No Guarantees

Friday, April 24, AD 2009

I was struck by this Megan McArdle post, of which I will go ahead a quote a large chunk:

Guess what, honey? You’re not entitled. You can do everything right, and the universe doesn’t owe you anything. Neither do your fellow taxpayers. If there is any way to save the banking system without paying you $2 million a year, I will do it, not because I hate you and want to rob you, but because I don’t want to pay more than I have to. You may have come across this concept in business school. At Chicago, we called it “a market”.

The real problem with investment bankers goes deeper, and is the problem of the entire upper middle class: we have come to believe that complying with the rules produces excellent results as by some natural law. In school, if you do your work, teacher gives you an A. It comes to seem like a sort of a natural law: if you have a good education and work hard, the universe is supposed to reward you. After school, the upper middle class gravitates towards careers with very well defined advancement hierarchies: medicine, law, finance, consulting, where this subtle belief is constantly reinforced.

Continue reading...

2 Responses to No Guarantees

  • DarwinCatholic,

    Although I very much appreciate this entry, I’m not entirely sure that people are actually generally of the opinion that if you work hard, you shall reap its rewards. If the populace happens to believe such a notion, they are either naive or given to nonsense.

    In fact, the lessons featured herein are one most Harvard Business School grads themselves already know (or eventually do).

    Devotedly engaging in arduous labors in view of some high aspiration does not automatically guarantee that such efforts will result ultimately in some seemingly felt much deserved success.

    That’s almost as crazy as believing that if one is kind to others, others will be kind in return.

  • e.,

    People rarely phrase the objection in precisely those terms, but such an assumption is fairly common if my little corner of professional grad school is any indication. People take out very large amounts of debt to finance grad school with the (traditionally reasonable) expectation that they will be able to pay these debts off with a high-salary, high-status job upon graduation.

    When that doesn’t work out, they, like Ms. McArdle (and many of my classmates currently) are disappointed, and feel like the world is unfair. I think it’s a question of expectations. In general it’s much harder to lose something you expected to have (and thought you had), than just not to have it at all. These people are told constantly they are the best, and that they will be successful if they do the work. When that doesn’t happen they are disappointed, particularly those who have little life experience outside of the educational system, where there is a rough correlation between effort and success. Sure, they know intellectually that ‘life isn’t always fair,’ but it’s harder to experience it than to grasp it intellectually.