I write about the banking industry for my day job, so my attention was drawn to this article by David Leonhardt on President Obama's interest in reforming the financial services industry. It is set to run in this Sunday's New York Times magazine.
For me, one of the most interesting parts of the article comes at the very end where he writes about the possibility of the largest financial firms losing their ability to generate the level of profits they have enjoyed most of the past two decades. Leonhardt writes:
"Highly leveraged financial firms became a dominant part of the economy. Their profits allowed the firms to recruit many of the country’s most sought-after employees — mathematicians, scientists, top college graduates and top former government officials. Yet many of those profits turned out to be ephemeral. So some of the best minds were devoted to devising ever-more-complex means of creating money out of thin air, the proceeds of which then drew in even more talent."
I am fascinated by the author's sense for who constitute the workforce's "best minds." Apparently it was those geniuses who devoted their professional energy to devising money-making schemes without regard for customer or society.
For any of us, figuring out where we should fit into the workforce is a big decision -- a decision which I would argue must be made in the context of both faith and reason. Reason alone might drive someone into a lucrative business without consideration for the purpose of the work. Faith helps a person see his or her purpose. Reason alone might lead someone to money alone, but faith and reason together will lead someone to a purposeful career that may also pay well.
The great management guru Peter Drucker is famous for advising people to not seek wealth or fame, but to seek usefulness. I wonder if these "best minds" who went to work for the big Wall Street firms ever read Drucker. Intelligence is important, but it is not enough by itself. There should be faith behind the intelligence that guides a person in how to use it. Without that guide, genius gets wasted on the development of negative amortizing mortgages and securitization schemes that hide the quality of underlying assets.
When your friend or pastor encourages you to live your faith, this is what they are talking about. Make important decisions in your life according to both your faith and reason so you don't end up devoting your life to meaningless endeavors.