Skip to main content

You Are Not Special

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Kids today. They all want jobs in hedge funds and private equity, and, what’s more, they don’t just want to work in the aforementioned fields—the little punks want to run them. They all want to be James Simons, they all want to be Steve Schwarzman; they all want wicked cool beards, they all want to tower over the crowd at a perch of 5’6”. Where do they get off?
There are two and a half reasons for the career aspirations of today’s youth. 0-1 is that Simons made $1.7 billion last year, with the combined income of the top 25 HF managers exceeding $14 billion. So that’s somewhat appealing. (Schwarzman also did okay for himself). 1-1.5 enables 0-1: favorable tax treatment, i.e. 35% v. 15%, the latter of which saved Simons a few hundge mill in taxes last year. If you’re a kid and you’re saying to yourself “15 or 35, what shall I do?” you probably don’t need much time to come up with an answer. (We know 15 is for carried interest and not total income, we’re just trying to make a point, so settle down trigger finger commenters and save your vitriol for whatever grammatical error is bound to come next).
1.5-2.5 boils down to stupidity and arrogance being a bad combination. Robert Frank writes that the market is a “winner-take-all market— essentially a tournament in which a handful of winners are selected from a much larger field of initial contestants.” Why is the field so overcrowded? Because people overestimate themselves and think that they, not the guy next to them or the guy next to him, have what it takes to earn $1.7 billion/yr. Apparently more than 90% of workers believe they are more productive than their average colleague.
It’s probably true that 90% of your colleagues are incompetent and lazy. But who’s reading right now when you could be doing work? This “overconfidence bias,” according to Frank, puts talented people into an oversaturated field when their skills could be better used elsewhere (like I-banking!), adds no economic value and puts us further and further from achieving our goal of peace in the Middle East. That’s why he advocates making the “after-tax rewards…a little less spectacular,” so that less people want to work in hedge funds and P.E. and raises the attractive quotient of other fields, “ones in which extra talent would yield substantial gains.”
Raise the tax. Don’t raise the tax. Whatever. Let’s attack the problem at the root and lucky for us, the Wall Street Journal has a list of HF and PE enemies on hand. Who or what caused an entire generation to ballpark its earning potential at $1 billion-or-so/yr? Mr. Rogers.
That’s right—you can send your pipe bombs to the estate of late Fred Rogers, who told all small children that they were “special,” even the ugly ones.

"Mr. Rogers spent years telling little creeps that he liked them just the way they were. He should have been telling them there was a lot of room for improvement. ... Nice as he was, and as good as his intentions may have been, he did a disservice."

Indeed! Because of Mr. Self-esteem and that puppet king in the bizarre alternate universe, everyone thinks they can eat $40 crab legs. And you know who else is to blame? The parents. Too much “A for effort,” not enough “you’re a moron.” Too much “I believe in you,” not enough “You will fail.” Too much, “You can be Stevie Cohen when you grow up,” not enough “hopefully McDonald’s is hiring.”
The overcrowding of these fields as a result of coddling and child-rearing techniques that foster confidence and self-worth is a problem that must be stopped.

A Career in Hedge Funds and the Price of Overcrowding [NYT]
Blame It on Mr. Rogers: Why Young Adults Feel So Entitled [WSJ]