‘No economically redeeming aspects whatsoever’
In a blog post titled “Streetwalkers,” the New Yorker‘s George Packer laments that, after a brief hiatus, the brain drain to Wall Street seems to be back underway:
Why shouldn’t the graduates of America’s élite universities flock to Wall Street again, now that the market is clearing up? The acceptable answer is that there’s no reason they shouldn’t. Nothing wrong with making money. …
Why do we need a financial sector whose share of gross domestic product has doubled over the past several decades? Is it healthy for financial services and investment to dominate our economy as they do, and to consume the talents and advantages of astounding percentages of our élite graduates? Are long-term growth and shared prosperity ever to be found in an economy that depends so heavily on electronic transactions rather than production? Is social cohesion in a democracy possible when the gap in incomes between investment bankers and doctors, let alone teachers, let alone fast-food workers, is as enormously wide as it is today?
Investment bankers like to say that what they do makes the rest of the economy work. But the synthetic products that helped create Goldman’s record-breaking profits, drove the financial system close to collapse, cost millions of Americans their jobs and houses, and led to a civil suit against the firm have no economically redeeming aspects whatsoever. They have as little to do with productive activity as high-stakes blackjack. A Wall Street career is becoming indefensible, and yet large fractions of the graduates of America’s best universities can think of no better use for their intelligence and degrees than a job that has become less socially useful than prostitution, and a lot more harmful.