Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Where our 'best and brightest' go

From the April issue of Harper's Magazine here. (Read the whole article, "Infinite debt: How unlimited interest rates destroyed the economy," by Thomas Geoghegan.) (I had to type it.)

We set up the incentives to keep our best and brightest out of Detroit. In June 2008, even in a bad year for Wall Street, 39 percent of the Harvard graduating class went directly into consulting or the financial sector, and many others will go a few years later, after graduate school. The percentages are probably the same or worse for Princeton, Yale, and other elite schools. Of course, there are lunkheads in this group, too, but it shows where in general the talent's going.

In Europe, by contrast, kids from elite schools still go into jobs at utilities. Yes, seriously, bright Europeans will work for the electric company. They certainly work for BMW and Daimler AG. In the United States, our kids -- once they shed their dreams of working for Goldman Sachs -- end up in wealth management and handle private clients with $150 million or more. Or at least they used to.

They don't come to Chicago to trade. That's too crude. The kids who do the trades come from Ohio State and the like; in a relative sense, they come up from the streets.

The son of a friend of mine just moved here [Chicago]. He said he's now met a lot of Chicago guys, aged twenty-eight, twenty-nine, who came out of schools like Miami of Ohio and the University of Oklahoma. They have no real jobs that he can identify. But they seem to be making $120,000 or more. "I can't figure it out," he said, "what any of them do."

I know what they do: they run errands for the traders. In a sense, these kids catch flies for Howard Hughes, though their bosses are smaller-time operators, and they deal with a lot less regulation than Hughes ever had to.

No, these guys are no Howard Hugheses. They're the equivalent of scalpers for the Bulls games. You can see them lined up in the cold on Friday night outside the Funky Buddha Lounge. Even on Friday night, they're still on their cell phones as they check out the girls. . . .

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