Economists And Psychopaths

“The human toll here looks to be much worse than the economic toll and we can be grateful for that.”

-CNBC Anchor, Larry Kudlow, commenting on the devastating Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and radioactive fallout

With an estimated 18,000 Japanese dead or missing to date, a half million homeless, others living without heat or electricity or running water, facing severe food, gasoline, and other shortages, World Class Asshat and Psychopath Larry Kudlow is relieved that, despite all this overwhelming human suffering, his investment portfolio remains intact. (He later apologized, presumably after being taken to the woodshed by management.)

If “psychopath” seems too harsh or hyperbolic a term, consider the school of economics to which Kudlow and his ilk belong. Some seventy years ago, mathematicians developed what has come to be known as game theory to:

capture behavior in strategic situations, or games, in which an individual’s success in making choices depends on the choices of others (Myerson, 1991). While initially developed to analyze competitions in which one individual does better at another’s expense (zero sum games), it has been expanded to treat a wide class of interactions, which are classified according to several criteria.

One of the most studied fields of applied game theory is economics. Kudlow embraces a particular theory of economics that might best be described as economic Darwinism, a zero sum game where for every winner there’s a loser. Tellingly, the theory originated with studying the actions of poker players, each of whom is assumed to want to take all the other guys’ chips. Decades of subsequent social science studies, perhaps the most famous of which is the Prisoner’s Dilemma, undermine such a simplistic, selfish view of human nature. As the late Quentin S. Crisp summed it up in his Economists and Psychopaths:

“It has been found that the only people who really fit the simplified mathematical model of self-interested rational behaviour at all times are economists and psychopaths.”

Hello, Larry.

(For more about the development of economic game theory, see documentary excerpt below titled: Us, the psychopaths : Game theory and market democracy.)

Projected into the larger social-politico sphere, adopting such a comprehensive dog eat dog economic theory would mean annulling the social contract, what the Preamble of the US Constitution refers to as “the general Welfare”; and replacing that greater good with a form of economic determinism in which the market is the primary medium of consent.

Our current indeterminate system of social democracy is considered fraught with uncertainty: How can one possibly calculate all the possible decisions individuals make in their own self-interest, let alone synthesize them into coherent government policies? Best to replace the whole mess with a predictable “market democracy.” Voting is no longer the process of electing leaders who embrace a shared vision of social progress, but rather a means of exercising individual “freedom”, the mantram of Libertarians and Teabaggers everywhere. Freedom is reformulated to mean both freedom from government regulation to produce as much crap as possible; and the freedom to buy as much of that crap as possible.

In such a warped, materialistic system, citizens are reduced to mere consumer/serfs, dependent on corporations for their material well being, as well as their sense of personal, branded identity. Corporate branding begins early in life, from product placement in children’s cartoons to holiday promotions using cute kids singing: ”I don’t want to grow up, I wanna be a Toys R Us kid.” Engineering  infantalism into life long, consumer branded loyalty is the holy grail of Madison Avenue.

(For a cosmic corollary of child abuse, see this description of The Lucifer Rebellion in The Urantia Book:

And it is to their everlasting dishonor that the emissaries of Lucifer and Satan spared not the infant-training schools on the finaliter cultural planet but rather sought to corrupt these developing minds in mercy salvaged from the evolutionary worlds.

As above, so below.)

The replacement of a “We Society” with a “Me Society” can happen gradually or suddenly, the latter being the focus of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine. Sudden transformations can be precipitated by natural causes, say a devastating natural disaster. Or, as is increasingly becoming the case in the last few decades, economic catastrophes can be engineered by the nefarious, rich and powerful people who want even more power and more riches in their futile attempt to satisfy that most insatiable addiction known to man—power over their fellow human beings.*

Privatization of government assets and services is the overarching strategy of The Ruling Class. The “transfer of wealth” moves from the bottom to the top, leaving the Middle Class to pick up the tab. The Powers That Be receive even greater tax breaks and wealth, forcing cuts in social programs to “balance the budget.” Nowhere is this Shock Doctrine more in play right now than in the state of Michigan, where its Teabagger governor has just signed legislation that declares economic martial law on the citizenry, vesting the power to close public schools, void collective bargaining contracts, remove elected officials, and overturn local ordinances by his own appointed viceroys, or “emergency financial managers.” As David Dayen notes in his blog this week:

1,000 seniors rallied yesterday in Lansing specifically over Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to tax pensions. Indeed, it’s Snyder’s proposed budget that represents a true reverse-Robin Hood stance:

Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) has proposed ending his state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, cutting a $600 per child tax credit, and reducing credits for seniors, while also cutting funding for school districts by eight to ten percent. At the same time, as the Michigan League for Human Services found, the state’s business taxes would be reduced by nearly $2 billion, or 86 percent, under Snyder’s plan:

Business taxes would be cut by 86 percent from an estimated $2.1 billion in FY 2011 to $292.7 million in FY 2013, the first full year of the proposed tax changes…Taxes on individuals from the state income tax would rise by $1.7 billion or nearly 31 percent, from an estimated $5.75 billion in FY 2011 to $7.5 billion in FY 2013, the first full year of the tax changes.

As the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found, the practical upshot of Snyder’s tax increases is to place even more of a burden on Michigan’s poorest residents, who will see a bigger hike than those at the upper end of the income scale.

People aren’t appreciating the role of corporate tax cuts in all the plans of these right-wing governors. They are exacerbating their states’ budget problems and then sticking the elderly, poor and infirm with the bill, along with the unions. As one senior said yesterday, “It’s about our governor taking our money and giving it to big business.”

I’m sure Larry would approve.


*True liberty is the associate of genuine self-respect; false liberty is the consort of self-admiration. True liberty is the fruit of self-control; false liberty, the assumption of self-assertion. Self-control leads to altruistic service; self-admiration tends towards the exploitation of others for the selfish aggrandizement of such a mistaken individual as is willing to sacrifice righteous attainment for the sake of possessing unjust power over his fellow beings.

– The Urantia Book



  1. Avatar AntiStae

    Libertarians understand that the highly functional, intelligent psychopath can do the most damage in positions of power, ie government. There is no better place and when the corporate psychopath gets together with the political bureaucrat psychopath the most damage is done to good natured people.

    The worst thing that has been done is to centralize power and give these psychopaths the monopoly on violence. I suggest you and everyone else check out Political Ponerology: A Science on The Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes.

    1. Propagandee Propagandee

      Gratis, Suzan.

      Though I wish we had the same power of vivisection that the Kudlows of the world have as they destroy our economy in real time and we are limited to analyzing the remains.

      Just saw the Oliver Stone sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps the other day. Though Douglas is superb as a prototypical WS psychopath, Stone offers him a measure of redemption at the end.

      Chalk it up to another feel good Hollywood ending.

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