LARSON: Finding fulfillment in finance

On Tuesday, Nov. 15, tired from pre-break homework, I lay down in the early evening and tried to nap — until the sound of chanting Yalies woke me.

As a rule, I don’t take kindly to my sleep being interrupted, but my objections to Occupy Morgan Stanley go deeper. I am a Democrat who agrees with many of the Occupy movement’s complaints about income inequality and the skewed nature of political power in this country. I support serious reforms to the finance industry, which has clearly become too risky (and perhaps too large). Nonetheless, I found the showy gimmickry of Occupy Morgan Stanley distasteful and offensive.

Why did the event happen on that day, protesting that firm? Many financial firms hold information sessions, and the choice of Morgan Stanley seems to have been a matter of mere convenience. This lack of specificity in the protest’s goals is further highlighted by the email the organizers sent to Yale students, which stated simply, “Too many Yale students go into finance, and these institutions do too much harm.”

Perhaps I take too much issue with generalization, but if the point of the event was, as Marina Keegan ’12 put it, to challenge the perception of “Occupy people as uneducated and uninformed,” her email’s platitudes only helped create such a perception. Finance is the industry by which our economy channels money from savers toward productive uses. Without it, economic growth would be impossible. America’s financial industry may be too risky and may make more profit than we think it deserves (especially after a crisis that has hurt millions), but the effect of the email was to imply that finance, in its entirety, is bad, and the Yalies who go into it are doing something bad.

It is troubling that simply for choosing to go to an information session Yale students should have to be subjected to humiliation — marketed as “advice” — by their peers. Contrary to what its organizers claim, the point of the protest was clearly not to prove to Yalies that they have other options. The point of the event was to create a confrontation with a specific set of students and to publicly embarrass them into not making a choice they are free to make. People actually hoping to change minds would not insist on insulting those people whose minds they’re trying to change. Does anyone think the students who attended the information session decided to consider other options because their peers tried to make them feel like bad people?

But what other options do these protesters prefer? Their choice of the art school as a venue would suggest that the students going to the information session should instead be painters or writers or actors. Yet not everyone is suited for these fields.

Nor is it clear that choosing a different career makes one unable to produce art if one has true passion for it. TS Eliot and Wallace Stevens, two of the greatest poets of the 20th century, had full time jobs in — wait for it — finance, even as they wrote their greatest works. Stevens actually turned down offers to teach at Harvard because he liked working for an insurance company. Going further back, John Milton’s political career was arguably as important to him as his poetic one. William Shakespeare, despite being a full-time artist, was very much a businessman.

One of my close friends at Yale had a summer internship at Morgan Stanley and plans to work there after graduation. He’s from a developing country and wants to take his two years’ experience with finance and the economics doctorate he plans to pursue and try to join the World Bank or the IMF — also parts of finance — and improve peoples’ living standards around the world. This sort of work would involve tedious and difficult number-crunching and statistical analysis. It would also change lives.

There is a perception that we choose between careers we want and careers that pay. This is a false dichotomy. Most people would find things they like and dislike in most careers. Choosing becomes a matter of balancing positives against negatives. Perhaps the early years of one’s finance career are partly filled up with menial tasks, but those who stick with it hope to someday make hugely important decisions about business strategy, expansion, lending and investment. Is this different from an actor’s spending years doing commercials order to set himself up for the roles he wants to play?

Happiness in life is determined by any number of factors, and one’s career — like one’s economic situation — may be an important part of that. But the idea that there is one career that absolutely fulfills each person is absurd. Fulfillment is never quite attainable. It is the ever-accumulating byproduct of hard work by which one slowly attains aptitude, meaning and excellence.

Comments

  • RexMottram08

    The World Bank and the IMF are where finance mediocrities go to die…

  • btcl

    This is probably the best editorial published in the YDN this semester and doesn’t just repeat extremist mottos about finance being evil or OWS protesters being resentful. I’m actually really impressed.

  • ilovelovedontyou

    I find this article to have poor reasoning and to be rife with straw men.

    Why:

    - You say you agree that this country should reform the regulations to the financial industry, yet you find the occupy protest distasteful.
    -Yet, you would not have published this article and we would not be having this conversation about the financial industry had the protest not occurred. The protest sparked us to continue our conversation about the reform in the financial industry which you say you desire. Your annoyance at being woken from your nap may perhaps be overshadowing your desire to move forward with addressing the risk of the current financial system.

