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Letter to the Editor: Harvard's Anti-Finance Problem

By Marshall Zhang, Contributing Writer

To the editor:

Tuesday’s op-ed lamenting “Harvard’s Wall Street Problem” takes a myopic view towards Harvard’s “academic and civil focus”.

I shall address the civil focus first. The author envisions an ideal Harvard as one where “world-changers are created, polished, and sent out into the world with a sense of purpose,” and calls upon Harvard to subsidize students entering the public sector to stem the flow of graduates into the financial industry. But perhaps by focusing first on accumulating human, social, and financial capital to be deployed later in life, young graduates entering finance can make a substantially larger impact over the course of their lifetimes than if they had jumped into public service immediately after college. At the extremes, it is not unreasonable to think that a single Warren Buffet could create as much positive impact as many, many employees in the public sector. The world-changers that the author wishes to see ought to seek to do the greatest good for the world, not only in the years immediately following graduation but also over their entire lives.

Moreover, it is not even obvious that public service is the most impactful career in the years after graduation. Though the author portrays Wall Street as having “highly questionable social impact”, there is evidence to suggest that broad swathes of the public sector should also be characterized as such. Meanwhile, high-earning graduates will have access to more capital to do good than graduates in other industries. Of course, not every financier is earning to give, nor is monetary philanthropy the only way to better the world; nevertheless, the view that working in the public sector after graduation is the only means of doing good is a blatantly unreflective stance.

The author further claims that the finance recruiting process “diminishes the academic culture of our campus” and discourages the pursuit of passions when they “no longer seem marketable.” It is not clear to me that finding a job as a fundraising manager for a charity has any more ties with the ivory tower than trading at a hedge fund.

I am also not sure that passion (for things other than money) is non-marketable to finance firms: My secondary field in philosophy was a specific point of excitement in my finance interviews. More generally, if the ultimate goal of Harvard is to create positive change-makers, it is not obvious that creating “post-graduate programs that foster participants’ passions” is the best way to do so—I have a hard time discerning whether spending a year researching snails on the Australian coast will increase one’s lifetime contribution to society any more than going into finance.

I don’t claim to know how we can best honor Harvard’s mission statement and the education we’ve been lucky enough to receive. But to suggest unconditionally that finance is “soul-crushing” and fundamentally incompatible with moral leadership, as the author has, is an overly simplistic view of what doing good and changing the world really means.

Marshall Zhang ’16, a Crimson columnist, is a statistics and mathematics joint concentrator in Mather House, and will be entering the financial industry upon graduation.

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