Saturday, July 31, 2010

The mystery of capital lives on

The Mystery of Capital In the summer of 2009, before my fellow members of the Class of 2011 and I began business school, we were asked/required to read Hernando de Soto's The Mystery of Capital. The author argues that, in emerging markets and former communist countries, legal reforms and property rights could bring the poor's "dead capital" into the larger economic system and benefit everyone in the process. It was a good read, but repetitive.

Oddly, despite Yale's relentless insistence that this book be read in its entirety before the start of school, we were never held accountable for having read it. It came up briefly in the fourth quarter during a class called State & Society. One person was cold-called to summarize the book. It wasn't me. I could've, though.

I thought the main idea of the book was interesting, and it's shaped the way I think about the free market and third-world countries. I mentioned all this to my dad, a staunch conservative, when he was visiting New Haven a couple months ago. I lent him the book. I have wondered since then whether he would decry it as too left-wing, even though I didn't pick up on any such leanings. It has some populist themes, but it also decidedly defends free markets. My dad has begun reading it and likes how it gets right to the point; he and I share this requirement of our books. What a milestone -- I lent my father a book, and he's reading it. Score one for getting serious.

Bank: A NovelMeanwhile, today I finished a satire written by an SOM grad about his time as an investment banker. I laughed aloud several times and feel like I got a worthwhile inside look at this world, and it makes me glad to not have embarked on such a soul-crushing career. I loved being a journalist. I have not a dime to show for my eight years, but it was a fun time. I never felt enslaved, to be sure. And not only was I not an i-banker, I wasn't ever even exposed to that as an option. In fact, here's a humiliating story about just how ignorant I was about this world: When I got to school and started to hear the term "i-banking," I assumed it stood for some new type of Internet banking, a la "iBanking." String me up and paint me dumb! It's been interesting meeting people from the Northeast who were in the financial industry, and when I ask how they got involved, it's a tale of inevitability -- "Well I went to Dartmouth and wanted to make money, so I got a job in finance. What else was I supposed to do?"

I'd never met anyone in the financial industry until about a year ago. Between high school, college and other areas of pre-MBA life, I knew people with a wide variety of job titles -- doctor, artist, psychologist, professor, engineer, lawyer, journalist (of course), prop designer, caterer, technical writer ... no investment bankers though. I don't even recall anyone even mentioning possibly doing such a thing. I guess where you grow up indeed shapes your worldview. And, I guess, that's obvious.

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