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Fewer Harvard MBAs are going to work on Wall Street. That’s great news.

(Jennifer Greylock / AP)
Scaring off B-schoolers? (Jennifer Greylock / AP)

In this morning's Wall Street Journal, the head of the world's largest futures exchange sounds the alarm: Fewer Harvard Business School graduates are going to work in finance. That's a travesty, he says, because financiers make the economy go round.

Financial-service firms do the behind-the-scenes work of the U.S. economy, making the widespread impact of their work difficult to quantify—and difficult for both Wall Streeters and Main Streeters to recognize. But the invisible hand of financial firms gives small businesses the loans they need to grow. It helps major airlines hedge jet fuel, price-risk management that means more flights for passengers. Financial services mitigate a farmer's risk of price fluctuation at harvest, allowing him to plant more crops. These benefits keep businesses of all sizes growing...


American finance has always been a place for entrepreneurial risk-takers. Historically, Wall Street has been a haven for young people who are passionate about changing the world with a powerful idea. Now it seems that those young people are much more likely to head for Silicon Valley. Yet where will much of the financing for their projects originate? On Wall Street. I have deep concerns about where the financial-services industry is going if we've lost our ability to connect with those people.


Finance is about more than work and money. It is about empowerment and contribution. We need to demonstrate how the best bankers, traders and investors have not only talented minds but empathy and insight into what makes people tick—and the resources to help them prosper.

The trend is real, at least. The last few years have seen a steady trickle of stories about how after the crash, America's bright young graduates flocked to Silicon Valley, or other jobs with more stable long-term employment prospects, less grueling schedules, and a more direct sense of impact.

But wait: How could that possibly be a bad thing? Wall Street's most brilliant minds, innovating their hearts out, brought us the kinds of exotic financial products that tanked the market originally. And I'm sure investment banks still have very smart people busy shifting commodities around to make more money for shareholders while consumers lose out. Seems that what's needed on Wall Street is less invention and more responsible stewardship, which can be accomplished by a moderate number of very intelligent people, rather than half the crop of our newly minted MBAs. (And it's not as if they're hard up for bodies; the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows financial employment recovering nicely).

Employment in finance and insurance. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Employment in finance and insurance. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

America's fiercest and most creative intellects -- not all of which, mind, are laundered through elite business schools -- could be put to better use figuring out where the jobs lost to automation and globalization will appear next, how to bring better health care to more people, what to do about the monumental challenge of supplying energy without devastating the planet. If people who could make bank on Wall Street are opting instead to make slightly less in more fulfilling ways, that's something to celebrate, not lament.

Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.



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Brad Plumer · September 30, 2013

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