More George Bailey, Less Mr. Potter


A scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” courtesy of The New York Times (10 April 2015). Credit: Bettmann/Corbis.

We came across an article in The New York Times written by Sendhil Mullainathan, professor of economics at Harvard University, titled “Why a Harvard Professor Has Mixed Feelings When Students Take Jobs in Finance.” It relates to Coventry League’s blog entry from last October about an article Michael Lewis penned as a guide for young bankers.

In essence, professor Mullainathan writes about focusing more on creating wealth in society and less on transferring wealth in society.

“Every profession produces both private returns — the fruits of labor that a person enjoys — and social returns — those that society enjoys.”

This idea doesn’t mean that there’s no value created by financiers, arbitrageurs, banks, and such. There is—to a point. However, it seems that more often than not professionals plying their trade in these endeavors seem to cross the line from addressing social needs and creating value to becoming parasites on society by transferring wealth through unbecoming and outright questionable practices.

“But finance need not be this way. George Bailey, the protagonist in the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was a banker….George Bailey’s father realized that finance has the ability to do great good. And he was right.”

So, perhaps we can strive to be more like George Bailey and less like Mr. Potter in our daily lives.

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