Keep this in mind as I present the results of an informal, professor-administered poll taken in my Derivatives class this Tuesday. The class discussion began with talk of everything that's been happening lately, as usual, and the professor believed illegal actions will eventually come to light regarding actions at the Wall Street firms (pressuring ratings agencies, exchanging favors for good ratings on toxic CDO's etc.). Some students expressed anger at the immorality of it all, others questioned whether anything illegal had actually happened or whether it was simply irresponsibility that caused it all. In light of the class discussion, the professor presented a class with the following situation:
You work somewhere in the finance industry nine months from now, and I present you with an opportunity to make $5 million. However, you have to do something illegal to get the $5 million. The chance you'll be caught for doing this illegal act is 50%. Further, the maximum sentence you'll receive is four years and the chance of receiving the four years is also 50%. No matter what happens, if you're caught and sentenced to three years, you'll still get to keep the $5 million. Would you do it?
Almost everyone in class raised their hands.
Here are the demographics of the class, as best I can guess. It's a mixed class with both MS and MBA students since Derivatives is an elective for MBA-ers. The class size is roughly 90 students, all ranging in age from 26-34 (my best guess). The mix is approximately 50% Asian and South Asian, 40% American (all races) and 10% other (from the accents I'm guessing Russian, German, South American and Latin American). Males comprise about 70% of the class.
There were little demographic differences among those who raised their hands, at least as far as I noticed, other than the few married women who didn't. If you must know, I also raised my hand, but it's not a static answer for me. I'm on the upper end of that age range and four years is a long time for me to be rotting in a jail cell. I've got friends and family I love dearly and wouldn't want to miss seeing. I'm also certain that if I figured out who exactly I'd be damaging with my immoral / illegal actions, I might not follow through. I find it's a lot easier to answer "yes" to a question of an illegal act when the question is asked in a void, but it's also much tougher to actually follow through on that act in real life.
All this is beside the point, however. MBA Students (and MS - Finance students) are supposed to be smarter and (I suppose) less immoral than rest of the world. I imagine the results of this poll would skew quite high if given to the population at-large, but the class this poll was asked of are supposed to be future leaders -- future leaders of large corporations that will hold the financial well being of tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of workers' lives in their hands.
All the students wrote essays to gain admittance to school, and all their essays discussed the "good" they'd like to do in their future career as well as the unique and interesting career paths they believe that earning an MBA will open for them (management consulting and investment banking, at the time the essays were written, are unique?).
Anyway, nearly all the students I know are in B-School to make more money. There are few non-profit, humanitarian types in the program but for the most part we're all here just to earn larger paychecks. That's it. Plain and simple.
So basically, 90% of MBA students are not just generally a bunch of cheats but also liars since their admissions essays were anything but honest! And yes, I'm completely comfortable extending generalizations to every B-School and MBA student in the country after the completely unscientific and informal polling I conducted at mine. I wonder if, when they're reading the admittance essays, the adcoms aren't just looking for the most riveting piece of fiction they can find since we all lied about our future hopes to save the whales and the rainforest? Well, maybe after we make our first $100 million we'll have whaletanks installed in our mansions and rainforest terrariums installed in our million dollar greenhouses, thereby following through on the empty promises we wrote in our essays.
All this pretty much got me wondering whether financial gain attracts the amoral / immoral or whether the amoral / immoral are attracted to financial gain? I have to admit that I give the professors a lot of credit for trying their hardest to sway us and the HR Profs do an especially admirable job in this respect, but if the students are already money chasing cheaters, what difference can a few enlightened lectures make?
Anyway, in the wake of the meltdown and news items claiming MBA degrees are no longer worth it, I'm really starting to think I should have earned my Master's in something less sleazy, more honest and more respected.... like law! Hey, at least I'd have a job next year prosecuting all those immoral MBA-ers who caused this mess.