Good Work

Monday, April 20, 2009

Frank Rich, New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, and Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard, director of the Harvard Good Work Project and author of Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet, talk about the lure of Wall Street and the potential for a counter narrative to 'money is king'.


Howard Gardner and Frank Rich

Comments [51]

James B from NYC

As Adam Smith recognized 200 years ago, the best way to advance the good of society is for everyone to pursue their self-interests - 'selfishness' actually has an altruistic effect. The material abundance of advanced industrialized capitalist market economies is the outcome of that pursuit of profit & self-interest. Woolly-headed do-gooders have had the counter-intuitive effect of creating social systems of stagnation & material want. The best anti-poverty 'program' is teaching people how to thrive in an economy of mutually beneficial exchange motivated by gain!

Apr. 21 2009 02:58 AM
Orla from Manhattan

Calling all bankers! I work for a banking mag (w/ 100,000 readers) that's doing a whole issue on recruitment issues. If you'd like to weigh in, please contact me.

Apr. 20 2009 05:02 PM

I wish Brian Lehrer corrected the caller, when he called H1B visa owners "cheap imports". I think it was a big insult, and completely non sense statement. Since hiring an H1B visa holder is not cheap at all. And these people are selected for their talent, and they pay taxes as much as any other worker. This caller might be confusing outsourcing with hiring an international. And I am surprised that Brian Lehrer is not aware of such differences.

Apr. 20 2009 03:24 PM
Kressel Housman

I'm over 40, not 20, but I'd love to know how I can make more money doing the meaningful work that I do. How do I get in on this Good Works project now that I'm long out of college?

Apr. 20 2009 01:19 PM
M. from NYC

The more I listen to the talk of this supposed younger generation, I find myself thinking that the inescapable conclusion is that they are even more self-centered, even more narcissistic than their elders. What is this but the well-fed Me! Me! Me! Generation? Cossetted from their damn inception, allowed to persist in thought patterns that were devised by marketeers, with nothing at their heart but an intent to get their attention. How to do so? Well, train them to focus on their imagined wounds and their imagined enemies. It's the classic case of the ghastly lipstick on the horribly piggish attitudes. On some level, not all that different from the notions that were about in Weimar Germany and held so valuable by the Nazis. It's just another generation that thinks its narcissitic wound is the result of being "stabbed in the back."

No one will get any money out of them by telling them that it's just a self-inflicted wound, the product of an altogether excess sense of amour propre, don't you. So that notion is not likely to get any purchase, now is it? No buck to be made.

Apr. 20 2009 12:28 PM
Cathy Lilburne from Garrison NY

What a great topic... I read Frank Rich's commentary, and was appalled by Lawrence Summers $5 million annual fee for consulting work for a one day a week job.

What is the meaning & purpose of Education? When will we start educating people along the theories of Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences? How do we help people discover what their gift is, where their passion lies? I'm an antiquarian bookseller who stumbled into her field. I've also been involved with the local school board for years - the education schools can be faulted for failing to turn out teachers who turn on their students.

Re: Engineering Schools - Brian, I would be happy to correspond with you about this - one of our sons has been down this road.

Apr. 20 2009 12:20 PM
B. from NYC

Yes, there has always been a long tradition of Ivy League types entering finance. And the notion that it is only privileged boomer yuppies? This bit:

"This group has distinguished itself by dismissively displacing the values of their predecessors, commidifying their own social movements for their own immediate gain and have now pressed their children into the fanciful world of derivatives and commodifying other's actual products in their breathless pursuit of the dollar and the seemingly insane race to beat the Joneses, which appears to me as a Gen Xer, appears to me way more trite, shallow and damaging than their forbears that they "rebelled" against in the mythos of the 60's. ... Until the Boomers are retired (if they can retire :)) the cultural rot and intellectual malaise (yes I said it) of American culture will not end!"

Farce at best. And farce as written by ignorant yahoos. Ah, what is this but the gaping maw of historical ignorance yet again? So much for that education you think you got. And if you really think that, well, first thing you need to do is correct the considerable error of your parents' birth. Until that day, this is just more intellectual and moral cowardice in some moralising clownsuit.

Fact is that twenty years ago, the floor traders on the New York-based exchanges were likely to be the sons of firemen and police officers, people who lived out in Queens.

Apr. 20 2009 12:16 PM
Sue from BrooklynI

Why is anyone surprised that this happened? There is a long tradition at Ivy League colleges (in particular, because that is where recruiters focus their efforts) drifting in the direction of the hottest & best compensated position. This has been going on for decades, not just the last few years. Yes, investment banking quadrupled in size over the last 20 years or so, but it's hardly shocking breaking news.

