At home, Martin notes, politics are increasingly intruding into the world of pension fund management.
"I've never seen political pressure on plans that I've seen today," Martin said, noting that the only common ground between calls on the left for immediate divestment of fossil fuels and calls on the right to avoid China and ignore ESG considerations is their ability to constrain pension managers' efforts to craft the best portfolios for plan members.
Amid that charged political atmosphere, Martin said he likes to think of himself as a centrist, but for some, his belief that people have the right to a secure retirement and healthcare, regardless of their employment status, leave him "more to the left."
On the topic of secure retirement, Martin said he's happy to be working with public defined benefit plans — as the most efficient vehicles for meeting the needs of workers in retirement — and lamented statistics showing the number of DB plan members plunging over the past half century to 12 million from 27.2 million while the ranks of defined contribution plan members were jumping to 85.3 million from 12 million over the same period.
Defined contribution 401k plans, designed to be supplemental, "are not now nor have they ever been an adequate retirement vehicle," Martin said, noting that employees covered by the $48.7 billion Arizona State Retirement System would have to put well over 30% of their annual salaries into a 401k plan to match the benefits they earn now after 40 years of service as DB plan members.
He pointed to IBM's decision earlier in January to reopen its defined benefit plan as a hopeful sign that "we'll move back to a world that recognizes that employers have an obligation to help workers retire with dignity and not just giving some money now and promise that maybe it will be OK later."
If not, and with the average worker having only $65,000 or so in 401k savings with five years remaining until retirement, this is poised to be "the next great crisis that nobody wants to talk about," Martin said.
The domestic political conundrum now, meanwhile, is less the result of strongly held views than an unwillingness to work toward a compromise, he said.
Martin recalled a heated but "civilized" debate decades ago at Bankers Trust's annual pension conference about whether to invest in apartheid-era South Africa.
"Today's arguments are no longer civilized," with the fundamental issues in play too often getting lost in a flurry of slogans and name calling, leaving it very, very difficult to manage retirement assets in certain venues, Martin lamented.
Meanwhile, long-standing U.S. policies that have been key to the postwar surge in global growth are in play for the first time in memory, whether it be alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which underlay America's security posture for the past 70 years or the broad U.S. commitment to free trade.
While working through the "first order" effects of, say, a broad-based shift to greater tariff protections for U.S. manufacturers is a considerable effort, thinking through the second, third and fourth order effects will "boggle your mind," Martin said.
A move to "less coordination, less free flow of goods and services, more protectionism" threatens to push the world in the direction of the environment that prevailed in the lead up to World War I, with a lot of nations focused on their own special interests, Martin said.
Martin said that backdrop leaves him especially concerned about the mix now of U.S. stocks vs. non-U.S. and emerging markets stocks because "the politics are so significant there."