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Op Eds

Sell Out. It Might Be the Best Thing You Can Do.

By Chanden A. Climaco, Crimson Opinion Writer
Chanden A. Climaco ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Mower Hall.

Selling out. The words leave a sour taste in our mouths, and probably for good reason. Working for Goldman Sachs might not be intellectually fulfilling. A job at McKinsey will be hard. And a contract with Meta probably won’t give you that warm-and-fuzzy feeling that tells you you’re doing something good for the world.

But you will make money. Truckloads of it. That is, after all, the whole point of selling out!

You would have every right to spend that money however you want. It’ll be well-deserved, hard-earned cash, and should you choose to indulge in luxuries that make you and your loved ones happy, I wouldn’t blame you.

Perhaps there’s another way to “sell out,” though. A better way. If, instead of spending every dollar you make on yourself, you put even a small fraction of your paycheck towards fixing our world’s many problems, selling out might be the best thing you can do.

You heard me right: the best thing you can do. Better than becoming a public defender. Better than campaigning for your favorite politician. Better even than starting your own nonprofit.

Here’s why.

A single year’s salary — even 10 percent of that — from a high-paying hedge fund job could help offset thousands of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere or protect tens of thousands of children from fatal diseases like malaria.

Put simply, you could alleviate a lot of suffering — and save a lot of lives.

Analyses on donating to charity say you could save a life for as little as $3,500. To a broke college student scrambling for laundry money, that number might sound like a lot. But we’re playing the long game here. Harvard’s wealthiest graduates have incomes in the hundreds of millions. Steve A. Ballmer ’77, the College’s richest alum, will make a dizzying one billion dollars this year from Microsoft dividends alone.

One billion dollars divided by $3,500? 285,000.

Sum up the annual deaths in America from school shootings, drownings, HIV, natural disasters, car accidents, diabetes, leukemia, breast, skin, and brain cancer, and you barely crack 200,000. Add in pneumonia, the flu, and obesity, and finally you reach a number closer to 285,000.

And that’s just one guy’s yearly dividend returns.

Precision can be a bit misleading, and saving lives is hardly an exact science. My point isn’t to pin down any particular number, but to demonstrate that money talks. Loudly.

This is not to say only billionaires can effect change. Donating 10 percent of the average U.S. salary (around $60,000) would save just under two lives annually. Giving that amount over 40 years — the average American work life — could avert more than 60 premature deaths.

Let’s stretch the hypothetical further. If everybody in the world donated 10 percent of their income, charity would collect $12 trillion every year — enough to extinguish extreme poverty, solve world hunger, and provide everyone with clean water — with $11.5 trillion left to spare. Maybe we could use the excess to achieve net zero emissions and ensure every child has access to education.

Now, if you’re like me — yearning for the warm-fuzzies that Meta employment can’t offer — it might help to read the piles and piles and piles of studies that say donating to charity makes you (significantly) happier. Detractors will say you’re a bad person if you donate for selfish reasons like these. You should tell them a child saved is a child saved.

Others might object that working for a place like McKinsey is immoral — maybe because they proposed budget cuts at the U.S.-Mexico border, or maybe because they worked with Purdue Pharma, a company slammed for facilitating the opioid epidemic.

These are valid concerns, and ones that I share. But give me the chance to say a few things.

One, you and I aren’t special. If McKinsey is hell-bent on doing evil, they will, whether or not we’re on their payroll. Two, the ends justify the means. You’d give a baby a vaccine even if the needle made her cry. Similarly, you should want to give thousands of babies vaccines even if you might be contributing to bad business practices on the margins. Or three, just work somewhere not named McKinsey. A well-paid job doesn’t need to be unethical.

We Harvard students are uniquely privileged. You can’t tell just anyone to find a gig that pays millions. If you attend Harvard, though, you aren’t just anyone, especially in the eyes of employers drooling over the college on your degree.

I really don’t mean to sound hubristic. For better or for worse, it’s a fact of the world that high-paying employers devote a great deal of their recruiting attention to the products of a select few institutions. And Harvard is one of them.

Ultimately, none of us — Harvard graduate or not — can build utopia by ourselves. But each baby step will get us ever closer. I urge you: Make your millions, but still, tread carefully. It will be easy — so incredibly easy — to bind yourself to wealth with golden handcuffs and forget the many, many things your money can do for the world.

So sell out. But when you do, stay vigilant. With great power comes great responsibility.

Chanden A. Climaco ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Mower Hall.

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