The pathology of greed

Index of forum topics, talk to us.

Postby admin » Wed Dec 28, 2005 10:13 pm

LONDON (Reuters) - "Wanted: psychopaths to make a killing in the markets".

Such an advert will not be appearing in the world's newspapers any time soon, but it may have a ring of truth after research revealed the best wheeler-dealers could well be "functional psychopaths".

A team of U.S. scientists has found the emotionally impaired are more willing to gamble for high stakes and that people with brain damage may make good financial decisions, the Times newspaper reported on Monday.

In a study of investors' behaviour 41 people with normal IQs were asked to play a simple investment game. Fifteen of the group had suffered lesions on the areas of the brain that affect emotions.

The result was those with brain damage outperformed those without.

The scientists found emotions led some of the group to avoid risks even when the potential benefits far outweighed the losses, a phenomenon known as myopic loss aversion.

One of the researchers, Antione Bechara, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Iowa, said the best stock market investors might plausibly be called "functional psychopaths."

Fellow author, Baba Shiv of Stanford Graduate School of Business said many company chiefs and top lawyers may also show they share the same trait.

"Emotions serve an adaptive role in speeding up the decision-making process," said Shiv.

"However, there are circumstances in which a naturally occurring emotional response must be inhibited, so that a deliberate and potentially wiser decision can be made."

The study, published in June in the journal Psychological Science, was conducted by a team of researchers from Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Iowa.
Site Admin
Posts: 3068
Joined: Fri May 06, 2005 9:05 am
Location: Canada

Postby admin » Wed Dec 07, 2005 5:04 pm

The Unlearned Lesson of Enron--4 Years Later
Friday, December 2, 2005
By: Alex Epstein

Enron was brought down by irrational business decisions, not fraud.

Four years ago this month, Enron Corporation--number 7 on the Fortune 500--filed for bankruptcy, culminating a collapse that shocked America.

It is commonly believed that Enron fell because its leaders, eager to make money, schemed to bilk investors. The ethical lesson, it is said, is that we must teach (or force) a businessman to curb his selfish, profit-seeking "impulses" before they turn criminal.

But all this is wrong.

Enron was not brought down by fraud; while the company committed fraud, its fraud was primarily an attempt to cover up tens of billions of dollars already lost--not embezzled--in irrational business decisions. Most of its executives believed that Enron was a basically productive company that could be righted. This is why Chairman Ken Lay did not flee to the Caymans with riches, but stayed through the end.

What then caused this unprecedented business failure? Consider a few telling events in Enron's rise and fall.

Enron rose to prominence first as a successful provider of natural gas, and then as a creator of markets for trading natural gas as a commodity. The company made profits by performing a genuinely productive function: linking buyers and sellers, allowing both sides to control for risk.

Unfortunately, the company's leaders were not honest with themselves about the nature of their success. They wanted to be "New Economy" geniuses who could successfully enter any market they wished. As a result, they entered into ventures far beyond their expertise, based on half-baked ideas thought to be profound market insights. For example, Enron poured billions into a broadband network featuring movies-on-demand--without bothering to check whether movie studios would provide major releases (they wouldn't). They spent $3 billion on a natural-gas power plant in India--a country with no natural gas reserves--on ludicrous assurances by a transient Indian government that they would be paid indefinitely for vastly overpriced electricity.

The mentality of Enron executives in engineering such fiascos is epitomized by an exchange, described in New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald's account of the Enron saga, between eventual CEO Jeff Skilling and subordinate Ray Bowen, on Skilling's (eventually failed) idea for Enron to sell electricity to retail customers.

An analysis of the numbers, Bowen had realized, "told a damning story . . . Profit margins were razor thin, massive capital investments were required." Skilling's response? "You're making me really nervous . . . The fact that you're focused on the numbers, and not the underlying essence of the business, worries me . . . I don't want to hear that."

