In the perennial debate over active vs. passive management, Towers Watson has stepped in with the blunt notion that there are too many active managers — although the problem with that, it says, is "not the quantity, it's the aggregate cost" to investors.

The firm, which this week announced the launch of its Thinking Ahead Institute, a not-for-profit think tank aimed at "influencing change in the investment world," compares the world of investments to "a vast virtual warehouse filled with all the securities in the world."

The analogy in its "thought experiment" is useful, it said, to "introduce the notion that the stock of investible assets is largely fixed," despite "some coming and going at the edges."

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