The Corporate Psychopaths Among Us

Hannibal Lecter was a fictional psychopath, but there are much worse psychopaths active in American politics and business today.   "Psychopath" and "sociopath" are each defined as a personality disorder marked by lack of empathy or remorse; the two terms are closely related and are sometimes used interchangeably.

Conservatives have long had a problem with the direction of the American Republic and the American economy.  Now there are recent psychological studies of the role of psychopaths in the broader economy, and specifically in the recent and ongoing global financial meltdown.  Clive R. Boddy is one of several psychologists doing research in this problem area, including Board and Fritzon, who speak of successful psychopaths at the head of large corporations and unsuccessful psychopaths who are in prison.  Rod Blagojevich was successful before he recently became unsuccessful.  Boddy's preliminary findings are contained in The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis.  Most analyses of the 2008 financial meltdown concentrated on nuts and bolts data such as mortgage policies, interest rates, rating agencies, and derivatives.  The media certainly did not focus on the hazard of electing a left-wing non-entity and his  psychopathic baggage to the White House.  Boddy offers welcome insight to our ongoing problems.

Briefly, Boddy describes the role of corporate psychopaths in the recent "corporate collapses" that we have experienced.  Enron, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Solyndra, MF Global, and various banks and other financial institutions come to mind as possible examples. Boddy states that "Psychopaths are the 1% of people who have no conscience or empathy and who do not care for anyone other than themselves," a statement that would seem to fit the overpaid and otherwise overly-remunerated business, banking, and political personalities we have seen in the news recently, e.g., Rahm Emanuel as a member of the Freddie Mac board of directors during the Democratic Party campaign finance scandals and the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac $10 billion accounting fraud that he, in his official capacity, ignored.    

Boddy suggests that malfunctions in the amygdala and the frontal cortex of the brain, and perhaps defective nervous system wiring and faulty chemical and electrical impulses, are the causes of corporate psychopathic behavior.  He further suggests ways of identifying the potential for psychopathic behavior before it becomes a problem.  Such defects help create "smooth, charming, sophisticated, and successful" (and self-serving) images for corporate psychopaths "who have no conscience or empathy."  He further states that "Psychologists have argued that Corporate Psychopaths within organizations may be singled out for rapid promotion because of their polish, charm, and cool decisiveness."   Boddy argues that Corporate Psychopaths are attracted to positions of power and wealth: politics, banking, and finance, for examples, thus creating potential scenarios for disaster. 

The corporate world is changing and is less stable than it was just a few years ago.  These changes leave openings for Corporate Psychopaths, and help to confuse the issue when things go wrong.  Takeovers and buyouts involve rapid actions and lots of cash, and opportunities for Corporate Psychopaths to get in and get out before routines are settled and accountability is established. 

An excellent example was seen when Rahm Emanuel successfully promoted the Democratic Party congressional candidates to victory in the 2008 elections.  Less than two years later, as White House Chief-of-Staff, Emanuel was a principal in every one of the failed, wasteful, and unpopular programs of the first two years of the Obama Administration: ObamaCare, Government Motors, cap-and-trade, energy subsidies, etc.  Before the Obama Administration disaster was fully obvious, Emanuel bailed, just as he had bailed (or was pushed) after his unsuccessful participations in Hillarycare and, later, from Freddie Mac.  Boddy could have been describing Emanuel when he says, "Failures were not noticed until too late and the offending managers had already moved on to better positions elsewhere," if mayor of Chicago is considered a better position. 

Boddy also points out that in these high-stakes actions, Corporate Psychopaths richly reward themselves and their political contacts as the economy is destroyed and more normal productive citizens lose their share of the American dream.  Few begrudge Bill Gates, for example, his success because Gates has enriched millions of lives and pocketbooks.  But Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Countrywide were corrupt and corrupting, and destroyed rather than built. 

So, we have a narrow 1% of the population that is highly intelligent, very ambitious, and devoid of moral values operating in a political environment where money flows like water with no accountability.  This is the environment in which the national debt has gone from essentially nowhere to over $15 trillion in less than fifty years, since the start of the Great(?) Society programs.

Early in his article, Boddy states that "Capitalism also loses some of its credibility" when Corporate Psychopaths create trillion-dollar messes.  When the Democrats' Housing Bubble cracked there were many comments on the "failure of capitalism," but political and Corporate Psychopaths are not the measure of capitalism. Capitalism has been the greatest engine for growth and job creation in the history of the world, and blaming capitalism for the actions of a bunch of psychopaths does not make sense.  It is an argument that only a psychopath could make.

Boddy presents a radically different and utterly plausible view of the recent worldwide financial difficulties, but I wish to clarify his statement that, "Expert commentators on the rise of Corporate Psychopaths within modern corporations have also hypothesized that they are more likely to be found at the top of current organisations (sic) than at the bottom."  This may be true of large financial institutions, Boddy's area of focus, but previous experience with the SOB personality indicates that the  SOB psychopath falls across a wider range of organizations and involves many middle managers as well as top managers.  There is a further objection to Boddy's use of the term "social justice."  Justice is justice.  "Social justice" may be politically correct, but that is just a cover for class warfare injustice, credit to Dennis Prager.    

Boddy suggests that personality screens and further physiological research could help identify Corporate Psychopaths before they are in a position to do so much damage.  This is possibly true, but there are other more immediate tools available, and education is one such tool.  SOB managers have been abruptly terminated when upper management suddenly realized the damages these SOBs were doing within their organizations.  It just took an abnormally long time for upper management to realize what harm these otherwise well-qualified SOBs were doing.  Awareness of Corporate Psychopaths, including SOB managers, and the warning signs of such behavior should be widely disseminated.  Deferred compensation might be used in some circumstances; long, successful service might be rewarded rather than the "pump-and-dump" model we have seen in some financial companies. 

A return to a culture of corporate stability and long term employment would help.  We certainly cannot continue in the direction the Democratic Party is taking us without becoming as broke as Greece, or the Soviet Union.  All tools, including the ballot box, should be used to correct the financial disaster that threatens. 

James G. Long has been an army captain, a professional engineer, an author, and a blogger, with a lifelong interest in organizational management problems.