Matt Levine on Investment Bankers

Matt Levine’s most recent “Ask a Banker” column for Planet Money is one of the best things to read right now, and I’m kiiiiind of jealous we couldn’t snap him up to do a column for us. In it, he answers very matter-of-factly how people become investment bankers:

1. Go to a fancy college. 2. Have no idea what you want to do for a living. 3. Interview a lot for investment banking jobs … A variant on step 3 is “have a parent who is a managing director at or major client of an investment bank, then do a little bit of interviewing.” OH WHAT YOU’RE SURPRISED THERE’S NEPOTISM?

He also talks about why investment bankers do bad things and notes that they don’t start out being inherently bad:

I dunno, I think of all those aimless Ivy Leaguers who ended up in investment banking. What attracted them to it? Money, yes, but it seems unlikely that they were all rubbing their hands together and cackling gleefully about stealing people’s houses.

Unlikely, but there’s always that one guy who does cackle gleefully about stealing people’s houses, even if it’s just in his head, and he should probably be in jail.

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9 Comments / Post A Comment

Hannah Arendt called, but she’s not saying anything, just sighing.

Mike Dang (#2)

@stuffisthings I just flashbacked to being 20 and sitting in my Holocaust studies class.

@Mike Dang It’s too bad that because she wrote about Nazis bringing her up is an automatic Godwin’s Law, because the whole “banality of evil” concept is valuable in many other contexts. Quoth Wikipedia: “She raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inaction.” I think that could certainly apply to the banking crisis! Also CIA torture, etc. etc.

Sandy505 (#3,017)

@stuffisthings Um, no. Godwin’s law was created to expose these silly comparisons of everything semi-bad to Nazis. When talking about things similar to Nazis, let’s stick with the ones that pass the common sense test. The Holodomor, Japan’s atrocities during WW2, etc. Bankers and CIA torture don’t pass the muster.

@Sandy505 Yeah but the whole purpose of Arendt’s writings on “the banality of evil” was to provide insights about how certain institutional cultures mixed with human psychology enable normal people do terrible things — it just so happened that she developed the idea while writing about Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Israel. I’m pretty sure she didn’t intend for the phrase “banality of evil” to refer only and forever to National Socialism. That’s why she didn’t call her book “Nazis Are Bad.”

@Sandy505 (Also, in actuality Godwin’s Law was meant to discourage people from derailing unrelated discussions into debates like this one, which is exactly what I’ve done. Sorry!)

LHOOQ (#1,634)

@stuffisthings I’ve been thinking about this a lot in regards to the banking crisis, although I feel like the banking issues are as much about actual incompetence as they are about morally diseased institutional cultures.

On a side note, I’m currently writing a paper about state funding of the arts, and I feel like I’ve Godwinned myself. Obviously there is a way to bring Hitler into a discussion where he is actually relevant, but I feel like it’s a very slippery slope down to saying things like, And you know who was the biggest proponent of state funding of the arts? Hitler. Never mind.

themegnapkin (#444)

The year I graduated from (a fancy) college (2001), i-banks were recruiting heavily. The sense was that anyone with good grades, almost regardless of major, could get a job right out of college that paid $70k, you just had to be willing to give up sleep, and accept it that you would probably be let go or forced out after 1-2 years because of the heavy weeding those kinds of firms do. Mainly the classmates I knew who went into i-banking were either business or economics majors who *wanted* to work in i-banking, or kids who didn’t really know what they wanted to do and were attracted by the really high salary and, as often as not, needed $$$ to pay off loans.

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