‘Corporation’ is a dirty word. It’s a dirty, corrupt, blood-soaked word whose four syllables represent the most powerful forces in the world. Therefore I ask, when we graduate, armed with a laughably expensive degree and a push to be “changemakers,” why do so many of us choose to join the corporate world?
In a cynical distillation of the corporate model, transnational corporations have vested interests in distorting democracy and trading in people’s lives and welfare for higher earnings on quarterly reports. To see Wellesley graduates be complicit in abusive actions around the globe is directly contradictory to the mission values the college purports to have. Wellesley doesn’t want to attach 2017’s Dictionary.com ‘Word of the Year’ to our students and alumna. We can’t be “complicit”; that’s a label reserved for the Ivanka Trumps of the world. We just want that finance internship so bad because we are Wellesley people who can turn the world on its head — from the inside. I don’t buy that. How anybody can sleep at night knowing they perpetuate the abuses their corporate employer profits from is appalling to me.
In a capitalist system, it rationally makes sense to pursue the occupation which will give you the highest return on investment. According to a report from recruitment firm Dartmouth Partners, first-year analysts in London rake in starting salaries of 50,000GBP (65,770USD) across nine major banks including Bank of America, CitiGroup, Goldman Sachs and others, not including bonuses that can range from 11,000GBP (14,470USD) to 41,000GBP (54,000USD). Further, nine of the richest men in the world have more wealth than 4 billion people (current as of Jan. 16, 2018), and the world’s richest man and founder of shipping giant Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is worth equivalently 2 million times the average American family. The tradition of the self-made person is intrinsic to our core — who wouldn’t want to sit on a dragon’s nest and party in the Hamptons — but ‘robber barons’ earned the moniker for a sobering reason. Money makes the world go ‘round, as the saying goes, but an addendum should be considered as a forewarning: Money indeed makes the world go ‘round, but we mustn’t forget who it leaves behind when it does.
Corporate profits come at people’s expense. When Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, the world, including current Wellesley students, rallied to send support to those most devastated. But all of the canned goods and well wishes will never be able to draw up the guillotine poised directly above the territory’s neck: a massive $72 billion debt whose origins can be traced back over 40 years. So what exactly did major creditors do in the wake of environmental destruction? According to a report by The Intercept, 51 of Puerto Rico’s known creditors offered a loan designed to drive Puerto Rico into further debt — but packaged it nice and pretty by calling it ‘relief.’ Only three of the 51 creditors, all customer-facing and sensitive to public relations — CitiBank (revenue 71.45bn USD from 2017), Goldman Sachs (revenue 32.07bn USD, 2017) and Scotiabank (revenue 12.55bn USD, 2017) — offered no-strings-attached financial aid. To these three philanthropists, with yearly revenues combined of over $116 billion, that combined $1.25 million means, literally, nothing. Remember this and how little they care about actual human lives when you pencil in the Handshake finance recruitment session into your calendars.
It bears reckoning that we are indeed consumers in a capitalist system, whose options are limited to our immediate surroundings. Price-wise, it may not be feasible to entertain options outside of Amazon. To work, we need a bank account. We Uber and Lyft when we are unsafe and stranded, and we make the grade on our MacBook Airs. But consumption, albeit an issue in its own right, cannot be falsely equated with employment. It is not a last-resort to work at a hedge fund. It is, however, a chance for the privileged to reap more privilege, unconsciously exploiting populations that exist and are yet forgotten, as a new generation of robber barons carve their names into the history books. Our choice to do so, as graduates from Wellesley beholden to its gravitas as an institution, can mean the difference between securing a legacy of veritable changemakers and do-gooders — or joining lists of wealthy, morally corrupt entrepreneurs and executives.
With the Trump administration, whose cabinet is littered with the wealthy elite keen on widening loopholes for the rich, tax breaks are becoming more and more common and lucrative — not for the disappearing middle class or those struggling with poverty, but for the people who simply do not need another break. A common defense of those in lucrative and morally ambiguous occupations is that their drive is only to provide for their family and to be comfortable. But that comfort, as with any trade-off, comes at the expense of others. Indeed, how much money constitutes ‘comfortable’ under today’s standards? Think about it: we are disgruntled as Wellesley students seeing the disparity between the upper administration and staff — and yet will silently repudiate any inkling that our own choices go on to perpetuate that disparity in a much larger and deadlier scale.
The free-market model encourages accumulation of power and wealth and breaks down if protecting individuals is forced into the equation. With the privilege we are afforded — a top liberal arts education — we enjoy an autonomy uncommon to many in the world. But how we exercise that autonomy in choosing our place of work can indeed have devastating effects around the world. Corporate abuse does not exist out of a vacuum; there are structural underpinnings made of steel rods that will take years to dismantle. But that does not, in my most honest eyes, excuse any of us from choosing to make money off of the backs of the struggling, the impoverished, the disenfranchised.
On its website, Wellesley lists its first value as ‘Making a Difference,’ describing in gendered terms, “Every woman can — and should — make a meaningful contribution to her world. There is a growing recognition that women’s empowerment and leadership are crucial to their own advancement, and to worldwide societal change.” With a global push to finally invite women to the board room and top brass in equity, it is an important reminder that breaking the corporate glass ceiling often comes with the destruction of others’ lives. How unknowingly or knowingly you step on their backs is up to you.