To the Editor: Business is worthy, needed profession

Not only was Tim Karpoff’s last column (“The Responsibilities of Privilege,” Jan. 18) presumptuous, but also his argument was foolish and poorly thought out in the way that only a rant by a liberal college student could be.

Karpoff’s central premise, if it can really be honored with such a title, is that Williams students are too smart to become business tycoons, and should instead dedicate themselves to the “important” things in life. It is no small flaw that Karpoff gets no more specific about what those “important” pursuits are than to suggest, in the most hackneyed way possible, that we all must “give something back.” I’m going to assume Karpoff means that Williams students should become educators, or work for non-profit organizations, or become doctors or any noble profession which allows one to “give something back.”

Karpoff’s argument sounds like the cute and largely ignorable liberal drivel that so often comes out of the mouths of people who haven’t studied economics or read a newspaper. Think about it for a second. One of the nice things that consultants and investment bankers do is to help the economy grow, expanding commerce, driving unemployment levels down and standards of living up. I would think that having smart people, Williams students for example, involved in business might actually “give back” more to the world than Karpoff grants.

There are diminishing marginal returns to sainthood, and if every person that Karpoff believes is too “blessed” to enter the business world actually followed his advice and handed out sandwiches to the homeless instead, the economy would go down the toilet so fast that there wouldn’t be enough Williams students or sandwiches to take care of all the misery and suffering that would result.

One can argue the merits of my “investment banking creates jobs” argument till the cows come home. However, Tim Karpoff is basically proposing that we replace all the “blessed” businesspeople in the world with stupider substitutes. Who in their right minds thinks that this would “give” anything to society save for a giant kick in the collective economic groin?

The fact is, there are absolutely fabulous people doing consulting, and there are some nasty people working at Greenpeace. Your job does not define your character, nor should Karpoff be let off the hook for insinuating otherwise. Moreover, the guys at Greenpeace probably spend most of their day on the phone with the rich businessmen because the latter actually have the money to make things happen. I mean, when’s the last time this school received a huge donation from someone who hadn’t spent their life making money hand over fist? I agree that we all owe something to the world, but you have to have something to give first.

On both a practical and a philosophical level, Tim Karpoff’s piece reeks of “suburban rebel” arrogance. If you want to spend your life protecting baby seals from clubbers, or dodging bullets at an inner-city high school, feel free. However, don’t let the seeming nobility of those pursuits give you a Karpoffesque superiority complex. Such complexes are not only unjustified, but tacky as well.

Todd Stiefler ’00

Author’s note: I will (hopefully) be entering a PhD program next year in an effort to become an educator. I have no interest in a career in business, but I respect those who do.