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Serving the One Percent

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From flickr.com/photos/65304769@N05/11046728004/: waiter / economist
waiter / economist
(image by audio-luci-store.it)

Arriving at Canino's Italian restaurant in Ft. Collins, Colorado, I happily immersed myself in an ambience designed to draw the One Percent; the items on the menu confirmed my impression. Crafted to appeal to the refined palate, they ranged from eggplant parmigiana, to a delightfully rich linguini Alfredo, to the most savory pollo Marsala in the world. All this, and in the company of cherished family members!

Our waiter approached the table and offered his service in a magnificent, powerful, baritone voice. Later during the meal, I took the opportunity to praise the quality of his pipes, and speculated that he must be a vocalist or an actor. Neither of these, he explained, but rather a very recent graduate of Colorado State University. Encouraging him, I expressed my hope that he had discovered something important to say during his studies -- with that voice of his, he would certainly be heard! As though to dispel my illusion, he explained, "I majored in economics."

An economics major! What would become of this young man and others like him? Would he be another Smith, Malthus, Locke, or Ricardo? Perhaps a Marx, Hayek, Keynes, or Freidman? Or dare we even hope that he will follow the example of Thomas Piketty in conducting and compiling original research that might have the potential to change the world.

A bachelor's degree in economics opens a variety of doors today, but walking through most of them won't make much of an impact on the biggest issues we face. Issues like economic inequality, poverty, public policy spending, waste and graft, unemployment, inequitable taxation, and so many others that could be effectively addressed with a solid understanding of economic principles. These are issues that require the attention of well-educated public servants.

According to Ranker.com, there are real opportunities for an aspiring economist. They explain their list as follows:

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A list of the most popular jobs for economics majors. If you earn this type of degree, these are the kind of jobs you will find waiting for you after graduating. Median salaries have been included on this list. The trick with any college degree is to acquire one that will ultimately pay for itself. The careers on this list will help accomplish that.
Here is their list, by degree of opportunity: (1) Banking Credit Analyst (2) Business Process / Management Consultant (3) Data Analyst (4) Economist (5) Finance / Banking Business Analyst (6) Financial Advisor (7) Financial Analyst (8) Financial Consultant (9) Financial Controller (10) Financial Research Analyst (11) Investment Banking Analyst (12) Investments Analyst (13) Market Research Analyst (14) Marketing Analyst (15) Marketing Manager (16) Portfolio Manager (17) Pricing Analyst (18) Real Estate Analyst (19) Securities Trader (20) Staff Accountant.

In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty observes that economists have traditionally resisted the notion that economic inequality is an actual problem. Many of them have declared poverty inevitable, and some have even regarded it as a human condition that benefits society as a whole. Piketty suggests an explanation for this -- that economists themselves tend to be among the 1%. Of course, that doesn't make them bad people, but it may affect their perspective enough to take the change-the-world attitude out of their worldview.

A look at the Ranker list above suggests yet another explanation: the greatest opportunities for aspiring economists are to be found in the very institutions that promote economic inequality -- banking, finance, and business. While opportunities in public service may exist, they don't even rate an honorable mention on this list.

Graduates with a degree in economics may be among the best equipped to address the most fundamental issues of society. Of course, some of them come from elite families and will serve their own interests well in the future. Others will be swept into careers that will serve big money interests rather than society as a whole.

So HAPPY GRADUATION, my young friend! May you succeed in finding your way beyond Canino's to a career that will fulfill your ambitions to improve the world around you. But be careful -- it'll be all too easy to follow a career path that dooms you to serve the One Percent forever.

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Years ago I made a decision to commit to a life of business management. Kids do the dumbest things! After thirty five years as a small business consultant, CFO, and university educator specializing in quantitative business and economic (more...)

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