playing well with others


Another article, like the one about Japanese engineers, where worrying is done about competing with well-paying finance and consulting jobs. Instead of engineers, the sector of focus here is public service.

But for many Harvard seniors, corporate work represents security. “It’s scary not knowing what you’re going to do,” said Chen Xie, who is joining McKinsey. “A lot of people think, ‘Here’s a plan, let’s just do the safe thing.’ ”

I think young people underestimate the risk that they are capable of withstanding, and at the same time also underestimate the risks that they are taking, so the two generally cancel out. The desire for expression, coupled with a low level of risk adversity, drives investment in uniqueness, which pays off pretty well for society as a whole since diversity has all sorts of positive externalities.

But ultimately those benefits ARE externalities, so even though an activity is productive and “meaningful”, its benefit is not fully captured by the individual. Such channels then get shut down when people do better accounting. Society loses diversity, gets closer to monoculture and as a whole becomes more fragile.

Or does it? Higher education is subversive, in that you rarely get what you are asking for. In that sense, people usually do the right thing for the wrong reasons. In this case, the scenario above says they are doing perhaps a less correct thing, but for the right reason! As far as honesty in advertising goes, cash promises are much more testable and more reliable than vague pictures of “making an impact” and “contributing to humanity”. Those other things almost always require a paternalistic attitude, or faith in some untestable belief system about how the world works. I say it’s the prevalence of beliefs uncoupled with empirical reality that make the world a fragile place.

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