BRODSKY, LEVINE, VILLANO: Occupy emphasizes moral decisions

Travis Gidado (“Stop Demonizing Finance,” Nov. 16) accused the participants in Occupy Morgan Stanley, a protest and teach-in held outside a Morgan Stanley information session about two weeks ago, of assuming that everyone who takes a job at an investment bank after graduation is “inherently evil.” Let us simply assure you: We don’t.

We see how some people could find these jobs exciting and that, in our current financial system, these banks provide some important services. We also understand why a $70,000 starting salary is tempting and that some students genuinely need to pay off student loans or support their families.

We respect our peers and still think too many Yale seniors — roughly 25 percent of employed graduates — go into finance and consulting. Far from making a facile equation between money and evil, our protest simply asked that Yale students grapple with this startling statistic.

Gidado said no one should “assign normative judgments to lawful occupations,” but this is exactly the task we must tackle. Our career choices are some of the most important we will make, both for our communities and ourselves. Our decisions and priorities have real consequences for those around us and are inherently political.

Why, then, should we disregard questions of ethics in career decisions, when we consider them in discussions of everything from government policy to relationships? Where better to challenge one another to determine our duty to the public good than on a college campus such as ours? It is not condescending, as some have argued, to voice our opinion of what we owe our society. Instead, to do so is to respect the talent of our classmates and the belief that they could do a great deal of good in any of a number of different fields.

While Gidado claimed that students are “asking the right questions” when they enter finance or consulting, that wasn’t what we saw at the Morgan Stanley information session. Some of us attended the event. Most of the students there were primarily concerned with getting the job, whether they should major in economics, or the lifestyle accompanying different areas of finance.

We probed the recruiters on ethical practice. But it seemed that they had never even considered these questions. When we asked what ethical guidelines they used in investing — do they consider environmental policies of companies? relations to tryannical regimes? — they had no opinions, only deference to company policy.

As a recruiter from wealth management boasted about the exorbitant luxuries of his clients, we asked, “So you’re just making the rich richer?” Floundering, he had nothing to say. It seemed the industry had developed tunnel vision. Failing to look beyond profit, the recruiters we talked to missed the larger societal picture.

Demonstrators at Occupy Morgan Stanley came with different motivations. Many of us believe that although banks like Morgan Stanley offer some worthwhile services, they perpetuate inequality and have behaved irresponsibly in recent years. Financial instruments and strategies inaccessible to all but the wealthiest have created a dangerous asymmetry between moneyed insiders and the average investor looking to retire. As financial markets bloat the incomes of the top 1 percent, they have consistently failed to provide an adequate security net for the average household.

Gidado attributes the negative externalities of Morgan Stanley’s work to simple errors, but, whatever the individual motives of the bank’s employees, it is difficult to imagine that Morgan Stanley accidentally backed subprime loans they knew were doomed to fail, for which it has settled suits with the Massachusetts and Nevada attorneys general. We are skeptical that Morgan Stanley did not mean to let its investment interests influence its research, a practice for which it has recently settled with the SEC. These choices hurt our country, and every Yale student must consider whether Morgan Stanley — or any other large financial institution — is the best place from which to contribute to society. We don’t think it is.

Finance jobs can be very appealing. But we must consider our public responsibility and examine our value systems when we decide what to do after graduation. There are other ways to pay off student loans. There are other ways to support a family. And there are other ways to use the privilege of the education we’ve received here at Yale.

Alexandra Brodsky is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at alexandra.brodsky@yale.edu. Nick Levine is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Contact him at nicholas.levine@yale.edu. Emily Villano is a junior in Pierson College. Contact her at emily.villano@yale.edu.

Comments

  • redman

    You are wrong in your assumption that investment firms are responsible for a security net for anyone other than their investors. When you choose a career you are making a choice for your own security net, for which you alone are responsible. Go ahead and make irresponsible choices but stop criticizing others for not making your choices.

  • JJ12

    “asking the right questions” – I’m pretty sure Travis Gigado referred to Yalies asking THEMSELVES the right moral questions, and he concluded that they should be respected enough on both an intellectual and moral level to make the right decision based on their own circumstances. He does not claim to know what is best for everyone as you do. I believe that anyone who read his article could see this. Your retort – evidence gathered by observing behavior at info sessions, and asking downright stupid questions yourself, is disingenuous.

    I find it hilarious that you begin your article by saying that you are not acting in a condescending way, or that you know something that other Yalies do not. You then say perhaps the most condescending thing of all – that you’re “simply ask[ing] that Yale students grapple with this startling statistic.”

    Did you seriously ask a private wealth manager “So you’re just making the rich richer?” That is how the world works: people with money invest that money to make gains. Making profits is not inherently evil, as you imply here.

    “There are other ways to pay off student loans. There are other ways to support a family. And there are other ways to use the privilege of the education we’ve received here at Yale.”
    – Yes, and the other 75% of the student body is pursuing these career tracks.

    There is nothing wrong with entering finance or consulting. You obnoxiously push your political agenda into the faces of students who are just trying to do what they feel is best for themselves (and their community). Give your peers some respect, acknowledge that we are at least as informed on these issues as you are. Acknowledge that you are NOT our moral superiors. And finally, please get over yourselves.

  • 20Y12

    ^^^
    What JJ12 said.

    I am so sick and tired of this. Get over yourselves and take a look in the mirror. What are you doing after you graduate to help the world? Seems like all you do now is bitch and moan about what other people are doing, then rallying other people to waste their time too. If you want to affect change, take action. In case you were wondering, Occupy Morgan Stanley is not action. Open a business or a nonprofit. Volunteer somewhere. Just don’t waste our time holding up signs and being sanctimonious. No one likes that.

  • River_Tam

    > We also understand why a $70,000 starting salary is tempting and that some students genuinely need to pay off student loans or support their families.

    Or themselves? Perhaps all the authors will be able to live off mommy and daddy’s income a while longer, but some students either want or need to be financially independent when they graduate.

    > And there are other ways to use the privilege of the education we’ve received here at Yale.

    Yes, and you’re free to choose them. No one’s forcing you to become a banker. Isn’t that what the entire second/third-wave feminist movement (that Brodsky and Villano associate with) is about? Freedom of “choice”? I can choose to become a banker and you can choose to paint the roses red? Or are you saying that your choices are morally or otherwise superior to someone else’s? And if you think you’re just “informing”, then do you have a problem with people protesting outside abortion clinics?

    > As a recruiter from wealth management boasted about the exorbitant luxuries of his clients, we asked, “So you’re just making the rich richer?”

    Yes, he is “just” providing a service to a client who is paying him. Who do you think manages your daddy’s money? Who do you think manage’s your mommy’s 401k? Some schmuck who then has to take abuse from his clients’ daughters and sons for “just” managing the money. There’s a story that Ken Starr (the accountant, not the prosecutor) built up his fraudulent ponzi scheme because he was tired of being considered “just the accountant”.

    The hatred of finance is historic, and it generally is those in power who rail against it (as we see here). Like in medieval times and the enlightenment era and in the era of Jay Gatsby, investment banking is seen as a gauche pastime of the New Rich rather than a dignified career of the well-to-do families. Goldman and Sachs and the Lehmans and the Salomons and the Lazards were looked down upon by the WASPS who saw the poor immigrants and poor sons of immigrants as nothing more than money-grubbing Jews. Meanwhile, the already well-to-do Wilsons and the Roosevelts and the Kennedys went into politics: a much nobler calling, in their minds.

    It continues today. Those who have never wanted for anything try to convince others that they should want the same things they want, which is to say – not money (because they already have it). If Brodsky, Levine, and Villano are truly concerned about “public responsibility”, they should consider that the best way to rectify the income inequality in America is to let poor kids earn lots of money through intelligence and hard work.

    By the way: I am convinced after reading this piece that none of the three writers have any understanding of economics or the financial system or even what a position at an investment bank entails (lol $70k starting salary). This is not surprising, since it seems a favorite past time of Yalies to criticize things that they don’t understand as being.

  • dms

    Hear hear, Alexandra, Nick, and Emily. The only things more loathsome than the financial industry are the deluded kids who try to defend. The system is clearly insane. I’m astonished anyone is still trying to argue otherwise.

    River Tam, why do you assume the people protesting the financial industry are themselves independently wealthy? With all due respect, that’s about the most a**-backwards argument I’ve seen yet. And it certainly contradicts my own experience. My origins are in the very middle of the middle class, and I am horrified to see family members putting off retirement, losing their benefits or even their jobs, and struggling to attain the very minimum of what “society” – very much including the propagandists of free-rein capitalism – always told them they’d eventually receive. The expectation that we’re just supposed to shut up and let all of this wash away is the biggest swindle of all.

    If some poor kid manages to get to Yale, and then manages to get hired by Morgan Stanley or Goldman or whatever, all the more power to her/him: that’s a moral decision I can respect. But it is a moral decision. I see absolutely nothing wrong with asking students in any field to consider the big picture, in other words the social impact of their labor. This goes just as much for artists and English majors. I think it’s legitimate to ask if we should really be sending 25% of our best and brightest into a profession whose function and activities are undeniably problematic if not simply unethical. Does anybody really still believe that the trickle-down/trickle-up model is sufficient to rectify the ongoing unemployment crisis? If not, why are we still doing what we’re doing?

    I hate it when people dismiss all criticism of finance on the grounds that these peasants couldn’t possibly comprehend it. (Needless complexity is part of the problem, by the way: any economic system based on algorithms only a handful of people will ever understand is necessarily undemocratic.) I’m guessing most of the above posters also don’t have a particularly good understanding of how the Marxo-Hegelian dialectic leads irreversibly to the sublation of class society into a self-mediating totality. By the above logic this allows me to irrefutably claim that history is on my side and not yours. Don’t know why? Sorry, that’s the way it is! Of course I’m joking, but not much. If we all had to understand everything perfectly before jumping in with criticism we’d never get anywhere. Anyway, most people understand perfectly well how finance works on a practical rather than a theoretical level. They know it sucks.

    • 20Y12

      “I see absolutely nothing wrong with asking students in any field to consider the big picture, in other words the social impact of their labor. This goes just as much for artists and English majors.”

      So, then, should we not occupy the intelligent and ambitious students lining up to become English majors or Art History majors, who are using their time towards what I perceive as a smaller contribution to society? Does a freelance artist or journalist, or even a paid artist or journalist, make a better contribution than the person in the finance or consulting track?

      Whether it’s evil or not, the Yalies going into finance are going because they’ve earned a spot in an industry where intelligence and ambition are needed for the industry to succeed. Finance is a complex and confusing industry where, good or bad, the best and the brightest need to be running it. Do you want community college grads handling your 401(k) or any of your other assets in the future? I think not.

      Do you really think that the English and Art majors are making a better decision, or even an equal one? At least coming out of finance or consulting after two years, these Yalies will have valuable skills and connections that can enable them to change the world.

    • River_Tam

      > River Tam, why do you assume the people protesting the financial industry are themselves independently wealthy?

      Because their article begrudgingly concedes that some people might, you know, need to make money when they leave college.

      > I hate it when people dismiss all criticism of finance on the grounds that these peasants couldn’t possibly comprehend it.

      To the contrary, the authors are the ones presenting finance as a base and unworthy profession, concerned “just” with making money and enriching its practitioners.

      > I think it’s legitimate to ask if we should really be sending 25% of our best and brightest into a profession whose function and activities are undeniably problematic if not simply unethical.

      What part of “finance” is unethical? That’s right, you have *no conceivable idea* because *you know nothing about finance* (apart from the fact that “it sucks”). Conflating the financial industry with “the trickle-down/trickle-up model” (what does that even mean? You have no idea) only further demonstrates that you’re cluelessly raging against an imagined machine.

      (By the way – if you’re against the bailouts of the financial system, you should think about joining the Republican Party because the conservative wing of the GOP was the only group that fought TARP tooth and nail).

      > I’m guessing most of the above posters also don’t have a particularly good understanding of how the Marxo-Hegelian dialectic leads irreversibly to the sublation of class society into a self-mediating totality.

      There are three key differences here:

      1 Your sentence has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Marx’s description of the classless society is precisely that: a description, not a prescription.

      2 Knowledge of Marxist theory (a perversion of Hegel, in reality) is knowledge of an opinion, not knowledge of a set of facts. Marx may be right, and he may be wrong. But conflating Marxist theory and the underlying mechanisms of financial transactions would be like conflating the nature of God and the programming of a computer.

      3 Your final sentences “anyways, most people understand perfectly well how finance works on a practical rather than a theoretical level. They know it sucks.” betrays your ignorance in two ways. First, claiming that “finance sucks” demonstrates that you have absolutely no understanding of what finance actually is (imagine someone proclaiming boldly that “engineering sucks” or “math sucks” or “music sucks”). Second, you fail to recognize that there is a VAST difference between Practical and Theoretical knowledge of finance that you haven’t even begun to grasp. Most investment bankers have a *practical*, NOT a *theoretical* grasp of finance. Some might even argue that their lack of theoretical understanding is what led to this crisis. The *theoreticians* are all at universities like Yale and Harvard and MIT. You have neither practical nor theoretical knowledge of finance. You’re just ignorant.

      • dms

        Well, I may be ignorant but most people agree with me. Get outside of Yale and you’ll find out real quick what most people think about the financial industry. Yes, they hate it. I hate it too.

        The Marx thing was a joke. Interesting to see how completely you didn’t get it. “A perversion of Hegel.” You have no idea what you’re talking about. Just like I have no idea what I’m talking about when I talk about finance.

        “Trickle-up/trickle-down” was a neologism by which I meant to indicate the idea that, on the one hand, a few poor people will make it to the top, while on the other, some wealth will move down. Pretty simple.

        I’m not even really trying to defend all the points of this article. But I sure as hell know what side I stand on. A little class war would do this country good. Some of Yale is on the right side but most of it isn’t. I accept the fact that rational argument won’t do much good. I don’t mind alienating people like you because I am fine with having enemies.

        • dms

          I do actually read a lot of economics, but it’s from people like this:

          http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/

          Of course I don’t expect you to take him seriously. We’re operating in different discourses.

        • JJ12

          You totaly get it. I mean, I don’t rly know what goes on outside of North Korea, but if you get out of Yale, you’ll find real quick that most fellers here love Kim Jong Il. Yup. Me 2. I may just be a ‘higgorant, but least i know what i think. Yep.

          Some people make money and uhh some people make not so much money. So yeah. Pretty simple.

          KILL THOSE WHO ARE RICHER THAN I AM! GIVE ME ENEMIES TO CONQUERRRRRRRR! Hey when is the next chicken tenders day coming up?

  • JohnnyE

    The insufferable, “holier than thou” cries by these ignorant self-appointed moralists that have become increasingly loud the past couple semesters are exactly what many are afraid of having to witness prior to coming to Yale. These children create a “hostile environment” and impede honest, rational discourse more so than any of the people or groups they vilify.

  • eli1

    I would love the opportunity to make an informative comment on this article, since I am sure it is terrible. However, I just can’t bring myself to read any more of the absolute garbage from Brodsky. When will she go away?

  • yale_senior

    I think you three are right and I support your cause, but I think the way you guys message it is not going to appeal to people, other than those who already agree with you. You guys right now say that the problem with finance companies is that they “they perpetuate inequality and have behaved irresponsibly in recent years.” That is too “bring down the man”-y to be successful with these sorts of people. Whether you in fact do want to take down the global financial system or not, I think there is an intellectual argument that has much broader appeal: finance recruitment is ruining America’s global competitiveness.

    With world-wide competitiveness, China, and so forth, clearly not everyone can be an engineer or computer scientist, but isn’t it crazy how few people work for the big name fortune 500 companies: when’s the last time you heard of someone working for GM, or American Express, Delta, Walmart, or Berkshire Hathaway. These are the companies that will make America continue to grow and have a strong economy, not the umpteenth private equity firm.

  • ScalabrineFan

    Finance people are evil. Anybody outside the ivory tower of Yale can see that.

  • jamesdakrn

    Look. I’m a liberal. I do think that the Wall Street exuberance played a role in 2008 crash. But this is not the way to do it. You guys make us look more retarded than Timmy from South Park. Seriously, stop this bulls—. I beg you. Please.

  • theterminator

    This article has a point. Occupy Morgan Stanley, by supposedly intelligent Yale students, is an act beyond stupidity.