Masters of the universe

I had a deeply depressing conversation last night. My cousin started a course at the London School of Economics this year and reports back that all of his contemporaries want to become investment bankers. Even his friend, a physics undergraduate at another London university, has in the space of months changed her ambitions from academia to finance.

I suppose part of it is youthful skittishness and enthusiasm. Bless them, they’re barely a few months away from school and A-levels and all of a sudden they think they’re ready for Goldman Sachs. Partly it’s the sense of entitlement that comes from attending fee paying schools and arriving at an elite university.

But it still troubles me.

They’re smart kids who’ve lived through the biggest financial disaster for 80 years, the result of a credit bubble whose formation was mainly due to the actions of the financial sector and the politicians who pandered to it. All they have to do is read a newspaper for a week and they’d discover that Britain really doesn’t need too many more bankers. Instead we need innovation and science. We need to nurture our creative companies, whether they’re creating green technology or world-beating TV formats. We need the smartest kids to teach our most disadvantaged to raise up the dismal standards of education and productivity.

But no. Already the talk is of internships, of preferring research to trading, of how they’ll only do it for a few years before getting out. As D said of his friend: “She wants to do research in physics, but she doesn’t want to be poor.”

Well no one is claiming you’ll make big bucks as an academic, in fact given the effort to get there it’s shoddy. I found this in a few minutes this morning, and whilst the upper thirties is hardly a great salary for someone with seven or eight years of higher education plus a bunch of experience, it’s not poor.

Poor is the ladies who serve in the university canteen, or the cleaners who vacuum the office blocks of Canary Wharf in the dead of night. Poor is the white van man pulling £250 a week and trying to raise a family on it. Poor is the dole and JD sports and spliffs at lunchtime, the waste of smart kids who can’t get a foot in the door and go quietly mad with frustration, poor is two jumpers from November to April and reusing tea bags.

What poor isn’t, is an intellectually demanding job with a good salary that unfortunately happens to be ten times less than that offered by a bank.

Perhaps I’m expecting too much in the way of imagination from what is, essentially, a school for technocrats. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from kids, barely a few months away from school and A-levels, to resist these warped temptations, or to understand that right now something different is required of them if our society is to recover from this disaster.

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2 Responses to “Masters of the universe”

  1. Nobody wants to be poor, and it’s normal to have the desire to have a well paid job, but life instead brings sometimes different that is our desire, so is good to teach the children to WORK, no matter the work it is.

  2. Me, myself and I all over again…

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