Jack Bogle, RIP

Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard, has died. Art Carey and Erin Arvedlund report:

John C. Bogle, 89, who revolutionized the way Americans save for the future, championed the interests of the small investor, and railed against corporate greed and the excesses of Wall Street, died of cancer Wednesday at his home in Bryn Mawr, his family confirmed.

Mr. Bogle, a chipper and unpretentious man who invited everyone to call him “Jack,” was founder and for many years chairman of the Vanguard Group, the Malvern-based mutual-fund company, where he pioneered low-cost, low-fee investing and mutual funds tied to stock-market indexes. These innovations, reviled and ridiculed at first, enabled millions of ordinary Americans to build wealth to buy a home, pay for college, and retire comfortably.

Along the way, Vanguard, which Mr. Bogle launched in 1974, became a titan in the financial-services industry, with 16,600 employees and over $5 trillion in assets by the end of 2018, and Mr. Bogle earned a reputation as not only an investing sage but a maverick whose integrity and old-fashioned values set an example that many admired and few could match.

“Jack could have been a multibillionaire on a par with Gates and Buffett,” said William Bernstein, an Oregon investment manager and author of 12 books on finance and economic history. Instead, he turned his company into one owned by its mutual funds, and in turn their investors, “that exists to provide its customers the lowest price. He basically chose to forgo an enormous fortune to do something right for millions of people. I don’t know any other story like it in American business history.” …

While Mr. Bogle was facile with numbers, he was much less interested in counting than in what counts, and his intellectual range was broad. He revered language, history, poetry, and classical wisdom, and frequently amazed and delighted people by reciting long passages of verse. …

Mr. Bogle had hoped that the Vanguard model — “structurally correct, mathematically correct, and ethically correct” — would goad other investment firms to give customers a fairer shake. While index funds have become widely popular, Vanguard’s competitors often have been less than keen about following the company’s penny-pinching lead. …

When he was not touting the advantages of the Vanguard mode of investing, Mr. Bogle, a self-proclaimed “battler by nature,” was lambasting his professional brethren for “rank speculation,” reckless assumption of debt, “obscene” multimillion-dollar paychecks, and golden parachutes, and saying they had abdicated their duty as stewards in favor of self-interested salesmanship. …

Along the way, Mr. Bogle attracted his share of critics. He was called a communist, a Marxist, a Bolshevik, a Calvinist scold and zealot, a holier-than-thou traitor and subversive who was undermining the pillars of capitalism with un-American rants. Mr. Bogle characterized his pugnacious relationship with the financial industry as “a lover’s quarrel.” His mission, he said, was simple: to return capitalism, finance, and fund management to their roots in stewardship. …

A man who believed in the value of introspection and who was always questioning his own motives and behavior, Mr. Bogle sought to define what it means to lead a good life. It was not about wealth, power, fame and other conventional notions of success, he concluded.

“It’s about being a good husband, a good father, a good colleague, a good member of the community. Everything else pales by comparison. The accumulation of material goods is a waste — you can’t take them with you, anyway — and the waste is typified by our financial system. The essential message is, stop focusing on self and start thinking about service to others.”

When I was in Philadelphia this past weekend I happened at one point to be speaking with a Vanguard person, and asked about Jack Bogle. “He still comes into the office, still eats in the cafeteria with everyone else. He’s the most down-to-earth man.”

Jack Bogle forged Vanguard’s incredible reputation, and through index funds provided generations of average Americans the means to save and invest. My grandmother was one of those Vanguard disciples, and her frugality and farsightedness helped make possible a comfortable retirement for my grandparents and helped provide for the family over the years.

Antonio García Martinez reflected in light of Bogle’s death: “One of the key emptinesses at the core of modern secular liberalism is a convincing answer to the question: what is a good life? The ability to attain a felt (or acknowledged) dignity, irrespective of high or low material attainments, is an essential component of a sane society. The Greeks of course had their best minds wrestle with the question. We don’t dare even ask it anymore.”

RIP.

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