Harvard and the Serving of God and Mammon

Leafy Campuses, Ivory Towers, Leading Straight to Wall Street
Leafy Campuses, Ivory Towers, Leading Straight to Wall Street

W.J. Astore

In the 17th century, Harvard was all about preparing men to serve God. It was about educating ministers. And ministers were arguably the most deeply respected men of their day. In the 21st century, Harvard has a new god — mammon. Harvard grads today most commonly reach for the big bucks in the world of banking and finance and Wall Street. And those who succeed in their get rich quick positions are arguably the most deeply celebrated (if not universally respected) men and women of this American moment.

If you accept for the moment that America’s brightest and best attend Ivy League universities like Harvard and Princeton, what does it say that so many of our most promising young aspire as their highest cause in life to make money and lots of it by manipulating financial markets?

Ezra Klein noted the following stats for the top Ivies:

As of 2011, finance remained the most popular career for Harvard graduates, sucking up 17 percent of those who went from college to a full-time job. At Yale, 14 percent of the 2010 graduating class, and at Princeton, 35.9 percent, were headed into finance.

At Harvard and Yale, at least, the numbers have drifted down in recent years. Harvard’s 2008 class sent 28 percent of its gainfully employed graduates to Wall Street, while Yale sent 26 percent.

More than one-third of Princeton grads went into finance in 2010: Incredible!

As the humanities wither at our universities, the financial sector continues to grow and consume our youth with promises of mammon and “success.”

Isn’t it high time to change our national motto? How about “In Mammon We Trust”?

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