The Intellectual Prisoner
From the Washington Post’s “Join Wall Street, Save the World” –
The 25-year-old certainly had other career options. An MIT computer science graduate, he could be writing software for the next tech giant. Or he might have gone into academia in computing or applied math or even biology. He could literally be working to cure cancer.
Instead, he goes to work each morning for a high-frequency trading firm. It’s a hedge fund on steroids. He writes software that turns a lot of money into even more money. For his labors, he reaps an uptown salary — and over time his earning potential is unbounded. It’s all part of the plan.
Why this compulsion? It’s not for fast cars or fancy houses. Trigg makes money just to give it away. His logic is simple: The more he makes, the more good he can do.
He’s figured out just how to take measure of his contribution. His outlet of choice is the Against Malaria Foundation, considered one of the world’s most effective charities. It estimates that a $2,500 donation can save one life. A quantitative analyst at Trigg’s hedge fund can earn well more than $100,000 a year. By giving away half of a high finance salary, Trigg says, he can save many more lives than he could on an academic’s salary.
The synopsis of the article: Go work with the morally fucked, and, as long as you give plenty away to charity, you’re a great human being . That model is worth emulating, it says, turning to us expectantly, shamingly, “Isn’t it amazing that quant donates 50% of his salary?”
We’re expected to fawn over these people. “Oh look, this giving dude and his wife moved back in with his parents so they could give away that much more.”
“That’s so admirable,” we’re supposed to say.
But it’s not admirable.
In fact, it’s pathetic. It’s the sign of a prisoner. An intellectual prisoner. The kind of person who is pretty smart – in the sense they can do stupid shit for Wall Street money – but can’t conceive of applying their ‘smarts’ towards changing the world.
They’d rather buy several hundred (or thousand, whatever) mosquito nets than find a way to fund millions of kids to knit their own. Or build an HFT driven fund that donates all profits to social enterprises. Or any number of things that actually matter.
Applying that intellect to… y’know, solving big problems isn’t what these ‘heroes’ do.
Building something new involves too much personal risk. That would actually involve putting something on the line. And they just can’t do that.
This is the kind of superhero who refuses to put on his spandex, but does diligently pay his taxes after quitting the Daily Planet to work for Murdoch. All the while, Lex Luthor gleefully poisons continents.
Look, you can choose to be the kind of person who waves the flat of self-financial-flagellation while getting felt up by the Washington Post and enjoying your tax write-offs.
Or you can apply your brain power to doing something.
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