Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Capitalism & Psychopathic Behavior: Do They All Know Something That We Don't?

We may detest them, question their morality and pine for the era when Republican presidents like Nixon were (gasp, shock, horror!) "scared" of the Democrats...but th tope 1 Percent aren't going down without a fight.

We're often reminded to thank the 1 Percent for keeping their moneybins humming...because it'll all trickle down to the bottom, eventually...the key word being, "eventually." This is the line pushed by uber-capitalists like Mitt Romney: "Gol-dern it, if everybody would just get the heck out of my way, I could roll up my sleeves, and create a fountain of jobs to keep everybody happy." 

Of course, the vast majority of workers -- whose wages, remember, have been kept artificially flat for nearly 30 years now -- might beg to differ, having little to show for their efforts at the box office.

But that doesn't stop these guys from laying on the chutzpah with a mason man's trowel -- as we'll see this month, when one of Romney's former Bain Capital  colleagues, Edward Conard, publishes his book, Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You've Been Told About The Economy Is Wrong. The publisher, appropriately enough, is named (wait for it) Portfolio.

Conard's basic thesis is that America's record levels of income inequality are actually good for all of us, because it shows that the system is working, and if only those pesky social do-gooders stepped aside, the 1 Percent could get on with the job of showering their benevolent god works on the rest of us.

In fact, Conard goes so far as to argue  that “the wealth concentrated at the top should be twice as large.”  With fabulous understatement, the New York Times notes: "This could be the most hated book of the year."  Ya think?  Maybe we can file this little tome under, "Man bites dog," and call it a day...

...or maybe not.  In another article published on May 10, the New York Times quoted a survey that claimed 10 percent of all those working on Wall Street are "clinical psychopaths" who show little empathy or interest towards others, and are prone to“unparalleled capacity for lying, fabrication, and manipulation.”  By contrast, the newspaper noted, the actual proprtion of psychopaths nationwide is closer to (wait for it again) 1 percent.

Unfortunately, the Times doesn't cite the source -- but it's easy to draw similar conclusions from the nation'sbusiness pages. This is the white collar police blotter, where no practice is off-limits -- from accounting fraud, to bid rigging, overbilling, perjury and tax evasion -- the list goes on and on.

The Reckoner gently suggests that these things happen because capitalism's driving impulses (make money, reward shareholders) are incompatible with any humanitarian impulse that might be attributed to the 1 Percent. As the Times's article notes,  "These aren’t anomalies; this is how the system works: you get away with what you can and try to weasel out when you get caught."

We received many, many warnings of how these tendencies might play out, if left unchecked -- as Bret Easton Ellis noted in his novel, American Psycho (1991), whose degenerate central character, yuppie investment banker Patrick Bateman, gleefully cannibalizes, murders, rapes and tortures his way across the midtown Manhattan playground that he inhabits. He shows no remorse for his actions, nor does he feelit necessary to explain them.

Many of Ellis's larger points got lost in the resulting protests, but as of 2012, Patrick Bateman shows no signs of departing the landscape...as proven by American Psycho's staging as a musical, in London...and the announcement of a June 2012 U.S. production, The American Play, which is also based on the book.

As all these various anecdotes of capitalism = psycohpathy suggest, it's tempting to ask, "Do they all know something that we don't? Too much for comfort, perhaps. The mind boggles. --The Reckoner


  1. Only 10 percent of Wall Streeters are sociopathic? Try 50 percent of them. The other sociopaths are the drug lords, gang leaders, serial killers, etc.

  2. I could go with 50 percent, I think 10% is a bit low too. Non-Sharks don't survive in a shark pool well-the Squawker