[occupyaustin-reading] The psychopaths among us
telebob at gmail.com
Wed Nov 16 20:01:08 CST 2011
*If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every
woman in Africa would be a millionaire. *
Published on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 by The
The 1% Are the Very Best Destroyers of Wealth the World Has Ever Seen
Our common treasury in the last 30 years has been captured by industrial
psychopaths. That's why we're nearly bankrupt
by George Monbiot <http://www.commondreams.org/george-monbiot>
If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every
woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The claims that the ultra-rich 1%
make for themselves<http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/oct/02/occupy-wall-street-99-per-cent>
that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are
examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself
with outcomes for which you weren't responsible. Many of those who are rich
today got there because they were able to capture certain jobs. This
capture owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the
ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are
taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain
The findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel
economics prize <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Kahneman>, are
devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about
themselves. He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive
illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth
advisers across eight years. He found that the consistency of their
performance was zero. "The results resembled what you would expect from a
dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill." Those who received the biggest
bonuses had simply got lucky.
Such results have been widely replicated. They show that traders and fund
managers throughout Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for
doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. When Kahneman
tried to point this out, they blanked him. "The illusion of skill … is
deeply ingrained in their culture."
So much for the financial sector and its super-educated analysts. As
for other kinds of business, you tell me. Is your boss possessed of
judgment, vision and management skills superior to those of anyone else in
the firm, or did he or she get there through bluff, bullshit and bullying?
In a study published by the journal Psychology, Crime and
Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon tested 39 senior managers and chief
executives from leading British businesses. They compared the results to
the same tests on patients at Broadmoor special hospital, where people who
have been convicted of serious crimes are incarcerated. On certain
indicators of psychopathy, the bosses's scores either matched or exceeded
those of the patients. In fact, on these criteria, they beat even the
subset of patients who had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality
The psychopathic traits on which the bosses scored so highly, Board and
Fritzon point out, closely resemble the characteristics that companies look
for. Those who have these traits often possess great skill in flattering
and manipulating powerful people. Egocentricity, a strong sense of
entitlement, a readiness to exploit others and a lack of empathy and
conscience are also unlikely to damage their prospects in many corporations.
In their book Snakes in Suits, Paul Babiak and Robert
out that as the old corporate bureaucracies have been replaced by flexible,
ever-changing structures, and as team players are deemed less valuable than
competitive risk-takers, psychopathic traits are more likely to be selected
and rewarded. Reading their work, it seems to me that if you have
psychopathic tendencies and are born to a poor family, you're likely to go
to prison. If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a rich
family, you're likely to go to business school.
This is not to suggest that all executives are psychopaths. It is to
suggest that the economy has been rewarding the wrong skills. As the bosses
have shaken off the trade unions and captured both regulators and tax
authorities, the distinction between the productive and rentier upper
classes <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rentier_capitalism> has broken down.
Chief executives now behave like dukes, extracting from their financial
estates sums out of all proportion to the work they do or the value they
generate, sums that sometimes exhaust the businesses they parasitise. They
are no more deserving of the share of wealth they've captured than oil
The rest of us are invited, by governments and by fawning interviews in the
press, to subscribe to their myth of election: the belief that they are
possessed of superhuman talents. The very rich are often described as
wealth creators. But they have preyed on the earth's natural wealth and
their workers' labour and creativity, impoverishing both people and planet.
Now they have almost bankrupted us. The wealth creators of neoliberal
mythology are some of the most effective wealth destroyers the world has
What has happened over the past 30 years is the capture of the world's
common treasury by a handful of people, assisted by neoliberal policies
which were first imposed on rich nations by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald
Reagan. I am now going to bombard you with figures. I'm sorry about that,
but these numbers need to be tattooed on our minds. Between 1947 and 1979,
productivity in the US rose by 119%, while the income of the bottom fifth
of the population rose by 122%. But from 1979 to 2009, productivity rose by
80%, while the income of the bottom fifth fell by 4%. In roughly the same
period, the income of the top 1% rose by 270%.
In the UK, the money earned by the poorest tenth fell by 12% between 1999
and 2009, while the money made by the richest 10th rose by 37%. The Gini
coefficient <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient>, which measures
income inequality, climbed in this country from 26 in 1979 to 40 in 2009.
In his book The Haves and the Have
Branko Milanovic tries to discover who was the richest person who has ever
lived. Beginning with the loaded Roman triumvir Marcus Crassus, he measures
wealth according to the quantity of his compatriots' labour a rich man
could buy. It appears that the richest man to have lived in the past 2,000
years is alive today. Carlos Slim could buy the labour of 440,000 average
Mexicans. This makes him 14 times as rich as Crassus, nine times as rich as
Carnegie and four times as rich as Rockefeller.
Until recently, we were mesmerised by the bosses' self-attribution. Their
acolytes, in academia, the media, thinktanks and government, created an
extensive infrastructure of junk economics and flattery to justify their
seizure of other people's wealth. So immersed in this nonsense did we
become that we seldom challenged its veracity.
This is now changing. On Sunday evening I witnessed a remarkable thing: a
debate on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral between Stuart Fraser, chairman
of the Corporation of the City of
another official from the corporation, the turbulent priest Father William
Taylor, John Christensen of the Tax Justice
the people of Occupy London <http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/occupy-london>.
It had something of the flavour of the Putney debates of 1647. For the
first time in decades – and all credit to the corporation officials for
turning up – financial power was obliged to answer directly to the people.
It felt like history being made. The undeserving rich are now in the frame,
and the rest of us want our money back.
© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited
*George Monbiot is the author of the best selling books The Age of Consent:
a manifesto for a new world
and Captive State: the corporate takeover of
He writes a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper. Visit his website at
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