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January 3rd, 2012

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08:28 pm - In Which Reality Is Creepier Than Fiction
A chilling incident where reality is creepier than fiction. In Charles Stross' excellent recent novel Rule 34, one of the antagonists was a sociopath who was hired by a criminal corporation precisely because testing revealed he was a sociopath.
Today, siderea, linked to this article
My companion, a senior UK investment banker and I, are discussing the most successful banking types we know and what makes them tick. I argue that they often conform to the characteristics displayed by social psychopaths. To my surprise, my friend agrees.

He then makes an astonishing confession: "At one major investment bank for which I worked, we used psychometric testing to recruit social psychopaths because their characteristics exactly suited them to senior corporate finance roles."

Here was one of the biggest investment banks in the world seeking psychopaths as recruits.
Of course, the problem is far greater than the vile hiring practices of one bank. The reason this bank is deliberately hiring sociopaths is because they're merely trying to improve slightly upon something that's already true – the sort of aggressive capitalism found in the modern investment sector is by its very nature hideous and wrong, and thus it is well suited to employ people seriously deficient in both conscience and empathy. The next time someone defends either deregulation or modern capitalism, remember this article.
Current Mood: indescribableindescribable

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:January 4th, 2012 04:40 am (UTC)

From the semi-random file of stuff in by brain from grad school.

There was actually a study done with a prison population that found that sociopaths made better stockbrokers and investment types because they actually traded on the numbers and had no sentimental attachment to the stock itself - because it's the hope that the stock will do a little better (and then plunges) or that the stock can possibly get worse (and then tanks) that really screws people over when selling stocks - and buying them.

On another note, is your issue with the psychological screening? Or with (as it seems) with the deliberate hiring of sociopaths based on thier personality traits?

[User Picture]
Date:January 4th, 2012 05:33 am (UTC)

Re: From the semi-random file of stuff in by brain from grad school.

On another note, is your issue with the psychological screening? Or with (as it seems) with the deliberate hiring of sociopaths based on thier personality traits?

My issue is both with the hiring practice and (far more) with the existence of a business environment and corporate culture that causes such people to excel. If the investment sector of the economy was both far more heavily regulated, and also downgraded to the subsidiatry position it was in 25+ years ago, then this sort of hiring practice would be a whole lot less advantageous. Corporate capitalism as a whole is IMHO a bad idea, but the huge growth of investment and finance (to the point that such branches of many corporations are now considerably larger and more important than the actual productive parts of the corporations) has made the situation far worse. From my PoV, the the financialization of the economies of pretty much every developed nations has been a disaster for the the vast majority of people and for the various nations as a whole.
[User Picture]
Date:January 5th, 2012 04:06 am (UTC)

Re: From the semi-random file of stuff in by brain from grad school.

This is the largest reason for the hiring of sociopaths. It isn't because they want sociopaths. It's because normal people become stupidly invested in things that shouldn't be given emotional weight- like a stock price. Normal people are better at updating on emotion than on cold hard numbers, and when you get rid of that, people become better at investing.

So the act of buying and selling stocks encourages sociopaths to perform that behavior. They are better suited for it than the average person. Sales was the same way. And a lot of times those jobs are high-turnover: if you don't produce results, you are out quickly.

And it doesn't take a LARGE advantage for a criterion in an optimization process to become universal. A small one can do just as well. Further, 'normal' people tend to hire based on seeing the personality traits of successful people (in this case, sociopaths) and sociopaths tend to hire based on who they expect to make them the most money. (in this case, sociopaths)

It isn't hard to see how a process like that runs out of control. You see it in sales too: people are encouraged to behave like sociopaths. (it was one of the reasons I had to get out of sales) Why? Because those are the behaviors that produce results, and that is what the system selects for. Artificial restraints on businesses could impede that, maybe, but the act itself encourages the behavior.

Really, regulation would just make the effects of what they DO less prominent, it wouldn't actually get rid of them. To actually solve the problem, you would need to get rid of the activity and replace it with one that does that same job better. Some of this already happens with black box trading (although when it breaks, it sometimes breaks big) which can be impersonal and fast and accurate without requiring people who are sociopaths: the only problem with it being that there are already sociopaths in charge. Still, if it became pervasive enough sociopaths would lose their advantage in the field of investment.

The same thing goes with financialization: it replaced agricultural and industrial economies because what businesses select for is "who can get the most resources" and financial institutions win out in spades in this. Getting rid of it requires finding something that can beat it in the "who can get the most resources" contest (that actually cares about or at least incidentally produces jobs and security and things people care about) or to make the "who can get the most resources" question less important. You'll be able to tell when it happens, because then the big finance companies will start losing. (They aren't, so it doesn't exist yet)
[User Picture]
Date:January 4th, 2012 06:42 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:January 4th, 2012 06:58 pm (UTC)
W-well, at least sociopaths can get jobs, right? It's better than the kinds of mental abnormalities where the people who have them can't get any work because their characteristics don't fit normal bounds (despite being 100% capable of the work itself). I'm almost happy to see mentally abnormal people actually being discriminated towards rather than against, for once. Even though banks and trading in general aren't a good thing, the practical attitude of "these people actually have skills that fit our needs" seems better to me than "but if you're slightly out of the standard deviation, we can't possibly hire you because you are teh_crazy".
[User Picture]
Date:January 4th, 2012 08:00 pm (UTC)
My cousin is a successful investment banker. This does not surprise me.

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