Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Not every finance guy (gal) is evil

As Wall Street's fortunes blow raggedly in the wind like an old flag, it has become easier and easier to lump every finance person into the same money-grubbing, soulless, and otherwise parasitic member of society as the likes of Madoff and Liddy (AIG's CEO).

It simply isn't true.

I constantly have philosophical struggles with combining the cutthroat nature of capitalism and the softer, and more humane, qualities of socialism. I think of socialism not as the original Marxist idea of full governmental/public ownership of all means of production, but rather the existence of a social structure in which those who have fallen on hard times can be lent a helping hand.

It is tough, and especially in the current environment, to not be hit in the face with the struggles of other people, rather from the 9% unemployed or the larger numbers of who are turned off from the job search altogether.

But beyond that, there are so many more social issues that still remain unresolved. Racism, wars, genocides, torture, environmental well-being, education, healthcare, etc, etc. The list of social causes to ascribe to is long. And my time to devote to any is short.

I think of the world with 3 types of people: social activists, average, social supporters.

The activists are those who, to borrow a religious term, have been given or felt a calling for a cause. They would be the ones tirelessly, perhaps even solely, grinding against the grain of society to right a social wrong.

The average are the average, going about their lives in a pursuit to learn about what their lives mean.

The supporters are those who, while unable to find one calling, have the financial means to support causes. I find myself in this category. Certainly I benefit from the pursuit of capital, but at the same time, I know that as I gain material wealth, I should also ensure through charity, a gradual societal improvement.

There is no question that activists are perhaps more noble or selfless. They have found a passion and pursue it, perhaps to the detriment of their own well-being. But they still need supporters to open doors or provide the funds to fight social structures.

Why can't I see myself as an activist? I do like material goods too much. I don't think I can be as noble or selfless, nor could I pretend to be without an ulterior motive.

Every year, I do give to causes that I believe are forces of social good. I think of Buffett and Gates as the role models of this wealthy to charity notion.

It will take a while for me to get there, and it will certainly be hard to do no evil while in the confines of capitalism, but I think this is the struggle of any professional, including finance.

No comments: