Modern finance leaves no aspect of our shared world untouched and any attempt to think seriously about the possibilities for human flourishing in the modern age must therefore come to terms with the ways in which it shapes and reshapes our lives. This makes it an important subject for ethical reflection, but discussions of financial practices and institutions are often little more than an exchange of clichés. One frequently repeated claim is that ethics and finance can have nothing to do with one another because financial markets are inevitably driven by the ruthless pursuit of self-interest. This cliché is especially popular due to its double-edged nature, since it can be used both by those who wish to condemn modern finance on ethical grounds and by those who wish to dismiss anyone who thinks that ethical considerations could play a role in finance as hopelessly naïve. Yet this claim and others like it deserve critical scrutiny because we all have a stake in improving the public discourse surrounding the relationship between modern finance and the pursuit of the common good.
For many Yale students finance also has a more immediate and personal importance: it is the field in which they aspire to work. Each year between 15 and 20 percent of Yale graduates find employment in the financial services industry. We are all changed by the work we do, but this is especially true for those whose work leaves them with little time to do anything else. New recruits at banks and investment firms are required to work very long hours in workplace environments that place a strong emphasis on acculturation. Consequently, the first years of a career in finance can be just as formative as the years spent in college. Students who aspire to work in this field thus have good reason to reflect seriously on the effect that their work will have on the person they become. All too often such questions receive less attention than strategies for securing the most competitive internships and interviews.
The Elm Institute’s Program in Ethics, Finance, and Economics offers events and series aimed to spur students to reflect in a sustained way on the ethical dimensions of financial work and institutions. While aimed primarily at students whose interest in the topic is vocational, the program also offers events of interest to all those who recognize the importance of the ethical questions raised by finance and the economic order in which it has come to play a central role.
The Program offers a range of events for select Yale undergraduates over the course of the academic year with an overarching goal to create a community of students passionate about fundamental questions about how best to combine professional success with an integrated and fulfilling life, and the relationship between market institutions and the public good.
Over the course of the academic year the Program in Ethics, Finance, and Economics hosts a series of workshops with leading figures from investment banking, private equity, and venture capital firms. These workshops combine practical advice with the opportunity to explore fundamental ethical questions about the role of financial institutions in the contemporary society.
Places for these events are very limited. For information about the fall 2017 workshop series and details on how to apply, click on the button below.
Each summer Elm offers a one-week seminar addressing fundamental questions about the ethics of the marketplace and commercial society: Are there moral limits on what may be bought and sold? What is the relationship between a thing’s price and its value? Is voluntary exchange always just?
Taught by a moral philosopher and a professor of economics, the seminar examines works by Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Stuart Mill, as well as a range of contemporary thinkers including Alasdair MacIntyre, Deirdre McCloskey, and Debra Satz.
Details of the 2018 Markets and Morals seminar will be posted in fall 2017.