MAGDZIK: Incentives for artichokes

Marina Keegan’s recent article (“Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” Sept. 30) explored why a solid fourth of Yale’s graduating class goes into finance and consulting instead of into more feel-good environments like medical outreach in Africa, community organizing or teaching. But she gets a key component of the allure of those careers wrong: a lot of it is definitely the dough.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not blaming people for chasing the money. Living in tents, spraying 75 percent DEET bug spray in a desperate attempt to stave off malaria, and eating dirt on good days is not most people’s conception of the good life. It does, however, seem to be many Yalies’ conception of life with an NGO in developing countries. It’s certainly not a plush apartment in New York City.

But with concerns like student loans and the cost of raising a family in decent conditions weighing on their minds, it’s no wonder many Yalies opt for more financially lucrative careers. Regardless, we would all do well to think about the implications for our society when we siphon a lot of intelligent, competitive young problem-solvers away from teaching or other humble services and toward banking. The latter does not need them nearly as much as the former.

I don’t mean to bash Wall Street. It’s obvious that a modern, globalized economy needs smart bankers to function. To reject the system entirely would be to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But a successful country also needs a strong educational system, and we’re clearly failing to provide that right now in a number of ways, above all in the quality of our teachers.

Unfortunately, this issue is a huge collective action problem. I can’t point to any one of my suitemates and say, “You’re failing your personal moral responsibility to go into a low-paying career to reform a badly broken system! Shame, Andrew, shame!” But if too many of us ignore it in favor of more lucrative jobs, we risk serious problems down the road. Mid-level jobs in America are being squeezed by cheap labor from Asia and increasing efficiency in technology. If we don’t provide the education necessary to keep ahead of the curve, we risk plunging many into unemployment, poverty, and crime.

To fight this, the process of hiring teachers from Yale should mimic the banking and consulting worlds. Teaching positions should offer competitive compensation on those levels. If what Keegan wrote about people not being particularly passionate to work in financing or consulting is true, then it stands to reason that if compensation is similar, we might see many in that pool diversifying their career choices according to interest. Money attracts talent. The field of education might also take a page from the highly meritocratic nature of organizations that engage in consulting and banking. At prestigious Goldman Sachs, even partners, the top of the Wall Street food chain, can be “de-partnered” if their performance isn’t up to par.

Compare that to obstructionist policies like tenure for public school teachers, no matter how mediocre their performance (leaving aside the separate issue of how we measure that performance for the time being). And with so many significantly older teachers in the system, they crowd out the younger, yet-unproven college set, reducing opportunities for advancement and chances to demonstrate excellence in such a position.

Of course, these problems aren’t going to be easily solved. Our school districts and nation as a whole face a serious budget crunch, so fixing these things isn’t as easy as simply declaring that a given problem needs more funding. But what this all means is that the 25 percent statistic isn’t just a point of curiosity. It is, rather, a reminder that a disproportionate amount of our human resources — young bright Yalie resources — are being channeled away from problem areas at a time when our society desperately needs them. We need a serious and drastic reform of the underlying incentive structure, most likely through difficult and tedious political means. Let’s get working.

Michael Magdzik is a junior in Berkeley College. Contact him at michael.magdzik@yale.edu .

Correction

An earlier version of this article misspelled Michael Magdzik’s name.

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