    -You complain about a lack of specificity in the protesters’ goals by inventing a straw man which doesn’t reflect their actual goals. You write that the organizers email stated “simply,” which implies that they wrote only what you quoted, which is not true. You also misrepresent the email as deeming all finance as evil, which is not at all accurate. As to the true aims of the protest and emails, I direct you to a decent though not perfect article from the Stanford Daily written by a high school classmate of mine (I am not inclined to rehash it in this comment) http://www.stanforddaily.com/2011/10/11/op-ed-stop-the-wall-street-recruitment/

    - Your argument that the protesters choice of Morgan Stanley, as opposed to any of the other firms they have disagreement with, displays a lack of specificity, is downright illogical. If they want to protest a larger set of financial firms, they therefore must start with one. There is no lack of specificity inherent in there.

    -Your argument that, because the protestors stood outside the art school they were suggesting that the students in the information session follow careers as artists is downright ridiculous; it is ridonkulous. Just because the building they stood behind was the art school building, situated directly across the street from the information session they were protesting, it does not follow that they then necessarily wished all students to become artistis. Did they say anything about art careers in their speeches or signs or emails? This is illogical reporting, and the faulty reasoning here makes me ashamed to have you as a peer Yale student. The author’s projected classification of the protestors as artists says more about the author than the protestors.

    That said, I think the concluding paragraph is insightful.

  • River_Tam

    > There is a perception that we choose between careers we want and careers that pay. This is a false dichotomy. Most people would find things they like and dislike in most careers. Choosing becomes a matter of balancing positives against negatives.

    Look! There IS a mature human being at Yale after all!

  • hlarson

    @ ilovelovedontyou
    I’m sorry you disliked the piece so much. I take to heart the points you’ve made—I hope you’ll conclude these few responses:

    1. It’s true I wouldn’t have written this particular piece if the protest hadn’t happened, and so in that sense the conversation would not be as full. However, there are many ways to start a conversation, and not all of them are as good as others. I found this way offensive. I thought, however, that Mareena Keegan’s YDN piece ‘Even Artichokes Have Doubts’ was a very insightful, well-done, and non-simplistic commentary on these issues that much better accomplished what she wished to accomplish by the protests.

    2. It’s true that I did not quote the full email and selected part of it. I do not, however, think my characterization of the email’s message (in which I used the word ‘simply’) was unfair. Here is the full text of the email copied out: Too many Yalies go into finance, and these institutions do too much harm. Stop the brain drain. We have better options. OCCUPY MORGAN STANLEY INFO SESSION. Today, November 15. 4:30pm Sign-making in the Dwight Hall Library. 5:30pm Protest outside The Study (1157 Chapel St). 6pm Alternative Info Session across the street on the steps of the School of Art. Come for as much as you can, bring your friends, reply with any questions

    Maybe you disagree with me, but I do not think the rest of the email said anything that at all refined, revised, or added to the part I quoted, insofar as its characterization of finance goes. I still think that if the writers of this email have a nuanced position to the goods and bads of the finance industry, this email shows clearly only one side of that.

    • hlarson

      *consider, not conclude

  • hlarson

    3. The point about the choice of Morgan Stanley as a firm was slightly curtailed due to space constraints; however, I take issue with their choice of firm precisely because I think it demonstrates that the protesters didn’t really care about the specifics of the case they were making. If they wanted to protest the political power of financial firms and how that may translate into inappropriate government action, they should have protested Goldman. If they wanted to protest government largesse, they should have protested Bank of America or Citigroup. These criticisms may be leveled against Morgan Stanley too, but much less strongly, and I take issue with the broad grouping together of all financial firms. Even as a symbol, Morgan Stanley is much less powerful than a host of other firms.
    4. True, I don’t think the protesters were saying that all students should become artists. However, the protesters moved around a lot during the course of the night, from Dwight Hall where they made signs, to the street outside the Study, where the actual protest took place, to, finally, the steps of the Art School, where they held their counter information session. They could have gone back to Dwight Hall—I think it’s clear that the Art School steps were supposed to imply a certain symbolism, and it is that symbolism to which I was responding. If the ‘occupiers’ think that people should go into non-financial, corporate fields, I, to an extent, agree with them. However, the reason I often hear for why, on a personal level, people shouldn’t go into finance is that it is ‘soul-crushing.’ I frankly don’t see why any other entry-level corporate (or even government) job would be less boring, at least by these standards. So it’s not surprising that graduates choose the field that pays more. I do support government efforts to reorient our economy in such a way so that finance may not take so many of our best and brightest—I just take issue with the idea that those who go into finance are doing something morally wrong.

  • y164

    Yay IMF and World Bank! What better way to “improve peoples’ living standards around the world” than to offer developing countries loans at exorbitant interest rates on the condition that they make their economies ripe for transnational corporations to plunder? Truly God’s work.