Al Lewis, Dow Jones Newswire columnist (Al’s Emporium) and blogger (Tell It to Al), poses an interesting notion to the Sunday edition of the online Wall Street Journal. He says that the easiest way to understand Wall Street scandals and implosions is to attribute them to the work of psychopaths, or psychos He might have a good idea.
“Psychos on Wall Street” is a good read, in part because Lewis shines the light on one of my favorite people, Sam Antar. Sam’s cousin, Eddie Antar, had a company called Crazy Eddie’s. Crazy Eddie’s sold electronics in the Northeast. Eddie starred in some over-the-top televised commercials. Together, Sam and Eddie orchestrated a series of frauds, victimizing insurance companies, suppliers and eventually stockholders. Their securities fraud was the largest of the 1980s.
Back to Sam in a minute. First, a discussion of psychopathy. A diagnosis of psychopathy is, as I understand it, more of a judgment call than a scientific test. If a person exhibits a sufficient number of symptoms, then he/she can be diagnosed as a psychopath. These symptoms include: disregard for the rights of others, a total lack of empathy and remorse, selfishness, insensitivity, dishonesty, aggressiveness, impulsiveness, irresponsibility, and pleasure seeking. A psychopath is not controlled by a sense of right or wrong, and frequently preys on fellow humans.
I’ve looked over several checklists used in psychopath identification, and I’m sure that I’ve worked with at least one psychopath in most places I’ve been employed as a professor. In business, they frequently end up in charge. This is not to say that every business boss is a psychopath, but probably a lot are.
Lewis cites Sherree DeCovny (a former investment broker) as saying that at least 10% of the professionals on Wall Street are psychopaths. This is where my friend Sam Antar re-enters this story.
Lewis quotes Sam Antar as admitting he is a psychopath. And Sam Antar estimates that 80% of the professionals on Wall Street are psycho. “It’s a bunch of crooks dealing with other crooks.”
I’ve had enough conversations with Sam to know that he probably was (and still is) a psychopath. I’ll never forget his description of the mindset of someone committing fraud. Other people are marks to be exploited. Good people, he calls them, with a sense of right and wrong. Having no such sense himself, when he was younger he had no qualms about stealing from them. Stealing from them was fun. Sam viewed good people as deserving of being stolen from.
For some unknown reason, Sam says he respects me. He thinks I have the visibility to warn other good people (and my students) to always remain vigilant of people like him. Being wary of others is the key to protecting yourself. And once you spot a fraudster (aka psycho), do whatever is needed to eliminate the threat.
Debit and credit – - David Albrecht