Want to do good? Work for Goldman, says Nobel winner

Robert Shiller says those who really want to change the world should go into finance, rather than 'programming some gimmick' at Google.

by Emma Haslett

Alright, so admittedly over the past few years, Vampire Squid and friends have built up a bad rep. But Robert Shiller, one of this year’s recipients of the Nobel Prize in economic sciences, reckons we’ve got them all wrong.

At a debate in New York yesterday entitled ‘Google vs Goldman: A career on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley?’, Shiller suggested that what people don’t realise is that finance has a higher moral purpose.

‘When you study finance, you are studying how to make things happen, on a big scale, on a lasting scale. That has to matter more than getting into Google and programming some little gimmick.’

His argument was that even the most world-changing ideas need money behind them.  

‘Every human activity that matters has to be financed. You cannot do good things for the world all by yourself.’

This is all very in keeping with the finance sector’s new post-recession cuddly side. Shiller isn’t the only person to have brought up its moral responsibilities: on this side of the pond, the Archbishop of Canterbury has taken more than a passing interest.

Over the past couple of days, London has hosted the World Islamic Economic Forum, at which the Prime Minister unveiled details of plans to introduce a UK Islamic bond. Sharia-compliant finance derives its rules from Sharia law, meaning lenders can’t charge interest and investors have to avoid alcohol, gambling etc – ethical finance by another name.

At the event, Bank of England executive director Paul Fisher said Sharia-compliant finance could capitalise on the various scandals that have dominated the headlines about Western financial institutions over the past few years.

‘There’s a tremendous opportunity for Islamic finance to grow,’ he said. ‘Ethical investment has been a success in the West. People like it, not least because it tends to make more money. The scandals we’ve had in the Western markets only emphasise that.’

So. Is the City is about to go all peace and love? Are the occupants of the @GSElevator about to swap their brogues for sandals? Unlikely, admittedly – but stranger things have happened…

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