When Bowen responded that "the numbers have to make sense . . . We've got to be honest [about whether] . . . we can actually make a profit," Eichenwald recounts, "Skilling bristled. 'Then you guys must not be smart enough to come up with the good ideas, because we're going to make money in this business.' . . . [Bowen] was flabbergasted. Sure, ideas were important, but they had to be built around numbers. A business wasn't going to succeed just because Jeff Skilling thought it should."

But to Skilling and other Enron executives, there was no clear distinction between what they felt should succeed, and what the facts indicated would succeed--between reality as they wished it to be and reality as it is.

Time and again, Enron executives placed their wishes above the facts. And as they experienced failure after failure, they deluded themselves into believing that any losses would somehow be overcome with massive profits in the future. This mentality led them to eagerly accept CFO Andy Fastow's absurd claims that their losses could be magically taken off the books using Special Purpose Entities; after all, they felt, Enron should have a high stock price.

Smaller lies led to bigger lies, until Enron became the biggest corporate failure and fraud in American history.

Observe that Enron's problem was not that it was "too concerned" about profit, but that it believed money does not have to be made: it can be had simply by following one's whims. The solution to prevent future Enrons, then, is not to teach (or force) CEOs to curb their profit-seeking; the desire to produce and trade valuable products is the essence of business--and of successful life.

Instead, we must teach businessmen the profound virtues money-making requires. Above all, we must teach them that one cannot profit by evading facts. The great profit-makers, such as Bill Gates and Jack Welch, accept the facts of reality--including the market, their finances, their abilities and limitations--as an absolute. "Face reality," advises Jack Welch, "as it is, not as it was or as you wish. . . You have to see the world in the purest, clearest way possible, or you can't make decisions on a rational basis."

This is what Enron's executives did not grasp--and the real lesson we should all learn from their fate.

Alex Epstein is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA. The Institute promotes the ideas of Ayn Rand--best-selling author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and originator of the philosophy of Objectivism. ... _ctrl=1021
Site Admin
Posts: 3068
Joined: Fri May 06, 2005 9:05 am
Location: Canada

Corporate Greed & Pathology

Postby Stan » Mon Dec 05, 2005 6:51 am

Corporate Greed & Pathology – December 5, 2005

Great comments on understanding the reason for the investment industry’s behavour towards retail investors.

The first step in resolving a problem is to understand what the fundamental problem is. Too often we are dealing with the symptoms of the problem.

It seems to me that more effort on defining the problem and seeking a solution would be more productive than trying to deal with the issues that develop because of fundamental behaviour.

This forum is a great initiative and reinforces my optimism that if retail investors and concerned industry participants work together, change will surely happen.

Stan Buell

Postby Guest » Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:51 am

CEO pay is criminal. It really is out of control with compensation consultants having a hand in the thievery. The consultant gets the exec a high pay package and is rewarded by the company with other human resource contracts. It's the same story in the pension consulting industry.

Postby Guest » Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:40 am

December 1, 2005

CEOs cashing in

Are CEOs' pay packages, which zoomed by double digits last year while lowly workers were lucky to get a 2% raise, out of whack with reality?

Think John Roth. The former Nortel boss walked away with $123 million US in his jeans, just before the hi-tech firm posted the biggest corporate losses in Canadian history, 68,000 people lost their jobs and shares crashed from $124.50 to just pennies.

Think John Hunkin. The CIBC kingpin retired with a pay package of $52 million, and less than a month later the bank posted its worst quarterly loss ever, losing $1.9 billion in the third quarter of this year, thanks to fallout from Enron.

Today CIBC reports its fourth-quarter and year-end results. I'm sure shareholders will be watching closely.

Well, if it's any comfort -- the gap between company performance and CEO pay is getting better, according to a report released yesterday by consulting firm Watson Wyatt.

In short, the survey of 219 publicly traded companies, found CEOs who were paid above median salaries delivered a return to shareholders of 19.4%. Those paid below the median delivered only 8.6%.

The survey did not disclose the dollar amounts of those salaries, but did reveal salary increases for high performers were up 31% in 2004, compared to a year earlier.

