Program in Ethics, Finance, and Economics


Modern finance leaves no aspect of our shared world untouched and any attempt to think seriously about the possibilities for human flourishing in the modern age must therefore come to terms with the ways in which it shapes and reshapes our lives. This makes it an important subject for ethical reflection, but discussions of financial practices and institutions are often little more than an exchange of clichés. One frequently repeated claim is that ethics and finance can have nothing to do with one another because financial markets are inevitably driven by the ruthless pursuit of self-interest. This cliché is especially popular due to its double-edged nature, since it can be used both by those who wish to condemn modern finance on ethical grounds and by those who wish to dismiss anyone who thinks that ethical considerations could play a role in finance as hopelessly naïve. Yet this claim and others like it deserve critical scrutiny because we all have a stake in improving the public discourse surrounding the relationship between modern finance and the pursuit of the common good.

For many Yale students finance also has a more immediate and personal importance: it is the field in which they aspire to work. Each year between 15 and 20 percent of Yale graduates find employment in the financial services industry. We are all changed by the work we do, but this is especially true for those whose work leaves them with little time to do anything else. New recruits at banks and investment firms are required to work very long hours in workplace environments that place a strong emphasis on acculturation. Consequently, the first years of a career in finance can be just as formative as the years spent in college. Students who aspire to work in this field thus have good reason to reflect seriously on the effect that their work will have on the person they become. All too often such questions receive less attention than strategies for securing the most competitive internships and interviews.

The Elm Institute’s Program in Ethics, Finance, and Economics offers events and series aimed to spur students to reflect in a sustained way on the ethical dimensions of financial work and institutions. While aimed primarily at students whose interest in the topic is vocational, the program also offers events of interest to all those who recognize the importance of the ethical questions raised by finance and the economic order in which it has come to play a central role.


Elm Lecture on Ethics and Finance

This annual lecture brings together financial leaders and economic scholars for a formal address that takes up the fundamental ethical and humane questions at the heart of some of the financial and monetary issues of our time. On occasion, it also seeks the expertise and wisdom of other disciplines in understanding and responding to the ethical demands of the financial professions in furthering the common good.

The Program's inaugural Lecture in Ethics and Finance will take place on March 9, 2018 at the Yale Club of New York City. 


Amsterdam Stock Exchange.png



The Program offers a range of events for select Yale undergraduates over the course of the academic year with an overarching goal to create a community of students passionate about fundamental questions about the market, the social good, and fulfilling lives. The Program achieves this through a twofold series of  dinner seminars and practicum.

Dinner Seminar Series

Over the course of the academic year the Program brings together its undergraduate affiliates for dinner seminars. These discussions are lead by Program's staff and its financial collaborators, and thus bring together both a philosophical and practical perspective on the themes and questions considered. Fall 2017 dinner seminar dates and topics are as follows:

  • September 15th: So you want to go into finance? Two Views and Why They Are Wrong
  • September 29th: Competing goods? Shareholders, Employees, Society
  • October 27th: Creating Value and the Common Good
  • November 10th: Work and Leisure: Seeking a Humane Life in Finance

Research Investing Practicum

"I never attempt to make money on the stock market. I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years." - Warren Buffett

We believe, along with many of our industry partners, that the road to success in investing involves 95% patient research and 5% deliberate market action; and that excellent investing is as much a virtue as a skill. To cultivate the character and habits of mind necessary for value investing, as well as to help students develop familiarity with the day to day research methods of the industry, the Program hosts an Inter Ivy League investing competition on MarketWatch, a real-time market simulator. The competition is judged by a panel of industry practitioners primarily  according to portfolio profile, value analysis, and longterm projected returns; only then is market performance over the course of the semester considered. A cash prize is given to the top two competitors who exhibit most excellent stewardship of their simulated funds in accordance with sound financial theory, value creation and commitment to the common good.


Markets & Morals

An Intensive Seminar



Faculty: Jesús Fernández-Villaverde (University of Pennsylvania) and Peter Wicks (Elm Institute)

Are there moral limits on what may be bought and sold? What is the relationship between a thing’s price and its value? Is voluntary exchange always just? A seminar addressing these and related questions with readings drawn from the works of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Stuart Mill, as well as a range of contemporary thinkers including Alasdair MacIntyre, Deirdre McCloskey, and Debra Satz.




Jesus Fernandez-Villaverde

Professor of economics, University of Pennsylvania

Jesus Fernandez-Villaverde is Professor of Economics and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, a Research Associate for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and Penn's Population Studies Center, and a Research Affiliate for the Centre for Economic Policy Research. His research agenda is in macroeconomics and econometrics, with a focus on the computation and estimation of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) models. His research agenda focuses on the computation and estimation of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) models, the standard tool of modern quantitative macroeconomics. In particular, Fernandez-Villaverde’s research has focused on how to evaluate the likelihood on non-linear and/or non-normal DSGE models and in exploring situations where those features are important to account for the data. His two most recent papers are examples of this line: an evaluation of the effects of fiscal uncertainty on economic activity, a study of asset pricing implications of DSGE models with Epstein-Zin preferences, and an investigation of the consequences of stochastic volatility for small open economies.

Peter cropped headshot.JPG

Peter Wicks


Educated at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Dr. Wicks came to the United States as Jane Eliza Procter Visiting Fellow at Princeton’s Graduate School before pursuing his doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he completed his Ph.D. in 2010. After spending a year on a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton, Dr. Wicks taught in the Ethics Program at Villanova University as a Catherine of Siena Fellow. His main research interests are the contemporary applications of Aristotelian ethical and political thought and the intellectual foundations of utilitarianism. He is currently completing a book, The Ethics of Peter Singer: A Study of Utilitarianism in Theory and Practice, which examines the sources of the appeal of utilitarianism in contemporary culture through a critical examination of the work of the contemporary philosopher Peter Singer. Dr. Wicks joined the Elm Institute as Scholar-in-Residence in 2015 and was appointed director in 2016.





Applications from Yale undergraduates will be considered beginning August 1, 2017. 



EFE Bull.jpg