Invest and Relax

In Search Of: A New Name For "Passive"

Invest and Relax

One of the many reasons "passive" investing gets dissed is that its name--"passive"--is both misleading and deflating.  Who wants to be "passive"?  The folks who do well in life are active, the ones who have gumption, the ones who get up off the couch and make things happen.  "Passive" investing, moreover, isn't passive--it's active.  Smart passive investors actively determine which types of stocks they want to invest in, actively screen the market to find such stocks, and actively manage their portfolios to make sure they contain only such stocks (and in the proper proportion). 

So smart passive investors, the ones who wouldn't mind earning some respect in addition to superior returns, are forever searching for a new term to describe what they do.  Alas, to date, none has been found.

"Indexing" doesn't work, because "indexing" suggests that the passive investor is simply trying to match the performance of the S&P 500, Russell 2000, or other index.  And now that such strategies are popular, the style suffers from herding, index-reconstitution, and other problems (even thought it still outperforms most active strategies).

"Rules-based investing" doesn't work because...well, because it's boring and vague.

"Factor-based investing" doesn't work because it's mystifying.

"Dimensional investing" doesn't work because...ditto.

"Quantitative" doesn't work because it has already been coopted by "quants."

The latest suggestion, "Equilibrium-based investing", put forth by DFA's Weston Wellington in a recent article, doesn't work because it doesn't mean anything that couldn't just as easily apply to the "active" world.  (Although it is arguably better than "passive").

So the search continues.  One thing is certain, however.  If passive investing continues to be called "passive," those who advocate the strategy will continue to operate at a major marketing disadvantage to their "active" competitors.  In fact, given the inherent connotations of the words "active" and "passive," it is almost certain that the nomenclature was devised by a traditional stockpicker.

March 31, 2007,