This post of Ezra Klein‘s made me joke on Twitter that you can’t properly analyze the Harvard to Wall Street pipeline without using the term “douchebag.” And I think Dara Lind’s followup item in which she notes some structural similarities between Wall Street recruiting on Ivy League campuses and Teach for American recruiting on the same campuses makes me want to double down on the joke. Simply put, there’s a question of character here.
Out of deference to feminist considerations I’ll avoid trying to put a label on it, but there’s a certain kind of person who walks into a room filled with people interested in working on Wall Street and people who do work on Wall Street and says to himself (and it’s no coincidence that it’s almost always himself) “these are the kind of people I want to align myself with.” TFA is, in this regard, totally different and appeals to a different sort of mentality. It’s true that there’s a bit more to the recruiting process than jerks of a feather flocking together, but firms like DE Shaw that break from the mold are really exceptions that prove the rule—they have an approach that’s based specifically on trying to snare talent that would normally be repulsed by the repulsive nature of the people working in the field.
As best I can tell, which admittedly is not that well, the tendency of unpleasant people to congregate in this particular line of work is cross-cultural. By far the most annoying people I met in Germany, for example, were finance guys in Frankfurt. Compared to politicians, non-financial businessmen, random bartenders, bus drivers, etc. they were horrible. Obviously this sort of thing is relative and probably if you ask a bunch of bankers they’ll say all the worst people from college went on to become glib political journalists or to teach in inner-city schools.