By Neal Gabler
October 31, 2009
YOU MAY be wondering how it is that this week the financial industry, which was on taxpayer life support, announced it would be doling out more than $140 billion in bonuses to the very executives who created the mess in the first place. Or how it is that some of these same institutions recently began raising the interest rates on your credit cards to unprecedented levels. Or how it is that there are now reports of new and risky financial skulduggery afoot.
To answer these questions, it may help to consult the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” the handbook for psychologists. The manual describes a broad category called antisocial personality disorder, which includes those whom we commonly describe as sociopaths. According to the manual, this disorder manifests itself, among other ways, in “deceitfulness” as indicated by “conning others for personal profit or pleasure”; “irresponsibility”; and “lack of remorse as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.”
One could easily make the case that Bernie Madoff, R. Allen Stanford, the subprime mortgage pushers, the derivatives dealers, and the rest of the Wall Street gang were all economic sociopaths who were actively hostile to the interests of the American people and wholly devoid of conscience. What they did was not just the result of miscalculation or even greed, but of something much deeper and darker.
Garden-variety sociopaths – say, rapists or serial murderers – are reviled and typically punished. But when economic sociopaths were plundering the country, they were being lionized as bold entrepreneurs, financial buccaneers, even rock stars. In the financial press, they were gods …
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