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Mar 24 2009

The Sociopaths of Wall Street

The cluelessness from Wall Street just gets worser and worser:

Via TPM, a Wall Street Journal article that says, basically, that at first the Obama administration did not particularly seek out Wall Street’s advice:

“In late January, as Treasury Secretary Geithner prepared his proposal for handling the banking crisis, administration officials avoiding seeking input from Wall Street. “Those people are tainted,” said one aide at the time. “Why would we consult the very executives who got us into this mess?” (…)

[snip]

But then Obama decided that it was important to reach out more to Wall Street, and did. More Wall Street people were consulted; the administration worked harder to win them over.

Here are the passages from the article that really got to me. (Emphases added.) First:

“Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his colleagues worked the phones to try to line up support on Wall Street for the plan announced Monday. (…) Some bankers say they turned the conversations into complaints about the antibonus crusade consuming Capitol Hill. Some have begun “slow-walking” the information previously sought by Treasury for stress-testing financial institutions, three bankers say, and considered seeking capital from hedge funds and private-equity funds so they could return federal bailout money, thereby escaping federal restrictions.”

Second:

“But as the furor intensified, Mr. Obama’s words to Congress — “we cannot govern out of anger” — seemed to take on less importance. Last week, he was asked by reporters on the White House South Lawn whether anger was getting in the way of pushing through banking reforms. “I don’t want to quell anger,” he replied. “I think people are right to be angry. I’m angry.”

Bankers were shell-shocked, especially when Congress moved to heavily tax bonuses. When administration officials began calling them to talk about the next phase of the bailout, the bankers turned the tables. They used the calls to lobby against the antibonus legislation, Wall Street executives say. Several big firms called Treasury and White House officials to urge a more reasonable approach, both sides say. The banks’ message: If you want our help to get credit flowing again to consumers and businesses, stop the rush to penalize our bonuses.”

I think it’s important to be really, really clear about what this article claims. Both the stress tests and the attempts to get credit flowing again are essential parts of our attempt to solve the enormous economic problems we now face, problems that these very firms are largely responsible for. If the banks are “slow-walking” the stress tests and threatening not to help get credit flowing, that just is threatening not to help get the country out of the economic crisis.

That would be an absolutely appalling thing to do under any circumstances. It would be doubly appalling since these very people bear a lot of responsibility for that crisis. But the fact that they are making these threats not over some large issue of principle, but over their bonuses — that’s just breathtaking.

As if that wasn’t enough chutzpah, we also learn this:

Last month, ThinkProgress reported that in a House hearing, seven out of eight bailed-out bank CEOs said their companies still “own or lease” private planes. ABC News provides more details today, reporting that JPMorgan Chase — which received $25 billion in TARP funds — “is going ahead with a $138 million plan to buy two new luxury corporate jets,” complete with “the premiere corporate aircraft hangar on the eastern seaboard…”

But they think it’s okay, because they’ll wait until they’ve paid back the TARP money. They don’t seem to comprehend that Americans don’t expect them to return to their same old habits after we’re done saving their asses from their own bad decisions and cooked books.

As I was reading this, it occurred to me that their behavior fits the definition of sociopathy to a T:

Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern of the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken. And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools. Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless. You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience that they seldom even guess at your condition.

[snip]

Maybe you are someone who craves money and power, and though you have no vestige of conscience, you do have a magnificent IQ. You have the driving nature and the intellectual capacity to pursue tremendous wealth and influence, and you are in no way moved by the nagging voice of conscience that prevents other people from doing everything and anything they have to do to succeed. You choose business, politics, the law, banking or international development, or any of a broad array of other power professions, and you pursue your career with a cold passion that tolerates none of the usual moral or legal encumbrances. When it is expedient, you doctor the accounting and shred the evidence, you stab your employees and your clients (or your constituency) in the back, marry for money, tell lethal premeditated lies to people who trust you, attempt to ruin colleagues who are powerful or eloquent, and simply steamroll over groups who are dependent and voiceless. And all of this you do with the exquisite freedom that results from having no conscience whatsoever.

We’re not dealing with normal people. We’re letting sociopaths dictate the terms
of their own rescue. I somehow doubt that will go well.