This post is a response to the following article, where a veteran finance and economics commentator who happens to have similar political leanings to my own advises young people to go into finance as this is one of the few roots to a secure income as many other secure middle class professions are de-skilled and closed off to new entrants. Original post here:
His advice perfectly captures the reasons I chose a career in the city. A graduate front office banking job offered me almost double any other entry level ‘professional’ job. I wanted to be able to support myself unconditionally, and the role offered me the chance to get on the property ladder without parental help. I wrote yesterday that money serves as a veil to legitimise social outcomes, and the fact that only by becoming a professional rentier could I become fully independent is a huge endightment of our society and the choices it offers people. It’s not a problem of monetary incentives, it’s a problem of power and who has it – and how the exercise it – and I am without question a beneficiary of the power of rentier capitalists and the institutions they have set up to ensure their continued prosperity.
However, my decision was not just taken cynically, and I don’t feel any great conflict between my role and my beliefs as a socialist for several reasons. I thoroughly recommend that young, left wing folk consider a career in banking and would offer the following reasons for those who find it morally problematic:
– Firstly, I chose a role where I do not deal with retail clients. I have no interest in professionally ripping off ordinary folk, my clients are exclusively financial institutions. Within that, I deliberately chose to work with Hedge Funds – the ultimate social parasites – and they effectively pay my salary. Finance has many parts that are merely a zero sum game, and in my world, I only make money because my clients are able to take it from other financial institutions and pay me a commission for my services as a broker. There are many financial roles where you can play this kind of game, you don’t have to work as part of the pure rentier arm of a bank whose job is most certainly to rip off the general public. In other words, I don’t find it terribly problematic that my role is predatory when my prey are so high up the food chain. Choose this kind of role for yourself.
– Secondly, you can only really change the social world around you. Sure politicians and academics can provide leadership of some kind, that can influence how many people outside their immediate social world act, but you can still do that whilst working a day job in a bank. A decent salary and decent hours allow me the time to write a blog (not so useful) and also contribute time and effort to worthwhile causes in my community. In the meantime, I work hard to ensure that the privileges I enjoy as a banker can be conferred on those who really need them. I have had the opportunity to hire people, and in my hiring choices I try my best to confer power and privilege on those without much of either. I also work hard to combat sexism, classism and racism in my work environment. In other words, join a bank, and hire some women/minorities/whatever oppressed group takes your fancy. If you want to be an agent of change in society, choose a part of society with lots of power and privilege and reform that.
– Thirdly, banking still retains a kind of respect for professionalism that you don’t find elsewhere. Managers in banks try and impose a lot of order, but the lower echelons in an organisation like mine have a lot of power – we can’t just be cogs in a machine and managers know that. They have to respect our judgement, pay us properly and give us some leeway in terms of working conditions because the networks of human and intellectual capital we build have a lot of value, and they know that. Few other industries offer young folks that chance.
I like the job I do. I wish it wasn’t embedded in an unjust society but that is out of my hands. I am happy to be doing something I enjoy, for a good wage, and with the knowledge that I can still do good things in the world even if the world I’m part of isn’t all that it could be!