Tilting at Windmills

May/June 2012 A ray of hope

By Charles Peters

“Fewer graduates of elite Ivy League schools are choosing careers in finance,” reported the New York Times recently. The Wall Street Journal, however, ran this headline: “On Campus, Wall Street Still Carries Its Cachet.” But the evidence offered by the Journal confirms that the Times has it right. The University of Pennsylvania reports that the proportion of its graduates going into financial services declined from 38 percent in 2008 to 33 percent in 2011; at Harvard the decline was from 28 percent to 17 percent; Dartmouth from 23 percent to 12 percent. The trend may be modest, but I still find it encouraging. Maybe this last recession will have a similar effect to the Great Depression. “In the 1920s an ambitious young man headed for Wall Street,” observed historian Robert McElvaine. “During the New Deal, though, he went into government.”

At one point in the 1930s, in one section of the Department of Agriculture, fifteen of the twenty-six lawyers were graduates of Harvard Law School. Fifteen of twenty-six! The Department of Agriculture!

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.