Jan 6, 2008

Status Not So Quo

The front of today's New York Times Style section has an article entitled "The Falling Down Professions" which is all about how lawyers and doctors have suffered a major slippage, both in status and in relative income. (Relative to Wall Streeters, that is.) It's a topic the Wall Street Journal (among others) has been harping on for several years now, but I still find it to be a fascinating, albeit disconcerting, window into our society.

For while it's hard to work up a whole lot of sympathy for lawyers and doctors, whose main complaint seems to be that they no longer get the kind of money or respect they once did, one can argue that both professions are at some level beneficial to society. Now of course not every doctor and certainly not every lawyer is in it to help society, but both professions have traditionally employed at least some people whose main priority was nobly advancing the common good.

That's something you can't even begin to claim about the new "hot" professions: hedge fund manager, management consultant and internet entrepreneur. And that's what disturbs me: what does it say about us as a society that our "best and brightest" are now drawn to professions that can't even claim to be about anything other than selfish motives and large, easy financial rewards? What's worse, all the aforementioned professions operate away from the community-at-large (last time I checked, there were no storefront hedge funds) so they are not functioning as role models of any sort.

Not sure whether this is just a blip or a lasting sea change, but it doesn't reflect well on 21st century America.

There's an interesting parallel to advertising too, which is that our loss of prestige (okay, coolness factor- we never had prestige) combined with dropping salaries, means that we no longer attract the best and the brightest either and that we have a lot of people feeling they bet on the wrong horse. And while society is clearly no worse for the lack of advertising executives, it's an interesting parallel nonetheless.

Well, to me, anyway.

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