Meanwhile, a media report on CEO pay published earlier this year said earnings averaged $5.5 million last year, up 57% from 2003, while bonuses climbed 24% to $813,716, and gains from cash-in stock options were $6.9 million.

The Watson Wyatt survey also showed the more shares a CEO owned, the better the performance of the company.

It also found the value of CEO exercisable stock options dropped by 45.3% at low-performing companies, but jumped 97.2% at high performing firms.

And it found the use of stock options is down at larger firms, but still popular with small-to-medium cap companies, said Ray Murri, Watson Wyatt's executive compensation leader.

He also pointed out better performing firms paid out higher bonuses to CEOs, than did lower performing ones, and that disclosure to shareholders of executive pay is getting better.

"Our study clearly demonstrates that the pay-for-performance philosophy is taking hold and companies are making strides in aligning CEO compensation to corporate performance," said Murri.

Now, here's a question. Are workers at high-performing firms being rewarded, as well?

This week, Statistics Canada revealed average earnings for Canadian workers were virtually unchanged from August to September, at $736.62 or $38,304.82 a year. So far this year, earnings are up by only 2.8%.

Meanwhile, a report by TD Bank economists shows men's real hourly wages plunged 10.4% between 1981 and 2004, while women's real hourly wages are up 4.1%. Average earnings for women is pegged at $25,300 a year.

So, why are CEOs enjoying such decent pay hikes, when average workers are not?

According to Murri, good CEOs are in short supply, and therefore firms have to pay to attract them.

Also, the shelf life of a CEO is shorter.

"They don't stay on the job for too long ... on average about five years," he said, adding they either burn out, get wooed by another firm or are fired. Pay packages, he added, have to take into account the downside risk.

So, here's my two cents. No CEO succeeds without loyal, hard-working employees, who deliver quality products or services, and hence returns for shareholders. If a firm is performing well, workers too deserve a reward -- and that includes a decent paycheque, profit sharing and/or share ownership.

Sadly, though, too many CEOs are boosting their bonuses by booting loyal employees out the door.

Postby Guest » Wed Nov 30, 2005 6:02 pm

from a Price WaterhouseCoopers survey on economic crime we start to see some common traits:

80% of fraud perpetrators are male, between ages of 31 and 40

almost one quarter of frauds were committed by members of senior management

Take a look at the pay options and handshake packages of any senior bank executive, and it starts to look like they are pretty well padded folks. I wonder if it is in the company interest, or self interest without repercussion?

Postby Guest » Mon Nov 21, 2005 9:48 pm

Greed season: Wall Street bonus time
They win, you lose -- so why aren't you mad as hell?

By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch
Last Update: 7:46 PM ET Nov. 21, 2005

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- If Oliver Stone did a sequel to "Wall Street," his classic 1987 film, Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko character would be out of prison and heading a covert "psych-ops" team masterminding Wall Street's secret war against America's 95 million investors.

Yes, war. One Wall Street is winning because its enemy is a confused bunch of wimps. Oh, that's too blunt for your delicate ears? Well, I'm mad as hell, wondering why you're not mad as hell.

Don't you see the greed oozing from Wall Street this bonus season? And haven't you compared this gushing greed with the miserable market performance since the last crash Wall Street suckered you into? Why aren't you mad as hell?

In every war the victors get the spoils. Same here, as Wall Street doles out more than $20 billion in bonus money to its army. Huge bonuses: $105,000 to first-year associates right out of business school. Imagine, some 25-year-old with an MBA gets a bonus three times bigger than the average American's income.

Worse yet, Wall Street's top generals get one-time bonuses bigger than most Americans make in their lifetime, $6 million or more from the Wall Street Greed Machine. How do they justify those huge bonuses? By being greedy all year long, playing with your money while secretly siphoning big bucks off the top.

Look at Wall Street's rotten performance since the 2000 crash. Wall Street's a big loser. Seriously, have you checked the Wilshire 5000 or the S&P 500 indexes lately? Both are in negative territory, below where they were five years ago.

