Should Epicureans go into business and finance?

In a modern capitalist economy such as our own, businesses and the finance sector are crucial to society’s success. We depend on businesses, banks and investment firms to safeguard our savings, help struggling companies, and in most cases, employ us. I’m generally averse to vehement anti-business and anti-finance sentiment. Many businessmen and bankers may be dislikable. But without their goods and services, we would all be worse off. If we seek to punish business or finance, either because we believe they make too much money or are inherently unethical, we only do ourselves harm.

Having said that, there are problems with pursuing a career in business or finance from an Epicurean perspective. The working hours are usually very long and often inflexible and unsociable. The work is stressful and demanding. Particularly in the better-paid finance jobs, you are under constant pressure to perform or lose your job. Your career can be to the detriment of your health and family life. Many of my friends and family members have sought careers in high paying but time-consuming sectors, only to give them up for something less lucrative but more enjoyable and relaxing.

The other problem with business and finance is that they can constrain your ability to act ethically. I’m not a Marxist, so I don’t believe businesses are inherently exploitative. But they certainly can be, whether its underpaying workers, insisting they work too long, or firing them for the slightest infraction. Businesses may also be dependent on unethical supply chains, such as poorly paid workers in developing countries, or high-polluting energy sources. The finance sector is even worse. Almost every major bank has been involved in various scandals, such as the LIBOR rigging scandal in London. Banks (albeit with poor government oversight) played a major role in the 2008 financial crisis, and haven’t fundamentally changed their practices since; they still lend money far too easily, which is why personal debt in Britain and America is shooting upwards. Banks aren’t alone in perpetuating an oversupply of credit. Car companies give out these ludicrously generous financing offers, often to customers unaware of the consequences of excessive mileage or how severe car depreciation can be.

I wouldn’t advise against going into business and finance at all. I would simply consider the effects of such a career on your personal wellbeing and the wider world to be more important than the potentially high salary. But if you believe you would enjoy working long hours, and the business or bank in question isn’t too morally compromised, then going into business and finance may be worth it. Especially if the money allows you to pursue something more meaningful later in life.

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