Ezra Klein resists the idea that fewer finance degrees means more smart kids helping people. He writes,
I would like to believe this. It fits with a lot of my biases. But I think people need to consider the counterfactual here. These Ivy League graduates aren’t being tricked into finance. They’re gravitating toward money and status — even at the cost of horrible hours, unpleasant jobs and that curious hollow feeling that comes after you trade your dreams of being a helpful person for a nice loft in Midtown.
If the financial sector is somehow shut down, or radically shrunk, they’ll just go to the next most profitable industry. Doctors get paid a lot, but there are sharp constraints on supply, so you’d just have more competitive medical schools, as opposed to more doctors. We’ll have a lot more lawyers. Many more management consultants. Potentially more engineers and researchers, though those gigs require specialized graduate education — frequently in the hard sciences — and I’d imagine there’s not too much overlap between college kids interested in organic chemistry and college kids who end up in finance at 23.
I generally agree that soulless money-grubbing invertebrates of the type Klein references will move on to to the next high-paying bubble-task, the question then becomes, what will they ruin next? I refuse to envision fantasies of ye olde bankers and financiers who were fussy bureaucrats and rejected the elite life. I’m sure it’s not true. However, they managed not to wreck the whole world in a couple decades due almost purely to their elephantine junkie-need for money and status. What profession will these zombie husks of people empty of any scrap of societal utility next? Klein guesses more lawyers and management consultants, which I don’t think is wrong, but he’s missing the increased demand for doctors that could come with a mandate in the health insurance reform bill. But medical school is hard, so maybe our health dodges a bullet there.
Another prime target is pseudo-charitable industries. Any of these motherfuckers start talking to you about turbines, carbon offsets and their “green” business plan, you get the hell out of there. Finally a term that doesn’t mean anything will meet a group of people who don’t mean anything by it. Microfinance either. Anything that sounds like it helps people is most likely a front from a transnational child slavery ring. (But a green transnational child slavery ring!)
Other than that I only know one industry at that salary level that’ll be hiring soon. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your future health insurance bureaucrats.