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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The gaggle of economic sociopaths

I am the last person to defend the behavior of the Wall Street tycoons who brought down the economy by their actions over the past eight years, but we were ill served by the publication of Neal Gabler's rant about the “economic sociopaths” of Wall Street (Boston Globe, October 31, 2009: A11).

The diagnosis of a psychiatric condition (like those articulated in DSM-IV-R) should be done on an individual basis by a highly trained specialist. Such diagnoses should not be applied in a broad brush way to any subpopulation, even Wall Streeters deserve that amount of restraint. Though the phrase is an appealing metaphor.

Furthermore, there is in psychology an ongoing argument about whether behavior is driven by person or by situation. Situations, it is argued, call forth relevant behaviors. One could argue that over the past eight years, we ,through our government, created the situation in which this irresponsible behavior was appropriate. We cut taxes, we repealed Glass-Steagall, we neglected regulation, and we glorified winners. We got the behaviors that might have been expected.

On one point I agree with Mr Gabler. It is a great shame that President Obama appointed two men who facilitated those situational changes, Mr. Geithner and Mr. Summers, to be major figures on the team trying to undo those disastrous changes in the situation.

Sent to Boston Globe

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