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 email@example.com. Nick Levine is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Emily Villano is a junior in Pierson College. Contact her at email@example.com.