What is wrong with people?

Warning: This commentary is very DISTURBING – not for the faint of heart.

Two days ago, a friend of mine told me via email about a comment on a blog post about whether MBA schools were incubating criminals that was truly disturbing. I didn’t know what to think of it, honestly. When news of the Dark Knight Returns killing came out the next day, it crystallised for me at least that something was seriously wrong on multiple levels with our Zeitgeist here. I couldn’t really put my finger on it. I couldn’t exactly verbalise it. I still can’t, but let me tell you what this comment said and what it triggered in my own thinking.

I was driving through my suburbia, a couple summers back, when I approached two young male teens playing roller hockey in the middle of the street.

As I got closer, it was clear they weren’t playing with a ball or a plastic puck but with what appeared to be a dead rabbit.

When I drew up parallel I realized the sliced and bloody rabbit might not be dead.

In the next moment I was looming over the young teen and screaming inches from his face, “Learn how to play! Do you understand me? Learn…how…to…play!”

Then, looking into those terror filled eyes, a thought flashed, What the fuck is wrong with me? With that I stood up, walked back to my car, and drove away.

Disturbing, right?

First off, let’s remember the original post context here is MBA schools were incubating criminals  – sociopaths in the executive suites, if you will. So, the comment is certainly relevant. But you have to wonder if this is a complete fabrication. What kind of person makes up a story like this? As one friend on the email thread said, "Male 6th graders may blow up the occasional frog with a cherry bomb or firecracker.  Male teens don’t play hockey with live rabbits." Or do they?

Here’s the problem: something about our recent past economic and financial history makes me believe this could be real. If it is fabricated, you have someone with a warped imagination. But, again, we are living in warped times, so it could be a real incident. And if it is real, the juxtaposition between the alleged driver’s questioning his own behavior for questioning their clearly depraved behavior and the teenagers’ behavior is entirely the point in context here. It goes to the normalcy of their manner, while doing something completely sociopathic.

My first thought was the LIBOR scandal. Here were these guys apparently cheating and manipulating the interest rate at the heart of hundreds of trillions of dollars of financial instruments as if it were no big deal.

Some sample email requests to rig the market:

  • "WE HAVE TO GET KICKED OUT OF THE FIXINGS TOMORROW! We need a 4.17 fix in 1m (low fix) We need a 4.41 fix in 3m (high fix)." – November 23, 2005
  • "You need to take a close look at the reset ladder. We need 3M to stay low for the next 3 sets and then I think that we will be completely out of our 3M position. Then it’s on." – February 1, 2006
  • "Your annoying colleague again… Would love to get a high 1m Also if poss a low 3m… if poss… thanks." – February 3, 2006

The email responses confirming the ‘fix’:

  • "For you… anything. I am going to go 78 and 92.5. It is difficult to go lower than that in threes." – March 16, 2006
  • "Always happy to help, leave it to me, Sir." – March 20, 2006
  • "Done… for you big boy…" – April 7, 2006


What else can I say, really?

This is how our financial system works – people openly discussing rigging the market for all to see and hear as if they were discussing where to buy a carton of milk. That’s how it works, folks. Don’t avert your eyes like it didn’t happen. What you saw was real. It happened and they WERE doing it. And it was WRONG.

And don’t say, "What the fuck is wrong with me?" and drive away. There’s nothing wrong with you. But there’s certainly something wrong with them.

Is anyone going to do anything about it?

  1. KFritz says

    A suggestion: the man who yelled at the roller hockey players may have been talking about the MANNER in which he confronted the young men, and his own emotional state–not much better than the miscreants he was confronting

  2. Rob says

    It seems to me that this is an example of a larger trend whereby somehow our society has lost its ability to intrinsically value things, be those actions, inactions or actual things. The ability to properly value things sits at the core of a well-functioning capitalistic society.

    So you walk down the street in some neighborhood say in Florida six years ago and you do some math in your head… the average family in this neighborhood grosses $60,000 a year. Based on historical pricing of many decades if not centuries, your gut tells you that intrinsically based on what people make (i.e. what society deems their contribution to society is worth), the houses in the neighborhood should be valued at around $165,000. And yet, in 2006 they were selling for $280,000. Well, you could say, that IS what the market bears and therefore it’s priced fairly, but on the other hand you may wonder, maybe there is something wrong with the market “setup” itself that has allowed the price to diverge so far from it’s intrinsic “gut” value.

    You have an operation. You are put under anesthesia. Your anesthesiologist basically watches a bunch of monitors. He makes $350,000 a year. Why this much? Yes, he did go to school for a long time, but so do a lot of other people (even other kinds of doctors making less). Your life is in his hands, but your life is also in the hands of firefighters, police officers, engineers at the automaker who designed the safety systems in your car, etc. Why is he being paid this much? Compared to other professions, maybe $170,000 or maybe $230,000 is a better figure, or maybe the market has broken down and can no longer intrinsically value his salary?

    You’re a mortgage broker in 2005. Due to the fees you or your company extracts from these mortgages, you make $105,000. All you really do is just sit there processing paperwork. You are not making this much money not because you are any better than any other people at processing paperwork. Other people selling stuff and processing paperwork in other industries make $45,000 a year. Why is the market pricing your salary (in 2005) at over $100K? Is it the true intrinsic worth of your function or is there something wrong with market pricing?

    You are a CEO of public company X. It has 2700 employees and you have results which indicate that you are earning somewhat less than other comparable companies out there in the same business. Yet, you earn 200 times the average salary of company X’s workers. Why are stockholders willing to compensate you this much? It is because the market says so… or maybe there’s something wrong with the market?

    You are the President of a large multinational bank (based on London maybe :). Under your watch employees have been doing some shady things that will probably adversely impact your organization in a significant way. The board of the bank is hinting you need to leave so that you can “spend more time with your family”. They will pay you $45,000,000 to do so. Why are you being paid this much to go, and under these circumstances? Is the market dictating it, or is something wrong with the market? Maybe there is something wrong with society itself that it can no longer properly value the contributions of it’s members?

    I believe this breakdown in the “invisible hand” is analogous and related to the breakdown in morals.

    You are a teenager playing hockey with a live rabbit. Your intrinsic moral gut value should be telling you that this is not appropriate. Yet it is not. Why?

    You are a mortgage broker “improving” the look of a loan applicant. Your gut should be telling you should not be doing this but you do it anyway.

    It’s 1984 and You’re the head of the FDIC. A large bank in Illinois just became insolvent. You compensate depositors you’ve promised you would BUT, you also decide to compensate bondholders as well, even though you have no obligation to do so and even though they’ve failed to practice due corporate governance. Your gut feel should tell you that with this unmandated precedent you are introducing enormous moral hazard to the banking world but you do it anyway.

    A generation later, the moral hazard seed you’ve planted destroys the global financial system.

    So here we are today, living in a world where we have broken laws of nature. Consequently, as nature should, it has has broken down and all we can do is ask why.

    1. Rob says

       Oops, that last paragraph should read “broken the laws of nature”

  3. Del says

    Ed, our leaders told boldfaced lies to get us into a war of aggression. Right behind the troops were the scavengers – Haliburton, General Dynamics, etc. Cargo planes of cash were sent without receipts – taken directly from the Federal Reserve. There were business seminars given on how to rip off the government. Not a single stated objective was met.

    Companies such as Union Carbide will do anything to deny responsibility for a mountain of dead bodies they caused. Merck knowingly sold little tablets of death called Vioxx.

    Citibank is a crime syndicate doing everything from laundering drug money to targeting retarded people for their government assistance checks.

    This list could go on forever.

    Corporations might be people, but they are sociopathic – just like our politicians.

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