Here is an old saw: the best way to predict bubbles is to look at the industry to which Harvard MBA grads are flocking. I used this as a laugh line when I spoke to David’s students at Wharton in October. Now Matt O’Brien at the Washington Post Wonkblog extends the analysis to Crimson undergrads.
O’Brien’s article is the latest salvo in the analysis of what makes “Organization Kids” flock to finance. Kevin Roose’s Young Money made a splash when it was published earlier this year. Academics looking to understand students should consider delving into what makes students who enter finance and law with more than a dismissive lament of “kids these days.” Indeed, the modern university seems designed specifically to create organization kids. Think of how the bizarre gatekeeping rituals of college admissions filter down to create an achievement junky culture that begins in middle school if not earlier. Students and parents seek to anticipate the divinations of middle aged oracles who themselves attempt to divine meaning from personal statements and lists of extracurriculars.
The Harvard MBA Indicator is a fun parlor game. But it also suggests that in trying to understand deep questions such as why bubbles begin and how financial institutions operate, we might look at a broader set of disciplines than just economics. Some very interesting legal scholarship on bubbles, financial markets (think Stuart Banner’s history) and financial institutions (Annelise Rile’s sociological studies of Japanese firms) serves as examples of the possibilities. If academics lament their students being organization kids, they should have a little self-awareness and step outside their own institutional comfort zone.
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