Psychopaths Caused the Financial Crisis
The “corporate psychopaths” at the helm of our financial institutions are to blame [for the financial crisis].
Clive R. Boddy, most recently a professor at the Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University, says psychopaths are the 1 percent of “people who, perhaps due to physical factors to do with abnormal brain connectivity and chemistry” lack a “conscience, have few emotions and display an inability to have any feelings, sympathy or empathy for other people.”
As a result, Boddy argues in a recent issue of the Journal of Business Ethics, such people are “extraordinarily cold, much more calculating and ruthless towards others than most people are and therefore a menace to the companies they work for and to society.”
How do people with such obvious personality flaws make it to the top of seemingly successful corporations? Boddy says psychopaths take advantage of the “relative chaotic nature of the modern corporation,” including “rapid change, constant renewal” and high turnover of “key personnel.” Such circumstances allow them to ascend through a combination of “charm” and “charisma,” which makes “their behaviour invisible” and “makes them appear normal and even to be ideal leaders.”
Until the last third of the 20th century, he writes, companies were mostly stable and slow to change. Lifetime employment was a reasonable expectation and people rose through the ranks.
This stable environment meant corporate psychopaths “would be noticeable and identifiable as undesirable managers because of their selfish egotistical personalities and other ethical defects.”
For Wall Street — a rapidly changing and highly dynamic corporate environment if there ever was one, especially when the firms transformed themselves from private partnerships into public companies with quarterly reporting requirements — the trouble started when these charmers made their way to corner offices of important financial institutions.
Then, according to Boddy’s “Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis,” these men were “able to influence the moral climate of the whole organization” to wield “considerable power.”
They “largely caused the crisis” because their “single- minded pursuit of their own self-enrichment and self- aggrandizement to the exclusion of all other considerations has led to an abandonment of the old-fashioned concept of noblesse oblige, equality, fairness, or of any real notion of corporate social responsibility.”
He says the unnamed “they” seem “to be unaffected” by the corporate collapses they cause. These psychopaths “present themselves as glibly unbothered by the chaos around them, unconcerned about those who have lost their jobs, savings and investments, and as lacking any regrets about what they have done. They cheerfully lie about their involvement in events, are very convincing in blaming others for what has happened and have no doubts about their own worth and value. They are happy to walk away from the economic disaster that they have managed to bring about, with huge payoffs and with new roles advising governments how to prevent such economic disasters.”
The Independent reports:
Mr Boddy is not alone. In Jon Ronson’s widely acclaimed book The Psychopath Test, Professor Robert Hare [the world's leading expert on psychopathy] told the author: “I should have spent some time inside the Stock Exchange as well. Serial killer psychopaths ruin families. Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies.”
A senior UK investment banker and I [were] discussing the most successful banking types we know and what makes them tick. I argue that they often conform to the characteristics displayed by social psychopaths. To my surprise, my friend agrees.
He then makes an astonishing confession: “At one major investment bank for which I worked, we used psychometric testing to recruit social psychopaths because their characteristics exactly suited them to senior corporate finance roles.”
Here was one of the biggest investment banks in the world seeking psychopaths as recruits.
A 2,200-page report by Anton Valukas, the Chicago-based lawyer hired by a US court to investigate Lehman’s failure … revealed systemic chicanery within the bank; he described management failures and a destructive, internal culture of reckless risk-taking worthy of any psychopath.
So why wasn’t Mr Fuld spotted and stopped? I’ve concluded it’s the good old question of nature and nurture but with a new interpretation. As I see it, in its search for never-ending growth, the financial services sector has actively sought out monsters with natures like Mr Fuld and nurtured them with bonuses and praise.
Take Sir Fred Goodwin of RBS, for example. Before he racked up a corporate loss of £24.1bn, the highest in UK history, he was idolised by the City. In recognition of his work in ruthlessly cutting costs at Clydesdale Bank he got the nickname “Fred the Shred”, and he played that for all it was worth. He was later described as “a corporate Attila”, a title of which any psychopath would be proud.
Psychopaths Have Different Brain Chemistry from the Rest of Us
In October, we observed:
I noted last year:
Vanderbilt researchers have found that the brains of psychopaths have a dopamine abnormality which creates a drive for rewards at any cost, and causes them to ignore risks.
As PhysOrg writes:
Abnormalities in how the nucleus accumbens, highlighted here, processes dopamine have been found in individuals with psychopathic traits and may be linked to violent, criminal behavior. Credit: Gregory R.Samanez-Larkin and Joshua W. Buckholtz
The brains of psychopaths appear to be wired to keep seeking a reward at any cost, new research from Vanderbilt University finds. The research uncovers the role of the brain’s reward system in psychopathy and opens a new area of study for understanding what drives these individuals.
