Psycho-capitalism? The overwhelmingly liberal readership of the New York Times is predictably eating up a charged story in the increasingly academic and hard-left Sunday Review section, "Capitalists And Other Psychopaths," by left-wing essayist William Deresiewicz, a critic who often writes for The Nation. Bringing the article to life is a cartoon of two men with painted smiles torturing ants with a magnifying glass. The text box: "Rich people are more likely to lie, cheat and break the law. No surprise."
As of Monday afternoon it was the paper's second-most read and e-mailed story (behind a more substantive Times magazine cover story on diagnosing children as psychopaths), as liberal readers ironically used tools honed and perfected by capitalists to spread a tale -- published by a capitalist organization, the New York Times Company, with revenues of $2.3 billion in 2011 -- of the utter wickedness of capitalists.
There is an ongoing debate in this country about the rich: who they are, what their social role may be, whether they are good or bad. Well, consider the following. A recent study found that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are “clinical psychopaths,” exhibiting a lack of interest in and empathy for others and an “unparalleled capacity for lying, fabrication, and manipulation.” (The proportion at large is 1 percent.) Another study concluded that the rich are more likely to lie, cheat and break the law.
The only thing that puzzles me about these claims is that anyone would find them surprising. Wall Street is capitalism in its purest form, and capitalism is predicated on bad behavior. This should hardly be news. The English writer Bernard Mandeville asserted as much nearly three centuries ago in a satirical-poem-cum-philosophical-treatise called “The Fable of the Bees.”
In other words, Enron, BP, Goldman, Philip Morris, G.E., Merck, etc., etc. Accounting fraud, tax evasion, toxic dumping, product safety violations, bid rigging, overbilling, perjury. The Walmart bribery scandal, the News Corp. hacking scandal -- just open up the business section on an average day. Shafting your workers, hurting your customers, destroying the land. Leaving the public to pick up the tab. 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.
I always found the notion of a business school amusing. What kinds of courses do they offer? Robbing Widows and Orphans? Grinding the Faces of the Poor? Having It Both Ways? Feeding at the Public Trough? There was a documentary several years ago called “The Corporation” that accepted the premise that corporations are persons and then asked what kind of people they are. The answer was, precisely, psychopaths: indifferent to others, incapable of guilt, exclusively devoted to their own interests.