09 November 2012

Lauren Lyster Interviews Dan Ariely on Financial Fraud, Moral Hazard, and the Psychology of a Cheater

I would not necessarily compare the deterrent effects of punishments for a capital crime, which is often a crime of passion, with financial fraud. And beyond some point no matter how severe the punishment may become, the deterrence is not commensurately increased.

The problem is that there is little or no personal penalty these days for even the most egregious forms of financial misbehaviour and fraud. There is a fellowship of mutual corruption at the heart of the money system.

And as some have warned for years, political capture and moral hazard have broken the Anglo-American financial system with profound implications for the real economy. What I find appalling is when so called progressive economists dismiss this important principle for the sake of their models and expediency.

As you know, my theory on the cycles in society is that there is always a minority of people, perhaps ten percent, who are essentially amoral or immoral, whether from sociopathy or some other outlying behavioural tendency.  They are often attracted to positions of power if they have the mind and education for it, and if not, then perhaps to various forms of crime.

But there are times when corruption and callous greed becomes more tolerated, and a larger segment of the population that is not amoral, but is perhaps morally ambivalent or suggestible, joins in on the action and tries to get theirs. And the guilt which they feel often turns into a mean-spirited contempt and anger against their own victims.
"Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many grows cold."
I found some of the examples of corporate accounting corruption in this discussion to be interesting. I have seen some of it first hand. This sort of corruption distorts markets, undermines the capitalist system of competition, and destroys whole companies and even industries.

I knew that Erskine Bowles was on the board of Morgan Stanley, but I did not know that his wife is on the board of JP Morgan. It is an interwoven world of mutual benefits and interconnecting interests at the top.

The current climate amongst the power elite is one of personal entitlement based on rationalization as described by Dr. Ariely, and assumptions of a natural superiority, self-portraying their actions even to the point of benevolence and civic spirit, guiding the poor helpless sub-humans who are incapable of self-governance and perhaps not even worthy of freedom: useless eaters. I call it the Tsar Nicholas complex.

It is a culture of narcissism, self-indulgence, exclusion, and self-reinforcement through separation from the other. The private discussions that were exposed in the recent presidential elections were a brief view into the mindset and groupthink.  Their words betray them.

And it always ends, often badly.