“This study underscores the importance of neurological research as it relates to behavior,” Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said. “The findings may help us find new ways to intervene before a personality trait becomes antisocial behavior.”
The results were published March 14, 2010, in Nature Neuroscience.
“Psychopaths are often thought of as cold-blooded criminals who take what they want without thinking about consequences,” Joshua Buckholtz, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology and lead author of the new study, said. “We found that a hyper-reactive dopamine reward system may be the foundation for some of the most problematic behaviors associated with psychopathy, such as violent crime, recidivism and substance abuse.”
Previous research on psychopathy has focused on what these individuals lack—fear, empathy and interpersonal skills. The new research, however, examines what they have in abundance—impulsivity, heightened attraction to rewards and risk taking. Importantly, it is these latter traits that are most closely linked with the violent and criminal aspects of psychopathy.
“There has been a long tradition of research on psychopathy that has focused on the lack of sensitivity to punishment and a lack of fear, but those traits are not particularly good predictors of violence or criminal behavior,” David Zald, associate professor of psychology and of psychiatry and co-author of the study, said. “Our data is suggesting that something might be happening on the other side of things. These individuals appear to have such a strong draw to reward—to the carrot—that it overwhelms the sense of risk or concern about the stick.”
To examine the relationship between dopamine and psychopathy, the researchers used positron emission tomography, or PET, imaging of the brain to measure dopamine release, in concert with a functional magnetic imaging, or fMRI, probe of the brain’s reward system.
“The really striking thing is with these two very different techniques we saw a very similar pattern—both were heightened in individuals with psychopathic traits,” Zald said.
Study volunteers were given a personality test to determine their level of psychopathic traits. These traits exist on a spectrum, with violent criminals falling at the extreme end of the spectrum. However, a normally functioning person can also have the traits, which include manipulativeness, egocentricity, aggression and risk taking.
In the first portion of the experiment, the researchers gave the volunteers a dose of amphetamine, or speed, and then scanned their brains using PET to view dopamine release in response to the stimulant. Substance abuse has been shown in the past to be associated with alterations in dopamine responses. Psychopathy is strongly associated with substance abuse.
“Our hypothesis was that psychopathic traits are also linked to dysfunction in dopamine reward circuitry,” Buckholtz said. “Consistent with what we thought, we found people with high levels of psychopathic traits had almost four times the amount of dopamine released in response to amphetamine.”
In the second portion of the experiment, the research subjects were told they would receive a monetary reward for completing a simple task. Their brains were scanned with fMRI while they were performing the task. The researchers found in those individuals with elevated psychopathic traits the dopamine reward area of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, was much more active while they were anticipating the monetary reward than in the other volunteers.
“It may be that because of these exaggerated dopamine responses, once they focus on the chance to get a reward, psychopaths are unable to alter their attention until they get what they’re after,” Buckholtz said. Added Zald, “It’s not just that they don’t appreciate the potential threat, but that the anticipation or motivation for reward overwhelms those concerns.”
Has anyone tested the heads of the too big to fails for this dopamine abnormality?
What are the odds that they have it? And if they have it, what are the odds that they will voluntarily start acting responsibly, especially given the broken incentive system?
Experts also tell us that many politicians also share traits with serial killers. Specifically, the Los Angeles Times noted in 2009:
Using his law enforcement experience and data drawn from the FBI’s behavioral analysis unit, Jim Kouri has collected a series of personality traits common to a couple of professions.
Kouri, who’s a vice president of the National Assn. of Chiefs of Police, has assembled traits such as superficial charm, an exaggerated sense of self-worth, glibness, lying, lack of remorse and manipulation of others.
These traits, Kouri points out in his analysis, are common to psychopathic serial killers.
But — and here’s the part that may spark some controversy and defensive discussion — these traits are also common to American politicians. (Maybe you already suspected.)
Yup. Violent homicide aside, our elected officials often show many of the exact same character traits as criminal nut-jobs, who run from police but not for office.
Kouri notes that these criminals are psychologically capable of committing their dirty deeds free of any concern for social, moral or legal consequences and with absolutely no remorse.
“This allows them to do what they want, whenever they want,” he wrote. “Ironically, these same traits exist in men and women who are drawn to high-profile and powerful positions in society including political officeholders.”
”While many political leaders will deny the assessment regarding their similarities with serial killers and other career criminals, it is part of a psychopathic profile that may be used in assessing the behaviors of many officials and lawmakers at all levels of government.”
Studies also show that the wealthy are less empathic than those with more modest wealth, and so:
The idea of nobless oblige or trickle-down economics, certain versions of it, is bull,” Keltner added. “Our data say you cannot rely on the wealthy to give back. The ‘thousand points of light’—this rise of compassion in the wealthy to fix all the problems of society—is improbable, psychologically.”Those in the upper-class tend to hoard resources and be less generous than they could be.
Given that many in Congress and top government posts are multi-millionaires, the study might help explain why politicians seem only to work to make themselves wealthier and to help their wealthy buddies.
We will remain disempowered if we assume that the super-elites are “like us”. Unless we learn to spot “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, we will continue to fall prey to their scams.
Unless We Remove the Psychopaths from Power, They Will Cause More and More Destruction
The inmates are still running the asylum.
Anyone who knows Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein or the other Wall Street “leaders” can tell you that they haven’t changed a bit since 2008. They are not repentent for their role in the financial crisis. They don’t feel bad that the taxpayers have had to bail them out again and again … and that they have used that money to enrich themselves and stick it to the little guy.
As the Independent notes:
Mr Ronson reports: “Justice departments and parole boards all over the world have accepted Hare’s contention that psychopaths are quite simply incurable and everyone should concentrate their energies instead on learning how to root them out.”
But, far from being rooted out, they are still in place and often in positions of even greater power.
As Mr Boddy warns: “The very same corporate psychopaths, who probably caused the crisis by their self-seeking greed and avarice, are now advising governments on how to get out of the crisis. Further, if the corporate psychopaths theory of the global financial crisis is correct, then we are now far from the end of the crisis. Indeed, it is only the end of the beginning.”
I’ve been saying the same thing since 2008:
Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
Its like a thief who has been arrested 5 times for burglary. Even though he says all the right things to the judge at sentencing, the judge is still going to throw the book at him.
If the thief is appointed to head a government commission on corruption, do you think people will have confidence in the commission or its proposed actions?
[Those in power] may be saying nice things about fixing the economy, shoring up the financial system and helping American citizens, but people don’t believe them anymore. They’ve been proven liars one too many times.
The only thing that can restore confidence in the economy and the financial system is to replace the whole lot of them (tar and feather them) with honest leaders who will do what’s best for the people.
Forget the “toxic debt” that the talking heads keep referring to. The only way to restore confidence is to get rid of the “toxic leaders” who caused the mess.
I noted in October:
The main demand of the Egyptian protesters was that Hosni Mubarak and his cronies leave power.
Why should the demands of the American protesters be held to a higher standard?
As former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson notes, the American finance industry has effectively captured our government in a “quiet coup”, a state of affairs that is at the center of many emerging-market crises, and that recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform.
The U.S. has become a kleptocracy, an oligarchy, a banana republic, a socialist or fascist state … which acts without the consent of the governed. There is a malignant symbiotic relationship between the governmental leaders and their cronies, which makes a handful rich at the public trough (in the same way that the Mubarak family raked in between U.S. $40 and $70 billion dollars through bribes and cronyism).
Remember, Mubarak pretended that he was going to offer concessions or negotiate several times. But the protesters would have none of it. They demanded Mubarak leave.
The same government despots (Bernanke and the rest of the knuckleheads at the Fed, Geithner, and various other Goldman alums and proteges of Robert Rubin) and the same Wall Street manipulators (Blankfein, Dimon, etc.) are still on their thrones causing mischief. Nothing will change while these guys are still in charge.
Why can’t Americans – like the Egyptians – demand that the bums be thrown out?
While America’s protesters don’t need to give any list of official demands (see this, this and this), breaking up the unholy alliance which is destroying our country and removing vampires from both government and Wall Street who are most responsible for blocking reform is a perfectly good demand all by itself. As Gordon Duff – senior editor at Veterans Today – says, it’s “time for regime change” in the U.S.
Postscript: The fact – as discussed above – that top leaders may have psychopathic characteristics may be helpful in assessing questions such as:
- Whether rogue government personnel would ever carry out hanky panky to justify their policy objectives
- Whether our leaders could really cover up something as awful as cancer from nuclear accidents to promote their polices
- Why our leaders want to emulate China by gutting the Internet
- Whether government workers could actually label as suspected terrorists anyone who simply questions war, protests anything, asks questions about pollution or about Wall Street shenanigans, supports Ron Paul, is a libertarian, holds gold, stocks up on more than 7 days of food, or investigates factory farming