Journalist

Wall Street

Psychos On Wall Street

AL'S EMPORIUM: COMMENTARY

Psychos on Wall Street


March 3, 2012


By Al Lewis


The easiest way to explain the never-ending string of Wall Street scandals

and implosions is to observe that a surprising percentage of people in the

financial industry are psychos.


The latest edition of CFA Magazine, a trade publication for chartered

financial analysts, features an article claiming one out of 10 people working

on Wall Street are psychopaths.


Sherree DeCovny, the former investment broker who wrote the piece, says

the estimate came from researchers, including a psychologist who treats

Wall Street professionals.


In the 2005 book, "The Sociopath Next Door," Harvard University

psychologist Martha Stout claims one out of every 25 people in America is a

sociopath. She defines sociopath as a person with no conscience.


"Sociopath" and "psychopath" describe a similar range of anti-social traits,

including a lack of empathy, no regard for consequences and unbridled risktaking.


Ms. DeCovny defines them this way: "Back when we were little

children…and we were learning right from wrong, they didn't get it."


Sometimes these people turn out to be Jeffrey Dahmer and drill a hole

through your skull. But if you send them to Harvard and dress them in a fine

suit, they could become your boss, your CEO or your senator. They excel in

any arena where aggressive behavior is rewarded and where grandiose

levels of confidence can result in rousing applause.


I have come to know many psychopaths, from Ponzi-schemers to bookcooking

corporate executives. They are always charming and narcissistic.


They display wonderfully glib senses of humor and spin the truth like a

roulette wheel.


It is often difficult to argue that these people are indeed sick until the day

they have to exchange their Armani suit for an orange jumpsuit.


I only know one man who openly admits he's a psychopath. I called him to

see what he thought of the numbers Ms. DeCovny reported.


"First of all, it's not one out of 10," says Sam Antar. "It's probably eight out

of 10."


Mr. Antar was the chief financial officer of Crazy Eddie, an electronics

retailer in the New York area that became one of the more infamous stockfraud

cases of the late 1980s.


Mr. Antar pleaded guilty to felonies, but received no jail time, for assisting

prosecutors in charges against his cousin, Eddie Antar, who famously

advertised that his prices were just "In-sanne!" (frequently parodied on

Saturday Night Live in the Dan Aykroyd-John Belushi era.)


"The reality is, to succeed on Wall Street you've got to be a psychopath in

one form or another," Mr. Antar says.


Mr. Antar now teaches law-enforcement organizations how to spot psychos.

He thinks of himself as a psychopath in remission, but he admits he could

snap back at any time, much like a relapsing alcoholic.


"The only reason I started calling myself a psychopath is because it got me a

complete walk from the Feds," he admits.

It may be part of the human condition to venerate psychos, mistaking their

grandiosity for leadership.


Ms. DeCovny suggests financial firms screen for psychopathic traits when

they are interviewing prospective employees and regularly monitor antisocial behaviors amid their ranks. 


"Don't we need to learn from the financial

crisis?" she asks.


We do. And we won't.


If you work on Wall Street, chances are good you are not a psychopath, but

chances are also good you report to one.


Mr. Antar sees it this way: "It's a bunch of crooks dealing with other

crooks."


And the smartest ones win.


Al Lewis is a columnist for Dow Jones Newswires in Denver. He blogs at

tellittoal.com; his email address is al.lewis@dowjones.com