The elephant in the room is that these people are finishing their wonderful college educations with record amounts of personal debt. The more these folks come from anything but the upper tiers of wealth, the more likely they are to have seen how debt has crippled their own family and the less likely they are to want to see that repeated as they marry and have children. I have lost count of the number of people who went to Wall Street not out of greed, but simply because it seemed to offer the best chance of getting out from under their debt load. The subtext was always "Ok, I'll give it four or five years and then leave when the student loans are all paid off." By then, of course, reality has set in. Maybe there aren't jobs in their career of choice. Maybe they are married and living in NYC, with children to support (it's very ironic that this item came on immediately after the news report citing the story in today's Post that the cost of health insurance for a family of 4 and rent on a 2-bedroom apartment combined total $8,000 a month...) And, let's face it, many of them never had a passion for some other field in the first place -- they never had a yearning to teach, or become a social worker or an artist, or... For them, working on Wall Street was intellectually satisfying enough. And if you talked to some of those engineering students (or the people with advanced physics degrees), you might find that their job choice was due as much to interest as to lucre.

Apr. 20 2009 11:47 AM

What an amazing display of hypocrisy.... If that self-sacrificing teacher gets sick, loses her job and her health insurance, who's going to pay her medical bills and take care of her kids? Frank Rich? Professor Gardner?

It's great that these two guys preach virtue to the rest of us, but when was the last time these two pillars of virtue sacrificed their salaries and their 401K contributions to do some low-paying community organizing?

Apr. 20 2009 10:43 AM
Eric Engstrom from New York, NY

Nancy is not cynical, she is factually correct.

Over the past decade, the American public has accepted, in full, a redefinition of higher education as a private individualized commodity only (individual students will get good jobs and make more money) and has ignored a basic and fundamental role of higher education as a social good. The essence of effective liberal education. (Please don't confuse "liberal education" with political leaning.)

Only when we begin expect and demand that higher education deliver on it's promise to society as well as to individual students, will the individualistic and narrow outcomes that Frank Rich and Howard Gardner describe begin to change.

Our colleges and universities, as inherently conservative institutions, only reflect our culture overall. If we change our culture, they will change accordingly. It's time.

Apr. 20 2009 10:41 AM
I banker with large debt from New Jersey

enough of this knocking on Bankers! I have an ivy league education and over 200K in debt and my school had no problem charging me such high fees. How am I going to pay this back? By becoming a teacher and earning 35K? Besides, what is so evil about these corporations and large companies overall. They are the ones that generate the enormous revenues to hire millions of educated people.

Apr. 20 2009 10:36 AM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

Jeff from Manhattan -- Whew! An entire generation dismissed out of hand. Where does the vitriol come from, one might ask? Did your parents let you down in some way? I'm so sorry. However, you night do a little more research before making such sweeping generalizations. We boomers did not dismissively upturn the apple cart or spend our lives in pursuit of monetary gain. As for being retired, many of us have been paying taxes since before you were born. Boomers alone aren't responsible for this mess. All of us are responsible for this mess.

Apr. 20 2009 10:35 AM
Bob from Pelham

The irony in Nancy's point is that the financial meltdown may have cost the universities much more in lost endowment principal than the Wall Street donations provided.

On the other hand, it is a little hard to listen to a tenured Ivy League professor tell other people that they should follow lower-paying careers for society's sake. His children likely attend college tuition-free, and won't have massive debt overhanging them at graduation. Does he give back with substantial pro-bono work, or only studies of other people's lack of effort?

Apr. 20 2009 10:34 AM

Bob Brady/35 -- you make an interesting and strong point.

However, I am curious to hear what you make of the fact that the Communism of Russia, China and Vietnam were and are built upon the ways of thinking developed and implemented nearly exclusively by highly trained engineers and scientists.

Apr. 20 2009 10:34 AM
Theresa from NYC

This idea is crap! Do you have any idea how much it costs to live especially here in New York! I was an idealist - and quickly woke up when I finished college and applied for a job in a city council member's office and was offered the job at $25K/year! Are you people serious?! Grow up!

Apr. 20 2009 10:29 AM
RMR from Manhattan

Great discussion. The concept of meritocracy itself should be examined, too. For instance, in an increasingly knowledge-based economy, scarcity of talent is rewarded -- this seems fair.

