As you may have heard, over the last several months, various college newspapers have run opinion pieces by students lamenting the fact that many of their peers take jobs on Wall Street following graduation, where their talents are wasted. Dartmouth kicked things off in August, with others following in suit, particularly at Ivy League universities, from which the financial industry heavily recruits. Not to be left out of the fun, Duke University's Chronicle Editorial Board today bemoaned the Duke "factory" which "inputs smart and well-intentioned kids, and churns out instruments for the Wall Street machine."
Financial services and consulting have filled the first and second position for top employers of Duke grads for three of the past four years. In 2009, businesses in these sectors comprised almost half of all hirers. The unabated flow of Duke students into finance represents a lamentable waste of talent. A well-functioning economy requires a financial system to procure and allocate investment capital. But financial institutions’ swollen balance sheets often fail to accurately reflect the value they add to society, while more socially productive activities—like education or policy reform—are systematically undervalued. Indeed, trading in complex and risky financial instruments like collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps raises profits and inflates paychecks, but it also spurs little growth and can place the entire economy at risk. Indeed, any argument for the value—economic or social—of the financial sector must rest on the ability of financial institutions to coordinate capital and foster innovative business ventures that produce wealth and create jobs. These arguments assume that the financial sector is only valuable insofar as it contributes to other more valuable areas.
Given the relative unproductiveness of the financial sector, graduates who pursue careers in finance or consulting sacrifice an opportunity to apply their unique intelligence and ingenuity to tackle the innumerable challenges we face as a country...Entrepreneurial pursuits and careers in public service offer the most opportunity for graduates to do good. If more smart people pursue jobs oriented toward creating socially-valuable products and services or commit themselves to developing solutions to educational or environmental problems, society will improve in ways that trading in mortgage-backed securities will never achieve. We encourage students headed for Wall Street to stray from that tired road, but recognize the institutional, parental and social pressures that compel many to pursue careers in finance and consulting. Although these careers promise security, wealth and status, we believe that Duke students can do better. Those who choose another path have the power to improve society in lasting and meaningful ways. We hope that they will.
For the presumably large contingent of Duke students who entered the school thinking working on Wall Street was exactly what they wanted to (rather than having been co-opted by The Man or brainwashed by the Duke Factory), and don't actually want to do "better," take heart- your blood may be boiling now, but before going and taking it out on stripper tonight, please note that "The editorial board did not reach quorum for this editorial." You're still in a safe space.
Pass The Buck [The Chronicle]