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Unseen Power: How Mutual Funds Threaten the Political and Economic Wealth of Nations

by Adam Harmes

In the world of heartless globalization and mass layoffs, runaway corporate profits and greedy CEOs, Adam Harmes has seen the enemy and, to a large extent, the enemy is us: the individual investor facing down RRSP contribution deadlines. Unseen Power is a groundbreaking work that punctures an uncritical personal finance market bloated with get-rich-quick books.

In essence, Harmes concludes that the increasing influence of mutual fund and pension plan managers (“institutional investors”) determines the fates of corporations, countries, and the global economic system itself. With shareholder value the only bottom line, the explosion of individuals investing their money in financial markets through RRSPs and mutual funds has created an unsettling catch-22 for the middle class portfolio, as “the same policies that benefit individuals in their role as investors are also hurting them in their roles as workers and citizens.”

Harmes’ work tackles some fairly complicated economic concepts in a refreshingly accessible manner that is self-deprecating and patient without being patronizing. Harmes finds that mutual funds have been at the heart of the major financial crises of the past decade, and shows how institutional investors have also created the conditions for large-scale corporate “restructuring” and mass liquidation of jobs.

Despite the occasional sweeping pronouncement, what could have been a paranoid conspiracy book is instead carefully crafted and credibly presented. However, Harmes’ conclusion, after painting such a chilling portrait of the power of financial markets, is surprisingly weak, suggesting that a bit of government intervention here and increased regulation there can moderate what has previously been portrayed as a runaway train. That criticism aside, Unseen Power has the ability to shake the complacency of even those who sleep soundly thinking their ethical funds are somehow making the world a better place.