More accurately, people with scarce talents have an incentive to rig the system, if they can, to be disproportionately rewarded.

The broader enrollment in college, the use of the SAT as a screen, and the deregulation of Wall Street all happened within a few decades (60's to 80's). If you look at the chemistry, maybe the outcome is inevitable. Why would elites want to graduate and teach, or graduate and work in an industry making better laundry detergent, if they can invent an industry (Wall Street) that can invent its own money, with no ceiling on pay?

In this view, the SAT itself became adopted as an inevitable part of a wealth extraction machine -- ordinary labor was locked at 1970's level of pay, and elite pay skyrocketed.

Apr. 20 2009 10:29 AM
Bob Brady from Riverside, CT

Engineers into non-engineering/finance is a long Ivy League practice. My Dad, Princeton '33, became the senior tax partner at a big-8 CPA firm. In my class, P'63, my engineering program graduated 7, only one of whom went on to an engineering career. I went into management consulting in a big-8 CPA firm, one became a physician, a couple became lawyers and the rest went into "business".

Engineering is a way of thinking and approaching real problems. Unlike some in the last administration, engineers are primarily "reality-based" and look at objectives, costs, and are sensitive to how things work in practice.

Apr. 20 2009 10:27 AM

Do the guests have children. If so what did they encourage their kids to do. What did they major in and what are they doing?

Apr. 20 2009 10:26 AM
Hugh from Brookyn

The caller Nancy is exactly right -- not at all cynical, just factual. Harvard is the far and away the most glaring example of this. For years the highest paid person at Harvard was the manager of the endowment. When Juan Cole was up for a position at Yale, his candidacy was shut down when major donors threatened to cut off Yale. These 'elite' schools ceased to be first and foremost institutions of scholarship decades ago. They are now vast money mills -- just look at the treatment of the endowments of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc., since the late 80s.

Apr. 20 2009 10:25 AM

Antioch in Ohio encourage the arts over money -- and look how great they're doing!

If you have a chance to setup a donor 20 years before his first donation -- why on earth wouldn't you go for it!?

Apr. 20 2009 10:24 AM
Alvin from Manhattan

I'm a former electrical engineer that saw the light decades ago. I've seen engineers going into finance and other fields for at least 20-30 years. It's a difficult field, and the flood of H1B visas keep salaries down. Salaries top out in a few years unless you go into management, start your own company, or leave the field. I know a PhD in nuclear engineering who became a fairly low-level "quant" on Wall Street, a former physics major who became an actuary, and a number of engineers who became traders --- all in the 1980s.

Apr. 20 2009 10:23 AM
Susan from Kingston, New York

Nacy is absolutely right! There has been an enormous effort by all colleges to build their endowments.

Apr. 20 2009 10:23 AM
engineer not using license from Chelsea

The interesting thing is not so much what people major in, but that they seem to feel that they deserve a six figure salary upon graduation (ivy league or elsewhere) regardless of their level of experience.

Isn't this more about greed and a lack of understanding of how amazingly privileged we are here in the United States.

I am an engineer by education (BS-VA Tech & MS Purdue) and work in a related field but one that does not require my license.

Apr. 20 2009 10:23 AM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

We maligned boomers, who came of age in the 60's were labeled the "Me Generation" -- at first amusing and now somewhat derogatory over time. But we, who were inspired by JFK's Peace Core and wrestled with the Vietnam War, were not motivated by money or financial gain -- to our detriment now, alas. Many of us went into the arts, teaching, civil service, public health, and public interest law. Not that none of us made money. But it was not a motivating force when we were in college. But times were different. And I agree with the comment above that when students graduate today burdened by huge debt, choices may be different.

Apr. 20 2009 10:23 AM
patrick from midtown

I am one of those engineers who answered the sirens call (it just sounded so sweet), and now find myself at home listening to NPR and spening time behind my computer.
One thing that I think should not get overlooked is that this is an exciting time: Each of the great minds that chose finance is now going to gravitate towards industries for which it is better suited to make a significant contribution, and therefore (hopefully) we should see some incredible innovation over the next few years.

Apr. 20 2009 10:23 AM
KC Trommer from Sunnyside

Also, Brian--why again with the class focus on the Ivy league? This is a question that crosses issues of class.

Apr. 20 2009 10:21 AM

All of the Ivy grads I met who worked for the firms had "soft skilled" degrees. They were Government, History, English and Asian Studies majors. They did not have a quantitative degrees.

