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In Defense Of A Career In Finance

Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan

Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan


The way to extend the good life to more people is not to discourage the talent it can pay for or to, as Shiller puts it, restrain financial innovation but instead to release it…Imperfect as our financial system is, I still find myself admiring it for what it does, and imagining how much more impressive it can be in the future.” And that future is largely dependent on the quality and integrity of the people the industry can attract to act as stewards of society’s assets.

For most, Shiller rightly makes clear, good society motives don’t drive entrepreneurs to work the 60 to 80 hours a week to generate wealth, meaningful employment for people, and goods and services for a society. “There has to be a money incentive for people to do practical work,” he says.

Sendhil sounds a little like the critics who initially bemoaned the creation of the first collegiate school of business in 1881 when American entrepreneur and industrialist Joseph Wharton established Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania. As MIT President—and economist—Francis Amasa Walker proclaimed in a newspaper article in 1890: “I exceedingly dislike to see the question of college education put upon such low ground. A young man who would allow his decision between going to college or staying away to be determined wholly or mainly by the prospect of pecuniary return is unworthy of the benefit of a liberal education.”


How silly of Walker to disparage the goal to train young people to more effectively manage capital and lead organizations that create value in the world. And how silly for Sendhil to discourage students from pursuing careers that can be every bit as fulfilling and productive as that of a cancer researcher, a teacher, or a public servant. In fact, without the investors to fund it, without the taxes on people who earn money, there would be no cancer research, little teaching, and no one in public service.

Even Sendhil’s TED lecture on solving social problems is sponsored by none other than Goldman Sachs, the world’s most powerful investment bank (what viewers see before his TED talk is what you can see below). Finance is not always, to borrow a phrase from the now thoroughly discredited Rolling Stone, the “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

The professor's TED talk might not even be available online if not for Goldman Sachs

The professor’s TED talk might not even be available online if not for Goldman Sachs


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.