Are the one percent who own 99 percent of US really different from the rest of US?
Scientists believe about one per cent of the general population is psychopathic. There is emerging evidence that this frequency increases within the upper management of modern corporations. This is not surprising since personal ruthlessness and fixation on personal power have become seen as strong assets to large publicly traded corporations (which some authors believe have also become psychopathic).
X-posing the psychopaths among US
In the Terminator movies they used dogs. If it only were that simple. However, appearance and performance are two different things. While psychopaths are often outwardly charming and excellent self-promoters, they are also typically terrible managers, bullying co-workers and creating chaos to conceal their behaviour.
A peer-reviewed theoretical paper from 2011 titled "The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis" details how highly-placed psychopaths in the banking sector may have nearly brought down the world economy through their own inherent inability to care about the consequences of their actions.
The author of this paper, Clive Boddy, previously of Nottingham Trent University, believes this theory would go a long way to explain how senior managers acted in ways that were disastrous for the institutions they worked for, the investors they represented and the global economy at large.
Pathology means they are biochemically incapable of something they are legally required to do: act in good faith on behalf of other people. The banking and corporate sector is built on the ancient principle of fiduciary duty-- a legal obligation to act in the best interest of those whose money or property you are entrusted with. Asking a psychopath to do that is like recruiting a pyromaniac to be a firefighter.
The folly of mixing psychopathy and senior corporate management has been borne out by recent history. At the end of the last decade, numerous banking institutions representing hundreds of years of corporate financial stability ceased to exist within a few short months due to the reckless acts of a few individuals -- none of whom have ever been charged with a crime.
And therein lies the rub. As ruthless as psychopaths are, their pathology dictates that they will ultimately act to the detriment of the organizations and investors they are paid so well to represent.
Boddy concludes his recent paper with this grim prediction:
"Writing in 2005, this author... predicted that the rise of Corporate Psychopaths was a recipe for corporate and societal disaster. This disaster has now happened and is still happening. Across the western world, the symptoms of the financial crisis are now being treated. However, this treatment of the symptoms will have little effect because the root cause is not being addressed. The very same Corporate Psychopaths, who probably caused the crisis by their self-seeking greed and avarice, are now advising governments on how to get out of the crisis. That this involves paying themselves vast bonuses in the midst of financial hardship for many millions of others is symptomatic of the problem. Further, if (this theory is correct) then we are now far from the end of the crisis. Indeed, it is only the end of the beginning. Perhaps more than ever before, the world needs corporate leaders with a conscience.... Measures exist to identify Corporate Psychopaths. Perhaps it is time to use them."
Time for testing
Boddy's last statement contains a kernel of hope. If our world has become chaotic due to institutionalized psychopathy, imagine how much better it could be if such dangerously impaired individuals were excluded from positions of power and influence.
Precedence exists for dealing with such situations. Randomized workplace drug testing became the norm in the 1980s. At the time, civil libertarians strongly objected on the basis that it violated personal privacy protections. However, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1989 that such testing was constitutional and now about 25 per cent of Fortune 500 companies routinely require their employees to submit to such tests.
Perhaps investors at major financial institutions should require that senior level managers submit to established tests to ensure they are not psychopathic. This is not an issue of civil liberties since the precedent has already been well established regarding drug impairment in the workplace. Likewise, it is not a regulatory issue since private shareholders have every right to demand that executives demonstrate they are not biochemically impaired and therefore unable to carry out their fiduciary duties on behalf of investors. If corporate boards are hiring psychopaths as executive management, they are not carrying out their due diligence and could be held legally liable for their oversight.
Companies should also consider providing employees with specific whistleblower provisions to expose potential psychopaths in the workplace. A 2010 study by Boddy showed that corporate psychopaths caused more than one quarter of all workplace bullying, though they accounted for only one per cent of the workforce.
Besides being traumatic and humiliating to other workers, this bullying is also very expensive. Boddy calculated that bullying by corporate psychopaths cost companies in the U.K. more than £3.5 billion per year in lost productivity and attrition. Extrapolating these results to the United States, these deviant individuals are responsible for more than $35 billion in direct annual losses to U.S. businesses.
Birds of a feather flock together
And what about elected officials? There is no higher standard of trust in our society than standing for public office. Campaigning politicians are expected to submit to almost absurd levels of scrutiny about their private lives, character and personal relationships. Should not candidates begin providing voters proof that they are medically capable of acting in the interests of the public that may elect them?
The Occupy Wall Street protesters demanding an end to the reign of the "one per cent" may have unwittingly stumbled on the crux of the issue. Science tells us that 99 per cent of humans have normal emotional function. One per cent are psychopaths. We ignore that truth at our peril.