotes itself to the dissemination of common-sense finance expertise. A nicer and more well-informed group of folks you won't meet, not an accident considering Jack's philosophy and character.)

Further out were the twenty million Vanguard customers worldwide whose financial lives Jack helped assure. His ambit rippled even beyond that; if you own a low-cost mutual fund from Schwab or ETF from State Street, thank Jack; if you own a zero cost one from Fidelity, an organization that mainly enriches a family of plutocrats, and which got dragged kicking and screaming into the era of passive investing, you can thank Jack as well. And you can do the same if you're a beneficiary of a traditional defined-benefit pension plan whose costs have been slashed by the cut-throat competition Jack introduced into that playground.

With apologies to William Shakespeare, the good Jack did will not be interred with his bones, but will cascade down generations.


Copyright 2019, William J. Bernstein. All rights reserved.

The right to download, store and/or output any material on this Web site is granted for viewing use only. Material may not be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of William J. Bernstein. Reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, in whole or in part, without the express written permission of William J. Bernstein is strictly prohibited. Please read the disclaimer.