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Men are Greedier than Women and that Brought Down our Banks.

June 27, 2013


It is hard to know whether to be more ashamed of, or terrified by, the amoral world of utterly selfish recklessness inhabited by the former senior bankers at the now defunct Anglo Irish Bank, as revealed by the telephone conversations recorded there  in the weeks before and after the 2008 Irish banking crash.

These men, with their eye-watering salaries and bonuses, appear to inhabit a word devoid of moral compass, where governments were tricked into bankrupting themselves and whole countries placed in hock for generations, because of the bizarrely selfish and allegedly sociopathic behaviour of these men?  How can such utterly blinkered selfishness by very privileged, very well-heeled and educated citizens come about?

It wasn’t a uniquely Irish problem as we have seen comparable examples in London and New York, from manipulation of the Libor rate to the selling of worthless mortgage-backed securities based on drug-pusher-type selling of huge mortgages to poor families in the USA who never had any chance of paying them back.

Is it a coincidence that it is nearly always male names which pop up, scandal after scandal? Is this not simply because relatively fewer women reach the senior levels in financial institutions where they have the discretion to destroy national economies with their reckless and feckless gambling? Perhaps not.

Women have approximately half the risk of becoming addicted to drugs than men and they are also much less likely to suffer another type of equally-devastating addiction – compulsive gambling.

It may seem strange to consider gambling an addiction similar to heroin or cocaine addiction, but it is. It is because money can have drug-like properties and acts in similar ways to drugs, namely by hijacking the brain’s only ‘feel good’ system, known as the ‘reward network’.

Everyone knows the destructive effect on morals, responsibilities, priorities and personality which addiction to heroin, alcohol and other drugs cause. Every one of us can think of a decent person whose personality seems to disintegrate under the power of addiction. Exactly this sort of thing happens in compulsive gambling also.

It happens because high-risk gambling over-stimulates the brain’s reward network in the same way that cocaine or heroin do, triggering appetites which can never be satisfied. This leads to the phenomenon of needing higher and higher doses to achieve the same feel-good effect – this is known as ‘tolerance’.

For whatever reason, women seem less likely to succumb in this way – their appetites for these drug- or money-induced ‘highs’ seem to be lower than men’s, on average at least.

Could it be that women are less ‘greedy’ than men? By greedy I mean seeking that small number of things which seem to be able to ‘mainline’ powerfully into our brain’s reward network: drugs, sex, money and power.

Greed means seeking the pure surge of pleasure, untempered by more complex satisfactions: for instance, guzzling down the desert rather than savouring its taste or heading for the quick sexual orgasmic release over the more subtle sexual pleasures leading to climax. It also means tipping back the wine for its feel-good effect unmitigated by slow savouring of its flavor. – Or hungering for the money irrespective of the professional satisfaction of doing the job well or delivering a good service.

I am not saying that those bankers and financiers who have so diminished us were all compulsive gamblers. But they were men whose appetites for money were  over-stimulated by disgracefully-high bonuses and salaries and this has led to a personality-distorting greed which seems to have scrambled any judgment and morals which they may have possessed.

Drivers of expensive cars are more likely to drive past pedestrians waiting to cross at pedestrian crossings and wealthy people who believe that greed is a good thing are much more likely than non-wealthy people to say that they would break the law and feel themselves above the rules which govern the common man.

‘Greed is good’ was certainly the prevailing philosophy in the Anglo Irish bank, and in many other banks based in New York and London. The wealthy bankers, financiers and traders who subscribed to the ‘greed is good’ attitude were therefore primed to behave immorally and even illegally and to engage in the sort of hyper-selfish behaviour which we know drug addicts to engage in.

My hunch is that men are greedier than women, and that is based on wide reading about women’s behaviour in relation to at least three of these domains – sex, drugs and money. And that means women do a lot fewer very bad things in the world than men – including bankrupting countries with their personality-, morals- and judgment-destroying greed.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Gimme a Break Professor permalink
    June 27, 2013 8:03 pm

    Professor Robertson masters the art of turning everything into liberal/left/farleftist moraloid and masochist propaganda (and in being rewarded by doing so).

    Yes, Professor Robertson. Men are, on average, far more ambitious than women and every pop scientist knows it. In fact almost anyone with an slight interest in Science knows that. men are also more violent and commit more crimes.

    And that’s exactly the reason why they, on average, climb the social ladder more. Work more. Suffer more. Win and lose more. Experiment a harsher sexual competition and selection.,,

    However, when it comes to the, let’s say, unsustainable fantasy of glass ceilings, somehow, the likes of you always manage to forget about this.


    • June 27, 2013 8:13 pm

      I take your point. Perhaps the same appetites which drive them to do more bad things also drive them to do more good things? I was going to mention this possibility at the end of my blog but decided to make the piece a simpler rhetorical argument in order to stimulate precisely the sort of debate which you have initiated – many thanks, Ian Robertson

  2. June 27, 2013 9:46 pm

    Perhaps less gets reported or the fact that more men are in the high power jobs that the statistics are flawed and disproportionate.

    • June 28, 2013 10:37 am

      Doubtless more men are in high power position and this indeed distorts the statistics. My guess is this partly because of men’s greater appetite for the ‘hit’ which power gives, just as they seem to have a greater appetite for drugs and gambling.

  3. Jake permalink
    July 4, 2013 2:33 am

    Reading the above piece, Ian, I can’t help but speculate on what a hidden tape on the background to this week’s Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears discussions would sound like. It’s not hard to see the current crop of bankers sitting around and setting out in the same agricultural language how exactly they were going to talk to the government and graphically spelling out what exactly would happen if they didn’t accede to their terms…”do you really want to see us starved of capital and coming back for another f***ing billion euro injection and how will the f***ing voters like that?”…and we all know what happened,- the bankers win again…

    Another factor in all of this may be the aspirations to clubability of men of status across various professions, who gravitate to a certain kinship, like membership of a select golf club. In the run-up to the crash, the top brass at the banks, regulator, dept of finance, political parties,etc, convinced themselves they were all on the same side.(Green Jersey Agenda, if you like) instead of professionals whose duties are supposed to be demarcated from each other. I find it hard to imagine any of those Anglo chancers talking to Emily O’Reilly, Nuala O’Loan or Josephine Feehily in the way they assumed Regulator Neary would just listen and immediately fall into line…

    The only male figure I can think of in possession of the same detachment is the departing Matthew Elderfield, who is an outsider, of course.

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