So if Wall Street's greedy bonuses don't make you mad and if the rotten performance with your money in the stock market doesn't make you angry then maybe you are a thoroughly brainwashed wimp.

Wake up, folks, Wall Street's at war with you, a covert psych-ops war, the kind the Federation of American Scientists says makes it "possible for coercive regimes to manipulate human beings by altering their psychological processes, controlling their behavior [usually] without the knowledge of the victims."

Wall Street's manipulating you with media spin, misrepresentations, propaganda, and intimidation -- anything to create anxiety, doubts and fear. Wall Street and its co-conspirators controlling the $8.4 trillion mutual fund industry are already heavy into this psych-ops warfare. Here are the two key targets:

High-value targets: 8 million millionaires

First, when it comes to scamming investors, Wall Street prefers targeting our small number of millionaires. They're what the military calls a "high-value" target with a big payoff. There are 8 million millionaires in America, with a total net worth in excess of $10 trillion. If Wall Street can skim off even a 1% fee on assets, that's $100 billion a year fee income, from just 3% of our 295 million citizens.

Higher-value targets: The other 287 million

For years the Wall Street's been telling Main Street we each need a million bucks to retire. One simple formula says for every $10,000 in annual income, you need $230,000 in assets. Want $50,000 annually? You need $1,150,000. Unfortunately, the net worth of the average American is closer to $15,000, not counting the value of homes. So you'd think Wall Street would write them off as a low-value target or just collateral damage.

Quite the contrary. But with the mass market of mini-account Main Street investors, the Wall Street Greed Machine needs a relentless, massive psych-ops blitz: Disinformation, propaganda, high-pressure sales gimmicks, half-truths, fraud and a well-financed arsenal of campaign donations and special-interest lobbyists, all cleverly hidden under the congressional and SEC sanctioned camouflage of nondisclosures. The goal is to keep investors uninformed, passive and dependent, unable and unwilling to counterattack Wall Street's ruthless war machine.

In this vulnerable state, the Wall Street Greed Machine does what Jack Bogle has been saying for three decades. Instead of just skimming 1% of assets (as it does with millionaires), Bogle says the Wall Street and its co-conspirators in the fund industry siphon off one-third of our returns -- as much as $160 billion a year investors never see.

You better wake up

For three decades I've been studying the behavior of the million people working in the financial-services industry, beginning with my five years at Morgan Stanley. One thing I've learned is that to succeed on Wall Street you must have what I call the "Greed Gene," a DNA marker that tolerates behavior most of us would call amoral, unethical or even criminal.

The fact is Wall Street's "Greed Gene" will never change. Never. It's inbred in the culture. That's who they are. Accept it. They're not your friends, no matter how much they smile, send birthday cards, pick up the lunch tab. They simply want to skim money off your assets. Period.

OK, what can you do? Sorry, but I am not going to run off another list of shopworn solutions, you already know them. Besides, Wall Street's psych-ops commandos have such overwhelming firepower their assault always win ... as long as you're wimpy enough to keep fighting their war by their rules.

The first thing you must do is wake up: The Wall Street Greed Machine is your worst enemy. Here are two rules to help you wake up. Rule One: Never trust anything you hear from anyone on Wall Street -- no brokers, no bankers, no analysts, no reports, no talking heads. Trust no one. Rule Two: Never forget Rule One.

Postby Guest » Fri Nov 18, 2005 7:31 pm

fascinating to watch Lord Conrad Black in action.

He is quoted in the post today as saying, "Like all fads, corporate governance has its zealots". Regarding silly investors who dared to question his integrity.

Then, when investment house Tweedy Browne asked about his executive compensation he dismissed them saying something about, "contemptuous disregard for the facts".

I read these comments and amazed at the amount of self justification and ego each statement makes.

I am of the opinion that this kind of inability to even consider personal wrongs is one of the characteristics of a financial psychopath. I will follow this case with interest as it appears to have the makings of a good study on the topic.

Postby Guest » Fri Nov 18, 2005 12:41 pm

Lord Black is indicted
Press baron, three others accused in U.S. of pocketing $84-million

Friday, November 18, 2005 Globe and Mail

Conrad Black is facing the battle of his life with U.S. justice officials, who have slapped him with a sweeping criminal indictment that could send him to jail for 40 years.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald alleged yesterday that, through lies, greed and theft, Lord Black and three former colleagues diverted $84-million (U.S.) out of investors' hands and into their own pockets.

"All in all, what has happened here has been a gross abuse by officers and directors and insiders who decided to line their pockets," said Mr. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

At a press conference in Chicago, he added that Canadian taxpayers were also victims of the alleged fraud because Lord Black and the others allegedly disguised millions of dollars in bonus payments as something else in order to avoid paying taxes. "So there was sort of twin fraud, one upon the investing shareholders of an American corporation and the Canadian tax authorities."
Guest The Fund OBSERVER

Postby Guest » Sun Oct 30, 2005 10:39 pm

New Book: “ The battle for the Soul of Capitalism: How the Financial System Undermined Social Ideals, Damaged Trust in the Markets, Robbed Investors of Trillions - and What to Do About It ”, by John Bogle (Founder of low cost fundco Vanguard), ISBN: 0300109903, Yale University Press, 2005. Bogle highlights many examples of corporate excess. Among the problems: inflated executive compensation and creative accounting that allows companies to claim profits even when they're in the red. Mutual fund companies, Bogle charges, care more about short-term results than long-term value, and many of them gain profits for larger parent corporations by charging investors unnecessary fees that undermine the funds' net returns. In a nutshell, he laments that over the last 100 years, we have moved from "owner's capitalism," a system in which the bulk of investment returns went to the people who put up the risk capital, to "manager's capitalism," which provides "vastly disproportionate rewards" to those hired to watch their interests - people like company executives and mutual fund managers. To remedy such problems, Bogle writes, mutual fund owners and their fiduciaries must exercise the corporate responsibility they now shirk, and fund boards must be reshaped to serve the interests of shareholders. A good inspiring read.

Postby Guest » Sun Oct 30, 2005 11:40 am

The investment industry is controlled by a form of organized crime which is similar to the mafia in many ways except they don't murder directly.

Postby admin » Sun Oct 30, 2005 8:37 am

Ex-CEO calls executives overpaid, greedy
Zimmerman says banks are the 'princes'

Friday, October 28, 2005 Page B4

A decline in personal standards of morality and an increase in greedy executive compensation lie behind the corporate scandals that have emerged in recent years, according to one of the most outspoken members of Canada's corporate elite.
Adam Zimmerman, retired CEO of Noranda Forest Inc. and a former director on numerous major Canadian boards, told a business audience in Toronto yesterday that he is "anguished" by the excessive levels of compensation he sees today, citing a recent example of Citigroup chairman Sanford Weill, who earned a total of almost $1-billion over the past decade.

"These huge remuneration schemes are the root cause of all that is going wrong in the world," Mr. Zimmerman said in a speech to the Toronto CFA Society.

Mr. Zimmerman says boards are under a misperception that they have to reward their CEOs excessively because they are the only people qualified to run their companies.

"It's a real false belief there's only one guy who can run any one of these big companies. There are a lot of good people out there."

Mr. Zimmerman said he blames disclosure rules that require companies to reveal the compensation of their top executives, saying they caused executives to begin competing for higher salaries. He said the major banks are the "princes" of the compensation world, and other companies have followed them.

"The end of it is that it's not at all indecent to produce any amount of money provided the company has the cash," he said.

Mr. Zimmerman suggested executives should be required to also disclose their charitable donations, and said CEO pay should be put into perspective with the salaries of normal employees at their companies.

"Were it not that they do it within the law, I would think executives are stealing money," he said.