Apr. 20 2009 10:21 AM
Ellen from New York City

I graduated with a degree in theatre in 1993 during a recession. I had a job immediately in the arts, when engineers were struggling with being hired. I then moved to NYC and ended up working for a Wall Street investment management firm. I worked there for 8 years, doing theatre at night. As a person involved in the arts, I learned survival skills and knew that I would be okay financially if I ever left (I really learned how to manage my money!) - I also met my husband in the theatre. I am now pursing a degree in education. I believe one should always follow their passion and things are more likely to work out if one stays flexible.

Apr. 20 2009 10:21 AM
Hugh from Brookyn

Maybe we should be attacking money. This is a country that increasingly values just two things — fame and money. What is the substantive value in the mere pursuit of money?

Apr. 20 2009 10:20 AM
Julia from Jersey City

I graduated from an Ivy Engineering School in the last decade, and know that recruitment from financial institutions were ever present on campus. The firms budgets for recruiting far out-weighed anything most other industries could have brought to campus.

One thought that the change in focus to "money" and "me" comes from the increased bill we leave campus with. Most of my fellow graduates left with mortgages of studentloan debt. Going to work for a non-profit wasn't an option.

Apr. 20 2009 10:20 AM
cindy harden from brooklyn

I read Frank Rich's column with great interest last week. We are also in the midst of the college search for our son. However, he just returned from his 2nd trip to New Orleans with a group called NY2NO. He went last summer for the first time and these experiences have changed his life. He was so touched by the poverty, abandonment and destruction in the Lower 9th ward, but also so touched by the spirit and generosity of the people there - that he is now very involved in anti-poverty work and sustainability issues - as are his friends. These kids are not at all interested in making loads of money, (or attending Harvard), but are looking for colleges that will empower and inspire them to change the world. In my opinion, they are the brightest and the best.

Apr. 20 2009 10:20 AM
anonymous from Queens

Take a look at the prices of the most selective colleges. Could it be that their students are increasingly coming from wealthy families where careers in finance are more popular?

Apr. 20 2009 10:19 AM
Jeff from Manhattan

The three M's are indicative of who has been raising this generation of Ivy Leaguers -- the Boomers.

This group has distinguished itself by dismissively displacing the values of their predecessors, commidifying their own social movements for their own immediate gain and have now pressed their children into the fanciful world of derivatives and commodifying other's actual products in their breathless pursuit of the dollar and the seemingly insane race to beat the Joneses, which appears to me as a Gen Xer, appears to me way more trite, shallow and damaging than their forbears that they "rebelled" against in the mythos of the 60's.

Until the Boomers are retired (if they can retire :)) the cultural rot and intellectual malaise (yes I said it) of American culture will not end!


Apr. 20 2009 10:19 AM
Gabi from Brooklyn from Brooklyn

My husband and I both went to Dartmouth in the late 90s, and can testify to the fact that there was heavy I-Banking recruiting on campus. I did not pursue this because this because a career services councilor told me to think outside the box. I was a film major then. Many people did go into finance, but the campus culture at Dartmouth encourages other non-conventional career paths.

Apr. 20 2009 10:19 AM
libby from manhattan

I agree this is a problem one big reason is the surely the lure of big money, BUT another reason is the shear cost of higher education. Students are graduating with enormous debt and look to those professions that are going to pay off the debt much faster.

Apr. 20 2009 10:19 AM

I would like to know, if the two guests have children and what are there majors?

You also have to remember a lot of engineering types went into software during the boom.

Apr. 20 2009 10:19 AM
KC Trommer from Sunnyside

As an underemployed poet (since poet seems to be your panelist’s shorthand for a useless profession/area of interest) and a graduate of the University of Michigan, this economy has been a real boon for my creativity and for offering me the opportunity for reflection--considering what I really to do for work and for the world. As a lower middle class kid, I was raised to believe that earning money is the way to earn respect and independence and I should follow the green at all costs. This economic downturn has given me the opportunity for reflection and for using my creativity more and to focus more on community building.

Apr. 20 2009 10:18 AM
connie from new rochelle

it's not just engineers. my husband is a scientist who got lured out of his post-doc due to the siren song. he is amazed at what he makes now for what he does. his co-workers (mostly male) are all from different backgrounds, too. he's now trying to go back to something "more useful to society", but it's been hard in this economy.

Apr. 20 2009 10:18 AM
Word to the wise

Ivy League/1 -- if it's too hard for your wise grandmother to understand, it's most likely BS anyway.

This advice is coming from a long time successful investor and former executive at a large financial firm. I suspect you know this, since it's your only argument, so I am responding for the sake of any readers who might still be inclined to drink this KOOL AID.

Apr. 20 2009 10:18 AM
jelani fletcher from texas

This conversation is typical of elites how have NO idea of what has happened to the engineering field. Coporations have gutted the engineering field by outsourcing large segments of the value-added engineering work. As an excuse they have used the oft repeated media trope of "America has a shortage of math and engineering majors!". Why should anyone go into a field beset by instability and layoffs.

Apr. 20 2009 10:17 AM

There aren't enough trust fund babies at these universities who are set for life? Aren't these the ones who are suppose to be doing good work for society.

Apr. 20 2009 10:17 AM

I'm a student studying the perennial waste of time that is Film.

But through a huge amount of hard work, a moderate amount of intelligence and a small amount of luck, I've landed a job in TV even before I graduate.

I feel for all those out there struggling for a job, but my experience has reinforced the American dream that hard work pays off.

Apr. 20 2009 10:17 AM
katie from highland park, nj

the question really comes down to this: what should be purpose of a college education be? and my answer is: not a trade school. ideally, our students should receive a broad liberal education that prepares them to be engaged citizens and critical thinkers. obviously i am a partisan of the humanities.

Apr. 20 2009 10:17 AM


I decided to change my career from marketing, content development for media companies, and took a credit training program and am prepping for the CFA Level 2 test. Mainly because I did not think I was qualified to work for a Wall Street firm or Hedge fund. By the time I slog through and pass Level 3 to get the charter, will there still be Jobs available?

Apr. 20 2009 10:16 AM
Twentysomething from Brooklyn

This guy's "3 M's" comment is borderline offensive to me, as a guy in this 20s. I'm an elite college grad, and the conversation I'm having with everyone my age is "Wow, there is an extremely small chance that we will enjoy the same standard of living as our parents, given the opportunities available to us."

Now that the "Two Working Parents" effect has been absorbed into our expectations, and the credit bubble is unwinding and letting us realize how we totally can't afford those flat screen TVs, yeah, a lot of us are thinking about "money" and "me". Like "How am I going to get some freaking money for myself so I can keep a roof over my head and food in belly?"

Apr. 20 2009 10:15 AM
Hugh from Brookyn

Most of those graduates from 'elite' schools (elite in scare quotes because the connection between elite and good is tenuous) will still graduate with debts of $100,000 or more.

I recommend reading Robert Heilbroner on the "Nature and Logic of Capitalism" to see why it is wildly unlikely that we will see any change in the manic lust for money in our society.

Schools like Harvard just aggravate an existing pervasive phenomenon in our society. Harvard and its cohorts are among the worst in this regard because the schools themselves behave like aggressive for-profit institutions.

Apr. 20 2009 10:14 AM
Allen from Troy

This is hardly surprising. Engineering is the modern "renaissance man" training - requiring a broad range of skills. In the past, the Engineering degree was the path to becoming any number of professions including finance and the legal system.

Modern finance grew out of modern management, which itself grew out of engineering. Modern finance is, in many ways, engineering the financial system and not just "trading".

Apr. 20 2009 10:13 AM

"Siren call is too loud" ??? This is more indicative that these people aren't as exceptional as we think, but privileged brats that made the easy choice.

Apr. 20 2009 10:13 AM
landless from Brooklyn, NY

Why is this a surprise? Remember yuppies in the 80s? If engineers cannot get a job (I remember engineers becoming realtors because no one was hiring engineers), they have to go into something else. Also, student loans have to be paid and the rent paid. The media should take a hit here for failing to investigate the undermining of infrastructure, but perhaps the investigative reporters got fired because the finance guys didn't like the papers' profits.
Also, teachers are getting laid off again. Let's talk about that, too.

Apr. 20 2009 10:12 AM
Priya from Brooklyn

A good friend of mine graduated from MIT with an undergraduate and graduate degree in Architecture. He had full intention to work in the field till a family health issue prompted him to change his mind and move into Investment Banking. He worked for Lehman Brothers till the middle of last year.

Apr. 20 2009 10:10 AM
Ivy League Wall Street Computer Science Guy

A lot of modern finance jobs are complicated. They require mathematical and analytical skills and there's a lot of long hours spent in front of a computer screen. Who do you think they are going to get to do it, if not engineers? English majors? Please.

(I do think its a tragedy that so many smart people are all getting used up on this BS)

Apr. 20 2009 10:09 AM

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