Some people get into a high-flying sector like finance, for the lifestyle of fast cars and big mansions. However, some are doing this with the specific aim of helping society, rather than just themselves.
Part of this movement, known as ‘effective altruism’ is Matt Wage. Wage excelled in philosophy at Princeton University and believed he had an obligation to make the world a better place. After graduating, he went straight to work at a Wall Street arbitrage trading firm.
He reasoned that, by taking home more money, he would have a greater ability to change people’s lives for the better. In 2013, he gave over $100,000 to charity and planed to continue giving away half his salary.
One charity he donated to is the Against Malaria Foundation, which can save one child’s life for $3,340, which means Wage may save more lives than if he had become an aid worker.
But, is giving away a portion of your salary enough? Is one cause more deserving than another and is it okay to take a job just for the money?
There are other ways to achieve similar goals, one of which is ‘impact investing’, the practice of using capital ‘to make goods or provide a service that offers a positive social impact, while generating a level of financial return’. That definition is from Keith A Allman’s book, ‘Impact Investment’. The book explains how to get involved in impact investing, from considering a company’s mission to determining how successful it is at achieving that goal, while also remaining profitable.
Such altruism is something that Harvard economics professor, Sendhil Mullainathan, hopes his students will be attracted to, rather than becoming ‘rent seekers’, who, instead of creating wealth, simply transfer it from others to themselves.
Writing in the Times, he noted that at Harvard, nearly a fifth of students who took jobs after graduating last year, went to work in finance. He does not begrudge their desire for good jobs, but he wonders; “Is this a good decision for society as a whole?”
He wrote that every job has the potential to improve society. “A lawyer who helps draft precise contracts may actually be helping the wheels of commerce turn and so creating wealth.”
Finance, similarly can improve the lives of everyday people, by helping them save money for college, providing microinsurance for small farmers, or making it more feasible to secure viable mortgages.
For his students who choose to go into finance, Mullainathan has this wish: “I hope they realise they have the potential to do great good and not simply make money.”