Mr. Zimmerman said many recent corporate governance initiatives are little more than an attempt to create systems to control human nature, which is difficult to do. Many new standards are based on the simple idea that honesty is the best policy, he said.

"There was a time when individual ethics governed behaviour . . . There was trust and honour. Business, however, has become much more complicated . . . Personal morality has been bent out of shape, and every company thinks it's unique."

Also yesterday, securities lawyer and corporate director Peter Dey told the CFA Society that most complaints he hears about corporate governance going too far are based on concerns that directors have a limited amount of time and are wasting it on due diligence and technical compliance issues.

He said governance hasn't gone too far, but boards haven't done enough to find more efficient processes to free up time to focus on their main task. He said part of good governance is finding ways to resolve this dilemma.

He added that many new governance requirements demand a great deal of time as new systems are being created, but much less once they are in place.

"It's very important to have fun as a director. And the most fun as a director is not receiving legal advice . . . The most fun as a director is understanding a company's strategy and being able to contribute to the development of the strategy."
Site Admin
Posts: 3068
Joined: Fri May 06, 2005 9:05 am
Location: Canada

Postby admin » Thu Sep 15, 2005 9:21 pm

just back from the movie, "Enron, The Smartest Guys In the Room"

it was an inside look at one of history's greatest business scandals, in which top executives walked away with over one billion dollars while investors and employees lost everything.

I found it to be a good example of corporate psychopathic behavior in action. Well worth checking out.

See it if you can, but remember it's lessons learned only apply in the United States (in my opinion). Still in Canada, we are light years away from recognizing white collar crime, and even years further away from doing anything about it.
Site Admin
Posts: 3068
Joined: Fri May 06, 2005 9:05 am
Location: Canada

Wealth by Stealth, by Harry Glasbeek

Postby admin » Thu Sep 15, 2005 4:13 pm

I just had the pleasure of listening to Harry Glasbeek, Author of "Wealth by Stealth".

His analysis of corporate behavior, written from his background as a lawyer, is extemely hard hitting, and insightful.

He tells a story how his young daughter used to avoid responsibility for some of her actions by blaming them on her "invisible" childhood friend. He claims that todays corporations use the limited liability and lack of personal accountability inherent in the corporate structure to similarly wreak harm and havoc to people, property and the planet in the name of profit. Corporations can have the rights of people, but punishments, other than financial fines are practically non-existant. Financial fines are usually paid off by profits earned by the wrongs they do. It almost amounts to some companies ability to commits acts up to and including murder, and use any financial punishment as simply another overhead. A cost if you will, of doing business.

I look forward to reading further and I highly recommend anyone who gets the opportunity to hear him speak.
Site Admin
Posts: 3068
Joined: Fri May 06, 2005 9:05 am
Location: Canada

Dr Robert Hare web site on Psychopathy

Postby admin » Thu Aug 18, 2005 6:25 pm

see this link for one of the world's top experts on psychopathic behavior. From a media interview with Robert Hare in St Johns Newfoundland, in aug of 2002, speaking to 150 members of the Canadian Police Association;

Dr Hare estimates that one in 100 people in Canada are clinical psychopaths. That is about 300,000 people. They demonstrate no hint of a conscience, a barren emotional life marked by few close relationships, impulsive behavior and an inflated sense of self.

They are deceitful, short tempered, the star of their own universe. Callous, cold blooded, not caring that you have thoughts or feelings. They have no sense of guilt or remorse. "That's why the arrogant, manipulative behavior of psychopaths often make them prime candidates for promotion within large corporations built on ruthless competition.

Dr. Hare's comments suggest that, while we screen employees to be teachers and police officers, why are we not screening those who will take charge of billions of dollars in the financial or corporate world?

It now makes sense to me why those who left the good ship CIBC, were able to take tens of millions of dollars with them. Unfortunately they left behind a $2.4 billion dollar legal liability for those left on board.
Site Admin
Posts: 3068
Joined: Fri May 06, 2005 9:05 am
Location: Canada


Return to Click here to view forums

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests