Finance — that evil industry responsible for the wealth gap that so many Yalies go into after graduation. When professor Robert Shiller claimed at a debate hosted by The Economist that those with moral purpose should work in finance, his response was met with hordes of criticism. The criticism resembled much of the argument that his debate opponent, Vivek Wadhwa, advanced. “Would you rather have your children going and cooking up the financial system, engineering the financial system, and creating more bubbles for us … or would you rather have them saving the world?” he asked.
Even as a measly freshman, I’ve gotten whiffs of the general attitude towards economics majors and bankers. That the finance industry is cold and heartless, that it is for those who only value money, that it is selling your soul. This view has gained traction to the point where professors have publicly commented on this trend, with criticism of those going into finance taking up quite some space in discussion.
Maybe it’s because the path is so popular that some feel the need to criticize it. Yet, this isn’t done without collateral damage.
No, I’m not an economics major. I’d much rather write an essay in one of my philosophy classes than take an economics midterm any day. And no, I’m not someone currently going to Goldman Sachs meetings and trying to network for a future job.
I also recognize the reasons finance has received criticism. The wealth disparity in America is no laughing matter, with the top 0.01 percent of Americans making more than 4 percent of the national total income — the highest in nearly 100 years. Heads of banks are receiving higher bonuses than ever. Plus, many going into finance now do so because they’re not sure what they want to do, and banking promises a healthy paycheck.
But what has happened at Yale, the demonization of those going into the industry, isn’t fair for many people that are taking jobs in finance. After interviews with several people who are going into finance, I realized that what critics had said to be the case — that a person went into finance solely for the money and self-gain — was not true at all.
This says nothing about the morality of the overall industry. That’s a different topic entirely. What I am saying is that as Yalies, we often fight tooth and nail against discrimination. We will do anything in our power to prevent ourselves from attributing characteristics to individuals on the basis of their status as a member of a certain group. There’s no reason that attitude should stop short of those going into finance.
When I asked a Yalie about his future in finance, he responded by saying that “I would love to go and do Teach for America or join the Peace Corps, but I need money to pay off my student debt and doing what I love is the way I can do it.”
And this is something we often forget. I have certainly been guilty of subconsciously eliminating the possibility that those going into finance truly enjoy what they’re doing, and that it interests them as much as poetry, physics or philosophy interest others. And often, it isn’t a case of the rich getting richer, but rather, those who didn’t have money in the past who know its value doing what they love to support themselves and their family.
It is unfair to lump these people under the “finance” umbrella. It isn’t fair that we assume things about them and guilt them for “cooking up the financial system” and being harmful to the rest of the hard working people out there. Just as we try not to assume things about a person based on stereotypes, we should not assume things about people going into finance. Because their chosen profession doesn’t say anything about their characters; it doesn’t say anything about where they’re from or who they are.
It seems like whenever someone tells me that they are going into consulting or hedge-fund work, they often add in the phrase “which I guess is pretty common” — as if they have to apologize for what they’re doing.
This attitude towards finance is deeply ingrained in our culture at Yale. Whether this is with reason or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we take the attitude of acceptance and non-judgment that we hold for decisions such as religious affiliation and extend it to all facets of our life.
Leo Kim is a freshman in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.