Money Is a Tool, Not an Inverse Proof of Personal Value

A mindset exists around money and choices involved in acquiring it that I don’t understand. I comprehend that this exists, but I’m not sure why or how it develops and persists. Lauren McLaughlin writes about a New York Times article on Wall Street layoffs:

According to this New York Times article, young wannabe bankers are the first to go in the most recent round of financial sector lay-offs.

I know. Boo hoo, right?

I won’t ask anyone to shed a tear for these youngsters who still have plenty of time to rethink the trajectory of their professional lives. Besides, looked at one way, the recession is the best thing to happen to this generation of young, ambitious college grads. Without easy access to the lucrative field of magical fairy dust mortgage derivatives, they might actually do something meaningful with their lives.

Having two degrees in finance and multiple friends who entered the field in the mid-’90s, I’d take issue with the idea of “easy” access to the financial industry. But that quibble aside, I’d ask why Ms. McLaughlin should spend her time in the (potentially) lucrative field of magical fairy dust novel writing. If she couldn’t do that, she might actually do something meaningful with her life, to be determined by me for her.

I only offer that in jest. Novel writing is a respectable, useful profession, and I admire anyone who can a) do it and b) make a living at it. It doesn’t matter if the author writes books I would read or not. I’m not silly enough to demand that my tastes, preferences, and needs be the only criteria by which everyone must decide what is worthwhile in the world.

The same applies to the world of finance. I think the impulse to condemn finance in total rests on the same misguided notion that all bankers from 2008 were criminals who should be arrested for causing a financial crisis. It’s a simplistic approach to a complicated topic. The industry doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful.

This is not to say I admire the banker lifestyle described in the article or in Ms. McLaughlin’s post. I don’t, but again, that’s because it doesn’t appeal to me, not because it’s inherently flawed or bad. And there are real people suffering in that story. Should we only have empathy for someone until they make a certain income?

Which brings me to a great post by Jason Kuznicki:

The economist Justin Wolfers tweeted an interesting poll result yesterday, from Kaiser (though I’m having trouble finding it at the moment):

As far as you are concerned, do we have too many rich people in this country (31%), too few (21%), or about the right amount? (42%)

As far as I am concerned, 73% of the country appears to have lost its mind. I’d like everyone to be rich, which means, obviously, that we have too few rich people.

He’s right. If we’re going to focus on artificial, ever-shifting definitions of class in America, we should be working to help everyone move up, not knock the “right” people down for being “wrong” in some way.