Is finance a more amoral pursuit than other careers?

Bloomberg contributor Robert Shiller takes a different view of those who pursue careers in finance. Shiller says one of the “myths surrounding economic inequality in our society is that high incomes are often the result of selfishness and narrow-mindedness, rather than idealism and humanity.”

In essence, he writes, those who pursue careers in finance are not – as conventional wisdom purports – are not evil.

“Self-promotion and the acquisition of wealth, whether by financial or other means, is no crime. In fact, some of humanity’s greatest achievements originate in just such behavior,” Shiller contends.

In the second part of Shiller’s essay he acknowledges that “many people in business do seem to feel rewarded, for the short run at least, in putting salesmanship ahead of purpose and in cutting legal corners.”

However, he adds, quantitative evidence suggests that this is not universal.

“In 1990, Maxim Boycko, a Russian economist; Vladimir Korobov, a Ukrainian economist; and I did conducted a survey on American (specifically New Yorkers’) and Russian (Muscovites’) attitudes toward business. We asked, “Do you think that those who try to make a lot of money will often turn out to be not very honest people?” In both countries many people answered yes. But more felt that way in Russia: 59 percent, compared with only 39 percent of the New Yorkers.”

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