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Towards a Socioanalysis of Capitalist Greed

Burkard Sievers

Submitted for consideration to be published in the special 2011 issue Philosophical Lessons from the Global Financial Crisis in Philosophy and Management, Guest editors: Martin Kelly and Arnis Vilks

Authors note: I apologize that the present version of my paper exceeds the page limit by far (10.085 words) and does not yet reflect the guidelines for paper layout and referencing. If accepted, I will gladly follow your directions. .

Dr. Burkard Sievers, Dipl. Soz., is Professor Emeritus of Organization Development in the Schumpeter School of Business and Economics at Bergische Universitt Wuppertal in Germany. He studied sociology, philosophy and theology in Frankfurt, Mnster, Paris, Bielefeld and Ann Arbor, Michigan/USA, received the Dr. Soz. Wiss. from the University of Bielefeld in 1972 and the Habilitation at Westflische-Wilhelms-Universitt Mnster in 1975. In his research he focuses on unconscious dynamics in management and organization from a socioanalytic and systemic perspective. In 1995, he was awarded the international price for participation by the HBK Bank in Antwerp, Belgium, for his book Work, Death and Life Itself Essays on Management and Organisation (Berlin/New York: de Gruyter 1994). He is Past-President of The International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations (ISPSO) and has published English versions of his scholarly writings in Organization Studies; The European Management Journal; Ethical Perspectives; Leadership and Organizational Development Journal; Administration & Society; Human Resource Development International; Human Relations; Socio-Analysis; ephemera; Culture and Organization; Organizational & Social Dynamics; Critique, Journal of Socialist Theory; IMES Revista Administracao; Journal of Psycho-Social Studies; Revista Gesto & Regionalidade; Free Associations. Prof. Dr. Burkard Sievers Pfaffenberger Weg 268 42659 Solingen Germany Phone: +49 (0)212 2260735 E-mail:

Authors note: I apologize that the present version of my paper exceeds the page limit by far (10.085 words) and does not yet reflect the guidelines for paper layout and referencing. If accepted, I will gladly follow your directions.

Towards a Socioanalysis of Capitalist Greed

Do we not see economists leaving out of account unconscious greed? (Winnicott et al. 1984, 113) The literature of economics does not hesitate to laud self-interest, yet it rarely discusses greed. (Wang and Murnighan 2009, 5) Behind the virtual reality of the hedge funds and investment banks lay an actual reality of hubris, parasitism, corruption and greed (Hoggett 2010, 6)

Abstract This paper is based on the conviction that a socioanalytical perspective on capitalist greed in general and in the context of the current crisis in particular requires a systemic perspective and must take into account the unconscious dynamics beneath the surface of contemporary capitalism. An excursus into the history and philosophy of greed demonstrates that greed is a ubiquitous phenomenon, whose meaning refers both to the individual and the social. Using the psychoanalytic understanding of greed offered by the British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein as a starting point, I see greed as a psychotic dynamic that inhibits thinking, and limits reality to what is bearable and desired. Greed is neither a phenomenon that appeared with the onset of capitalism nor the decisive cause of the current crisis, but it is inherent in the former and became most apparent in the latter. Subsequently, I will elaborate how competition is often fueled by excessive greed that intends to damage or even annihilate competitors, and is the source of corruption and/or fraud. The mere pursuit of maximizing profit, fostered and legitimized by economics for almost half a century, has had a major impact on the prevalence of greed in contemporary economy and the financial service industry in particular. In conclusion, I will refer to what the psychoanalyst Wilfred R. Bion calls negative capability and offer some thoughts about how the psychotic dynamic inherent in greed could be individually and socially more balanced with non-psychotic thinking, which is capable of taking the broader reality into account.

Introduction While George Orwell (1936/1956; cf. Sievers 2010), in his early novel, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, referred to money worship as being the only real religion, the boom preceding the current financial crisis made obvious to what extent its origin was concomitant with a fundamental faith in the invisible hand of the market and its rationality. Public debate about the causes of the crisis and its aftermath broadly offer greed as a central factor. The conviction that greed is good had widely gained traction and was shamelessly legitimized as a driving force of success. Once the crisis escalated, senior managers in the financial service industry were particularly characterized as greedy. Such an accusation presupposes that those who accuse others of greed are themselves blameless. Countless people seem to be convinced that greed is the greed of others. The bankers are the wolves and we are the sheep, and the greed of the bankers has driven us all into crisis (Ganssmann 2008). Regardless, however, whether bankers are or are not greedy, greed cannot be the main or even the only explanation for the financial crisis. In the following section, I will begin by questioning the widely shared assumption that the notion of greed originated in the rise of capitalism. As a matter of fact, greed has a history (Robertson 2001, 111), a history which can be traced back at least to ancient Athens. It was prevalent in the Middle Ages and through the middle of the 18th century, when economics gradually developed into a discipline of its own. Disguised as self-interest, if not mere selfishness, greed dominated economic thinking and activities during the last decades. Subsequently I will attempt to elaborate a socioanalytic perspective on capitalist greed and its impact on competition and corruption. My thoughts will be led by the working hypothesis that the predominant understanding of greed as an individual (character) trait of (top)managers and other actors in the world of finance is insufficient and misleading. Greed, in the context of economics, the business world and the financial crisis, in particular, can be conceptualized from a systemic perspective, which takes into account the irrational, social, and unconscious undercurrents. In concluding, I will offer some thoughts on how the psychotic dynamic inherent in greed and the psychotic thinking concomitant with it could be individually and socially more balanced with non-psychotic thinking, which takes into account the broader reality. Greed in history, philosophy and economics History As Phyllis A. Tickle (2006) elaborates, the word greed, which we generally think of as the insatiable hunger for getting more than we need, has various connotations in Western history and civilization. In ancient and classic Greece and in the history of religion and theology many different words were used for greed. Seen with the long lens of history (ibid., 50), it becomes obvious that, in Western thinking through the centuries, images of greed have changed over time. The ancient ones still reverberate. History also shows that [t]here is no period of time in which individuals have not been greedy for money, as the German 3

philosopher and early sociologist Georg Simmel (1900/2004, 237) states in The Philosophy of Money: There is a plentiful literature on the history and philosophy of greed. I have mainly focused on a few sources that, in the present context, give decisive insights into the social, political and philosophical meaning of greed and its changes over time. I will begin with some of the ideas, which Ryan K. Balot (2001) developed in his Greed and Injustice in Classical Athens. In this book, he shows extensively how greed was central to ancient Athenian history, ideology, and political thought. It motivated political action and occupied the attention of contemporary analysts of civic conflict and imperialism" (ibid., 1). Balot elaborates the working hypothesis that as political events influenced literary and philosphical condemnations of greed, so too did key texts help stimulate certain types of political action. Accusations of greed inspired radical attempts at self-justification; they unified the self-proclaimed oppressed and motivated them to seek justice; they led to philosophical defenses of self aggrendizement and critiques of conventional morality (ibid., 2). While to Athenians greed had various meanings, it was formost regarded as a form of injustice. From early times, Greek philosophers questioned greed primarily from two perspectives. The societal critique emphasized that greed prevented a fair distribution of wealth amongst Athenian citizens and caused social disruptions. In addition greed was ethically condemed because it did not lead to happiness and was not in accordance with the ancient philosophical conception of the human soul. The social focus of greed related to the polis and Athens position towards its allies and enemies. The ethical critique, on the other side, emphasised the welfare of its citizens and related to individuals and their private lives. With the relatedness of greed and justice as his central topic, Balot notes that greed in its social meaning was directly linked to injustice and often led to civic strife. While social and ethical greed were predominantly condemmed in ancient Athens, greed was seen in the opposite way during the Persian Wars (499449 BC). When the Athenians began to think of themselves as the center of Greek culture and power, the greed of imperialism gained dominance and paved the way for the emergence of Athens as a spectacularly successful greedy polis (ibid. 100). Greed and imperialism not only became legitimized as appropriate means to ensure Athens future and prosperity as a dominant city but also served to keep in check, if not to disguise, the great fear among Athenians of being annihilated by their Persian (and Greek) enemies. Looking at the double dimensions of greed in early Athens, i.e. the individual and the social/political one, from todays perspective, it appears that the current discourse about greed is almost exclusively restricted to individual greed, i.e. increasing personal affluence and happiness. Largely limited to the utilitarian meaning it has for the individual without any further concern for ethical implications, it seems that todays debate cannot acknowledge the social, political and societal consequences of greed. One could say that the spirit of contemporary corporations of pursuing a maximum profit does not differ so much from classic Athens, in so far as greed is broadly regarded as legitimized and an indispensable 4

means to conquer the fear of loss and/or annihilation through subjugation of competitors or bankruptcy. Richard G. Newhauser, considered the contemporary authority without equal on the history of greed (Tickle 2006, 56), also clearly demonstrates that greed and particularly avarice, the greed for money, are phenomena that emerged long before the development of the money economy. In The Early History of Greed: The Sin of Avarice in Early Medieval Thought and Literature (Newhauser 2000), he focuses on the changes in the cultural and political development of greed (sins and virtues) through late antiquity and early history. He subsequently extends his research on the deadly sins to the Middle Ages (Newhauser 2007; cf. 2004). From the perspective of social constructionism, Newhauser (2004) sees the conception of morality in the Middle Ages as a response to complex cultural factors and views avarice as the most important source of all evil and "the most important of the vices threatening Christian society" since its beginning (Newhauser 2000, XIV). The relatedness of the deadly sins to the community at first those of holy men in early northern Egypt and later the medieval court, the city and the mainly illiterate masses remained dominant until gradually replaced by a stronger emphasis on the individual in moral theology in the late 11th and 12th centuries. Profit gained from work and its problematic connection with avarice emerged in late medieval cities, whose wealth was the result of the acquisitive urge (Newhauser 2004). It had, however, an ambiguous meaning. It was condemned on the one hand, while the search for profit on the other was indispensable for the city, its functioning and wealth. Though this sketch of the cultural implications of greed throughout the Middle Ages is a rough one, Newhausers research may add further leading vistas on greed in the current context. It appears that the cultural shift that greed (and the deadly sins) made through the Middle Ages from its early threat to the community to a moral theology anchored in the psychological processes of the individual, anticipated the currently predominant perception of greed. It shows that the answer to the question of whether the craving for more is either condemned as greed and avarice or a socially accepted form of desire is not exclusively a matter of the individual but depends to a large extent on the thinking and imagination of the current time and culture, which, as may be assumed, broadly remains unconscious. Newhauser documents that the search for profit, leading either to avarice or to having a function for a systems functioning and wealth, precedes capitalism. Contrary to the medieval perception that greed is the most important source of all evil or, as Tickle (2006, 23) puts it, the most social and by extension the most political of the sins, it seems that the very notion of evil in contemporary society and in the business world in particular has broadly lost its meaning. With the impact of the Church on public faith diminished, it appears that the law and the judiciary are the only contemporary societal containers capable of providing for what in previous times was perceived as evil; criminal offence and crime have been substituted for what throughout centuries had been regarded as sin.

Alexander F. Robertson (2001), the social anthropologist, adds a further important point to the history of greed in his Greed: Gut Feelings, Growth, and History. Whereas greed had been seen as rooted in the body and related to feelings (as first emphasized by Aristotle in Politics), Robertson demonstrates how Western philosophical and political thinking over the last thousand years has literally explained away these bodily roots of greed, with the result that greed has lost its meaning and significance. Questioning the current predominant link between selfishness (or egotism) and greed, he emphasizes that greed is meaningless without reference to others, without some sort of social fabric (ibid., 19). As a consequence, greed has to be talked down, denied, excused in the interest of progress (ibid., 35). Philosophy While Balot, Newhauser and Robertson explicate the social meaning of greed mainly before the development of the capitalist economy, Georg Simmel (1900/2004), the philosopher and cofounder of German sociology at the turn of the 19th century, is explicitly concerned with the social meaning of money at this time. In The Philosophy of Monday, he focuses on the interaction (Wechselwirkung) between the individual and the social, in which each requires the existence of the other. He regards his standpoint as strictly philosophical; not a single line of these investigations [on money] is meant to be a statement about Economics (ibid. 52; cf. Simmel 1889/1989, 1899). Simmel (1900/2004, 237) emphasizes that greed for money is a timeless and ubiquitous phenomenon. For him, greed and avarice are pathological deformations of the interest in money (ibid., 242); they are based on the assumption that money represents an absolute purpose (ibid., 239); if this character of money oversteps that intensity for an individual in which it is the appropriate expression of the economic culture of his circle, then greed and avarice emerge (ibid.). Money as such is neutral, due to its abstract character. When it is valued far beyond its capacity to provide enjoyment of its benefits, it loses its purpose. Avarice leaves enjoyment as yet completely untouched during the stage of its unused ownership. [M]oney, like power, is a mere potentiality which stores up a merely subjectively anticipatable future in the form of an objectively existing present (ibid., 243). While accumulating money for normal purposes is no longer the ultimate purpose, the psychological character of money as a final purpose (ibid., 244) becomes firmly established and greed becomes chronic. The selfdeception that money sets no limitation on desire prevents any experience of disappointment. Because money lacks any qualities, it cannot conceal within itself any surprises or disappointments. Whoever really and definitely only wants money is absolutely safe from such experiences. [T]he avaricious greed for money: instead of seeking out the enjoyment of real entities, it searches for the intangible, which extends to the infinite and has no external or internal reasons for its restriction (ibid., 245). Though Simmels interest in greed appears at first to be broadly restricted to the psychological character of money (ibid., 244) and the greedy person (ibid.), his emphasis is on the social meaning of money and greed. The reason that he does not explicitly relate 6

greed and avarice to the group or society is grounded in his view that society, for example, is not a separate reality; it is created by the lived experience of individuals and also effects them. Even though Simmels conceptualizations of greed comprise only ten pages (Simmel 1900/2004, 239-248), he elaborates many aspects which are most relevant in the broader context of this paper. His thinking certainly contributes to conceptualizing the greed for money in contemporary culture and its developed and lively money economy (ibid. 239). Simmel offers the idea that certain elements of a culture foster greed, similarly to the way the city, created by people, has an impact on those living in it (Simmel 1903). Simmels observation that cynicism and a blas attitude are almost endemic to the heights of a money culture (ibid. 256) may open up further leading thoughts in the current context. Socioanalytically, cynicism can, for instance, be seen as a kind of a-social or perverse narcissism (Lawrence 2003; Sievers 2007). Economics Karl Marx regards greed as a characteristic of capitalism (Goldschmidt 2010, 10). This absolute drive to become rich, this inextinguishable passion for gain is what the capitalist and the builder of treasures have in common, but whereas the builder of treasures is just the mad capitalist, the capitalist is the rational builder of treasures (Marx 1867/1947, 160; transl. B.S.). For the capitalist, possession is the only objective and the source of further accumulation of wealth, i.e. capital (Goldschmidt ibid.). Max Weber, however, thundered against the idea that greed is identical with capitalism, and still less with its spirit" (Weber 1904-05/1958, 355; quoted in McCloskey 2010, 26). Weber takes a similar stance as Georg Simmel (1900/2004, 237), i.e. that the greed for money is a timeless phenomenon. There seems to be no doubt that our capitalist economy is broadly geared by greed. Capitalism is about greed (Gwyn 2009). Greed in the sense of selfishness is perceived as the bottom-line of human interest and thus the motor that powers capitalism (ibid.). Greed is broadly seen as indispensable for accumulating profit and wealth for the individual, profitdriven enterprise and corporation. Not least by the Chicago School of Economics and foremost since Milton Friedman propagated the pursuit of self-interest in a free economy selfishness in the sense of greed became the leading paradigm of neo-liberal economics, which dominated economy and politics in the Western world at least till the current financial crisis. The only social responsibility of business is to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game [sic!] (Friedman 1962, 133, quoted in Wang & Murnighan 2009; cf. Friedman 1970). Though this new dignity to greed (Lerner 1937, IX; cf. Wight 2005) is more often than not considered to be legitimated by Adam Smiths (1776/1981) notions of the invisible hand and self-interest, it is astonishing that the endless voices that opposed Smiths alleged ideology of economics have been ignored for so long (e.g. Brown 1997; Evensky 2001; Fleischacker 2004; Goldschmidt 2010, 294f.; Korten 1995; Levine 1998: Rowland 2005; Sen 1987; Tribe 1999; Wang & Murnighan 2009; Wight 2002, 2005). On this occasion I must refrain from 7

elaborating in detail how Smiths thoughts have been misunderstood, distorted and misinterpreted as legitimation for greed and ruthless, irresponsible accumulation of wealth. Smith clearly discriminated self-interest from greed and selfishness (Wight 2005, 1). When Adam Smith pioneered the field of economics in the eighteenth century, it was a branch of (moral) philosophy. It kept this philosophical grounding to a large extent through the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. In contrast, economics of the last decades broadly disregard if not totally reject any relatedness between ethics and human behavior; most of the character of contemporary economics is non-ethical (Wang and Murnighan 2009, 7; cf. Sen 1984; Robertson 2001; Rowland 2005). The reinforced premises of self-interest maximization suggest that greed is morally neutral in economic events even though it often contradicts popular and philosophical approaches to daily ethics (Wang and Murnighan 2009, 8). Instead of regarding the corporation as the primary cause of capitalist greed (e.g. Rowland 2005; Robertson 2001, 215), I am working with the assumption (which I will elaborate further) that greed, though apparently not invented by it, is inherent to capitalism as such. The increasing predominance of corporations can merely be perceived as contributing to the current escalation of greed. Otto Fenichel (1938, 78), the psychoanalyst, refers to the present day economic system of the 1930s when he states that the idea of being wealthy becomes an ego-ideal (ibid., 78). It seems that being greedy meanwhile, in contemporary economy and that of the financial world in particular has become the business- if not the societal-ideal at large (Sievers 2011). Economy, in what contemporarily is broadly regarded as civilization, must make a surplus from everything; it is driven by a positivistic obsessive will for creating and making and is based on the assumption that making more is always good while having more is even better (Ltkehaus 2004, 23, 27). Towards a socioanalysis of greed There are increasing indications that the origin and the course of the current financial crisis is not exclusively or even primarily a matter of financial engineering, instruments or economic theories but was essentially psychological in origin (Shiller 2008, 24). An explicit acknowledgement of unconscious dimensions underlying or fostering this crisis, however, is with few exceptions (e.g. Fiore 2010; Hirschhorn 2011; Morante 2010; Morgan-Jones 2011; Sievers 2011; Tuckett 2009) broadly lacking. The current crisis offers ample evidence that destructive competition, corruption and greed are neither single phenomena nor exclusively economic ones but inexorably intertwined and significantly influenced by underlying unconscious social dynamics and thinking. This paper attempts to make the case that a socioanalytic perspective can throw further light on some of these unconscious socio-economic phenomena. Socioanalysis is a social science discipline in the making, which uses concepts, theories and insights from psychoanalysis (e.g. Bain 1999; Sievers 2009). It utilizes specific means of observation and research and attempts to offer hypotheses, concepts and theories that contribute to a deeper understanding of the 8

social fabric of organizations and society. Its primary focus is the impact of the social on individuals and their inner world. For example, the thinking (and behavior) of role-holders in organizations and other social systems is understood as socially induced by the system and/or its environment and forces them to re-act in a neurotic or psychotic manner much more than they would in other (systemic) contexts (Lawrence 1995, 1998). Thus socioanalysis may offer a perspective on the current crisis that goes beyond the actions of individual bank or fund managers and their personal guilt, corruption or greed. As Stiglitz (2010, 151) put it: Bankers are (for the most part) not born greedier than other people; the impact of individual greed on the financial crisis is but a myth (Hansen and Movahedi 2010). In psychoanalysis greed is broadly restricted to the individual with an emphasis on its origin in infancy (e.g. Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm, Melanie Klein, Heinz Kohut, Donald W. Winnicott). This individual focus is helpful in conceptualizing greed in organizations and the economic and financial world. Despite the objections of Wachtel (2003, 105), for example, it seems to me that from the socioanalytic perspective chosen here, Melanie Kleins early works (1931/1957, 1937/1975, 1957) are quite helpful. According to the British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, the infants greed is based on aggressive introjection and is related to primitive forms of desire that seek to incorporate objects into the self. Violent incorporation leads to the fantasy of the destruction of the object. The object thus becomes worthless or may be transformed into a retaliatory persecutor threatening the subject. In the paranoid-schizoid position, a state of paranoid anxiety and the splitting of good and bad predominate the early development of the infant (Klein 1946/1952; cf. Hinshelwood 2005) (which remains mainly unconsciously vivid in adulthood Klein 1959). The incorporation of bad objects and their dominance create a hunger for good objects. To the extent that this hunger cannot be satisfied due to the fantasy that the good objects will be destroyed by destructive introjection and turned into bad ones , hunger becomes insatiable and ultimately turns into greed, i.e. the desperate attempt to fill the inner void. So far as greed is concomitant with the destruction of incorporated good objects, it cannot bring satisfaction and sustains the fantasy of an insurmountable loss; a loss that neither acknowledged nor mourned further nurtures the desire for endless incorporation of good objects into the self (Akhtar 2009, 125; Auchter and Strauss 1999; Hinshelwood 1989, 313; cf. Levine 2010, 50-61; Long 2008, 68-87). In the extreme case, when the greed turns into some kind of frenzy, the greedy subject is caught in a vicious cycle in which the loss of incorporated good objects stimulates further greed. In cases like this, it is not a great surprise that greed itself may become the ultimate good object, i.e. greed is good as personified, for example, by Gordon Gekko, the lead character in the 1987 movie Wall Street. As long as the greedy person is able to hide from others that the objects or the riches (s)he has accumulated are actually worthless, the envy of others may serve as a perverse substitute for esteem or admiration and may nurture the greedy persons pride (cf. Long 2008, 44-67). Greed and meanness [are translated] into feelings of love and generosity and the internal bad objects are turned into goodness, back again (Bion 1984, 31). 9

In building on Kleins notion of greed, which can only be sketched here, socioanalysis contributes to a better understanding of the social impact and meaning of greed in the realm of capitalist finances and economy. Greed is the predominant illusion that compensates for the void and the lack of meaning that a market-driven society promises to replenish (Nikelly 2006, 68). This may well be the case especially for the financial service industry at large. From a socioanalytic point of view, greed thus can be conceptualized as an unconscious dynamic in an organization or any other social system that is fuelled by the desire, if not the drive, to aggressively incorporate good objects from its environment in order to fill its inner void, to improve its image, reputation and position in the market with regard to its customers and/or competitors or to, at a minimum, provoke envy. Due to the high level of aggression inherent in this process, the good object loses its value, is destroyed and is ultimately turned into a bad object. When the incorporated object be it a section of the market, a competitor or money does not fill the inner void, the hunger for ever new good objects to ultimately fulfil the desire to be loved by others intensifies. In this sense, extreme greed turns into social frenzy, a kind of perpetuum mobile, and an obsession, as the greed can never be satisfied. To the extent that aggressive greed predominates the thinking in an organization, it is not too much of a surprise that many of its managers and other role-holders are led to mobilize their personal valency for greed much more than they would in other role and systemic contexts; the predominant thinking in the organization values greed. Capitalist greed, competition and corruption My attempt at a socioanalytic understanding of capitalist greed is based on the notion of the psychotic organization (Sievers 2006). With this concept, I refer to that part of an organization dominated by defenses against the anxieties of persecution, punishment and annihilation. The mobilization of these defenses leads to a diminished capacity for thinking, which in itself is an expression of the defense mechanisms typical of the psychotic position: denial, splitting, excessive forms of projection and introjection, identification, rigidity and control, omnipotence, aggression, destructivity, and sadism. To the extent that the psychotic part of an organization predominates over the non-psychotic parts, psychotic thinking (and behavior) defends against perceived threat and persecution from systems in the external world that the organization itself wishes to dominate, control or even annihilate (cf. Lawrence 2000, 4f.). Such a dynamic leaves no space for the experience of guilt, the desire for love, mourning, or reparation. As the external world is reduced to a persecuting object by psychotic anxieties and respective defense mechanisms, the inherent destructiveness of the organization is often hidden behind the mask of health (Hinshelwood 1989, 385). Psychotic thinking in organizations fosters the belief in market forces and capitalism which has caused managers to think of their institutions as only having the purpose of making or saving money (Lawrence 1998, 68). One consequence of this belief particularly related to the ideal of maximizing profit is the corrupt process by which the corporation substitutes the performance of work-oriented tasks with the accumulation of wealth.


Capitalist Greed From a socioanalytic perspective, corporate greed can, for example, be seen as being induced by shareholders ever-increasing demand for profits. This demand was, for instance, fostered during the last decades by shareholder value optimization (Rappaport 1986; cf. Sievers 2003a). While corporate greed may at first take residence in an organizational subsystem, e.g. the investment department of a bank, it ultimately may blind the entire enterprise, making other departments and their role-holders accomplices. Perverse greed (Long 2008, 68-87) fosters a psychotic dynamic in which reality and reason are distorted into means that exclusively serve the aim of gain and profit. Perverse corporate greed in the financial service industry not only finds its expression, for example, in exorbitant bonuses for (top)managers, but undermines risk management, nurtures a casino mentality and encourages the development of innovative financial instruments that neither the seller nor the buyer understands (cf. Tett 2009). Levine (2010, 58) emphasizes that the corporation itself is not the primary source of greed, but rather the way society makes greed a legitimate pursuit, one that is not only sanctioned but invested with moral value. Greed is good is no longer perceived as a perverse trait or the extravagance of certain characters or corporations but appears to be broadly legitimized as market strength, if not a virtue. This perversion leads to greed becoming a fiduciary responsibility so that working in such enterprise as a manager, owner or employee allows us to identify with our greedy selves without any of the guilt we might normally associate with doing so (ibid.). In pursuing profit maximization as its primary, if not exclusive aim, the corporation induces narcissistic self-interest in its role-holders to make as much money as possible. As money and greed are reified in the corporation, employees are reified into moneymakers. Thereby other realities of the corporation foremost the social one lose relevance or are neglected, if not totally denied. Instead, the corporation becomes an a-social system dominated by individual and collective narcissism (Lawrence 2003), which, as pointedly stated by Milton Friedman (1962, 133) half a century ago, has no other responsibility than to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits. Role-holders under corporate capitalism are encouraged to seek profits, despite the public good (Rowland 2005, 201f.). During the crisis, as in most previous ones (e.g. Kirsner 1990, cf. 2011), the thinking in financial corporations and on the markets was broadly determined by manic defenses. Manic defense is a psychotic dynamic, which as Donald W. Winnicott (1935/1975, 132), the British psychoanalyst, states, embodies omnipotent manipulation or control and contemptuous devaluation. Among other things, the manic defence is characterized by denial of inner reality, a flight to external reality from inner reality, denial of the sensation of depression by specifically opposite sensations. Rycroft (1995, 98) adds a further aspect to the manic defense, which is especially relevant in relation to money, i.e. the tendency toward identification with objects from whom a sense of power can be borrowed. Manic defense against what under normal conditions would have been at least some knowledge of and insight about the rules of the financial game prevented, for instance, 11

house buyers, sub-prime mortgage providers, investment bankers and rating agencies alike to face the excessive risks on which their thinking and transactions were based. As Acharya and Richardson (2009, 196) emphasize, one of the main, if not the decisive factor that contributed to the escalation of the crisis was the fact that while the legitimate and worthy purpose of securitization is to spread risk, many of the large financial institutions that dominate the financial service industry ignored their own business model of securitization and chose not to transfer the credit risk to other investors (ibid.). This excessive and irresponsible risk-taking apparently was not primarily an expression of bankers stupidity but driven by the aim to maximize the banks profit (and as one may assume, not least the bankers bonuses); it was foremost fueled by greed, which in itself can be understood as a manic defense against the fears described earlier. Competition Greed is an inherent, mainly unconscious dynamic of competition, which is the cornerstone of capitalist economy. Competition is not exclusively the natural playground of envy (Levine 2010, 50; cf. 2000) for individuals and a scheme which, through projection, enables us to act in a self-interested way without thereby accepting our identification with our bad internal object (ibid., 54). It is foremost the modality with which corporations and other enterprises consciously and/or unconsciously legitimate their existence on the markets and attempt to ensure their survival. The more enmeshed the organization in the competitive struggle, the more we can assume that it has become a vehicle for channeling greed (ibid.). As capitalist competition is based on the socially legitimized construction by which desires end is defined as limited in a specific way and for specific reasons rather than as the consequences of a naturally occurring condition (ibid., 51), competition, in situations of saturated markets in particular, is led by the desire to violently incorporate parts or the entire turnover, profit or market share of competitors; a desire that is guided by the more or less unconscious fantasy of either incorporating, damaging or annihilating the competitor. Even though capturing parts of or the entire market share of competitors is led by the greedy desire to incorporate the good object, it cannot give satisfaction due to the fantasized annihilation of the object of desire. Therefore it is not too much of a surprise that such ventures of competition often fail, turn out to be an illusion or end in a disaster. Driven by excessive greed, mergers of companies, for example, more often than not fail and end in murder (De Gooijer 2009). The mergers, acquisitions, takeovers, leveraged buy-outs, their presumed contribution to economic success and market values, and the burden of debt that they incur are, as John Kenneth Galbraith (1987, 65) stated many years ago, expressions of the illusion of intelligence as personal association with large sums of money. As I have elaborated in detail in a previous paper (Sievers 2000), competition often equals war. The common metaphorical reference to war in the business world and its competitive nature can, from a socioanalytic perspective, be interpreted as a euphemism that serves to deny and to hide the actual experience of, and the unconscious fantasies about, the brutality with which the battles of life and death in economic competition are actually fought. As corporations are unable to acknowledge their own destructiveness to themselves or their 12

competitors, they are left with no other choice than to perpetuate this destructiveness by endless warfare against enemies whom they themselves create and sustain. They thus confirm that greed always has played a significant role as a motive for war (Mentzos 2002, 193). Corruption The notion of 'corruption' originates from Latin corruptio, i.e. to destroy and blow up or scatter, as an adjective meaning unsound, rotten, debased, venal (Hoad 1986, 99) and as a noun referring to moral perversion, depravity, perversion of integrity and bribery. In conceptualizing corruption from a socioanalytic perspective, I follow Jane Chapmans (2003) thinking that corruption emerges from the hatred of task. One phenomenon of corruption, which she states as corruption by simulation appears to be predominant in the financial world and particularly exemplified in the current financial crisis. Corruption by simulation occurs where the system or individual adopts the appearance of task engagement precisely in order to avoid task engagement. The corruption derives from the destructive intent: not only is real task killed off and system energies devoted to the appearance of the tasks being done, but task values are subverted and task power becomes abusive (ibid., 46f.). Commercial banks and rating agencies, though by far not the only financial institutions which were involved in corrupt actions during the recent bubble and its subsequent bust, are apt examples for corruption by simulation. Banks extensively substituted the pursuit of profits for what traditionally had been their original task, that of serving as intermediaries for their customers (cf. Acharya and Richardson 2009, 197). Instead of making a more or less modest profit from serving their customers respective monetary/financial needs, general banks began gambling in the international casino of finance and sold all kinds of derivatives built on toxic assets to their customers and used the profit to enhance the banks bottom line.

There is ample evidence that US rating agencies which are not independent state agencies but paid by their clients substituted increasing their own profits for their original task of providing reliable expertise on the creditworthiness of banks and their products. They broadly rubber-stamped opaquely structured securitized mortgages as AAA (ibid., 196), i.e. tripleB-rated subprime mortgage bonds repacked into triple-A-rated CDOs (Lewis 2010, 8). To the extent that the banks and the agencies were foremost driven by making as much profit as possible, they not only destroyed their original task but betrayed their customers and ultimately themselves. In a sense, this was a kind of double (if not triple) betrayal; while the banks were unknowingly betrayed by the rating agencies or denied this knowledge perversely (and betrayed themselves by ignoring their own business model of securitization) so were the banks customers by their banks.

The maximization of profit and its inherent hubris of greed is fostered and maintained, for example, by corruption through simulation, i.e. by the corporation pretending to offering attractive employment and, by the very fact of making profit, of contributing to the wealth of 13

nations, if not humankind. Thus its role-holders permanently corrupt and betray themselves and their values (cf. Freyd 1996) by at least giving the appearance of being primarily if not exclusively devoted to profit making, i.e. by simulating that their own self-interest is congruent with that of the corporation. In so far, however, as the pursuit of corporate profit allows no other meaning but permanent accumulation of a monetary quantity which only fulfils consciousness of purpose in an illusory and untenable fashion [and] ... searches for the intangible, which extends to the infinite and has no external or internal reasons for its restriction (Simmel 1900/2004, 245), the role-holder, in adapting to the simulated primary task, is permanently made to deny his or her own losses, the experience of deprivation, harm, pain and subversion (cf. Rowland 2005, 130). Employees are also free to act with guile, to engage in the full set of ex ante and ex post efforts to lie, cheat, steal, mislead, disguise, obfuscate, feign, distort and confuse (Williamson, 1984, 198) (Wang and Murnighan 2009). The unlimited pursuit of profit that underlies these and other cases of corporate corruption is incarnated in most big enterprises, first and foremost the (North American) corporation. In the US, the corporation is by law regarded as a natural person protected by virtually the same First Amendment rights under the Constitution as are enjoyed by human beings, granting them precisely what the Bill of Rights was intended to prevent: domination of public thought and discourse (Rowland 2005, 94, quoting Hawken 1993, 109; cf. Rowland ibid., 81-112). Profit maximization can be, and usually is, the ultimate reason for existence of a corporation. It seems that any notion of corruption, responsibility or greed is obsolete as long as it serves this purpose, even if it causes extensive or irreparable harm to others, i.e. employees, customers, competitors, state(s), emerging markets, the environment etc. As the maximization of profit is, in principle, infinite it opens up options for an unlimited future and provides the illusion of boundlessness and immortality, which, as Herman Melville (1851/1967, 158) once put it, is but ubiquity in time. As Georg Simmel (1900/2004, 245) emphasizes in The Philosophy of Money, this infiniteness is the very illusion that avarice, the greed for money implies. In its often desperate attempt to gain employee commitment for the maximization of profit, management more often than not asks them for more trust. From an unconscious perspective, these attempts can be seen as being led by the contemptuous fantasy that as employees can not be trusted, they are not trustworthy. This fantasy can, however, be an expression of selfcontempt on the side of management based on the unconscious knowledge that management neither regards itself as trustworthy nor trusts itself due to its own devotion to the corporations primary task of profit maximization. As doubt about the meaning of this task and its inherent greediness cannot be acknowledged by management, it may be displaced onto the employees and rationalized as their lack of trust (cf. Sievers 2003b). In contemporary capitalism, greed in the corporation is objectified both by reification (Wang & Murnighan 2009) and deification; the former often stated in public discourse as greed being a good thing. In an economy, in which Adam Smith invisible hand has lost any relatedness to God, the corporation, seen as the ultimate almighty personhood, is largely deified and greed 14

is substituted for divine grace. The corollary of it, however, as (Rowland 2005, 172) puts it, is that while the accumulation of wealth in Protestant Calvinistic theology and ethics, in particular, could be a sign that one was heaven-bound, the unrestrained pursuit of wealth in contemporary corporations can perversely only accomplish heaven on earth, lacking any meaning of the infinite beyond death. All that counts is mans fate as merely a money-maker and/or consumer. To the extent that greed through the maximization of profit becomes excessive and frenzied, the corporation tends to objectify both its outer and inner worlds its thinking and its employees into reified objects. As people are turned into things (and commodities), greed makes any social responsibility and concern for social values obsolete. The process by which people both in the corporation and its environment are stripped of their humanity can be seen as splitting. Contrary to the deification of the corporation and its personhood, this can be understood as diabolization not only in its literal sense as separating, splitting or fragmenting but also as the diabolization of mortality and death, which coincides with the fundamental split between life and death in Western society (Sievers 1990, 1994). Whereas the corporation, not least through its deification, represents divine immortality, the diabolization of the real person and its deprivation of mortality can be seen as producing non-mortal zombies. Underlying both the immortality of the corporation and the non-mortality of people is the expression of a perverse state of mind in the sense described by Long (2008, 34): It is (amongst others) not only a deviation from normal morality. It has to do with individual pleasure at the expense of a more general good. It reflects a state of primary narcissism. [It] may flourish where instrumental relations have dominance in the society because instrumentality ignores the more extreme issue of abuse. Like all greed, perverse greed of the corporation implies a type of self-interest that disregards the rights and interests of others (unless there is something to be gained by regarding them) (Wight 2005).


Though greed cannot be regarded as the only cause of the current crisis nor a characteristic typical only of capitalism, it is, however, inherent in it and has become quite apparent. Competition, seen as the cornerstone of capitalism, is often fueled by excessive destructive greed that tends to damage or even annihilate competitors on the markets. The more competition is driven by greed, the more likely it becomes the source of corruption and/or fraud. The extreme pursuit of maximizing profit in most corporations has not only been fostered and legitimized by economics for almost half of a century, it also coincides with the respective image of man as being predominantly led by self-interest. The corollary to greed being reified is that people in the corporation are primarily regarded as tools to be utilized to fulfill the primary aim of accumulating wealth; they thus are turned into money-makers. Sanitized of any feelings; greed leaves no valency for the experience of guilt, the desire for love, mourning, or reparation which normally may be associated with it. As the economic 15

engineering of greed makes obsolete and old-fashioned any responsibility for the social, it has lost its negative taint, which has been the prevalent view in Western thinking for a very long time. The predominance of greed in corporations is not least an expression of an underlying broader psychotic dynamic in organizations (and society at large) by which not only emotions and thinking are split, but thinking itself is reduced into a reality that is bearable and/or desired. The psychotic dynamic does not least prevent the insight that longing for the infinite is but a hopeless venture and therefore meaningless. As Georg Simmel (1900/2004, 245) puts it, the greed for money only fulfils consciousness of purpose in an illusory and untenable fashion. Simmel wrote that the threshold for the beginning of a real greed for money will be relatively high in a developed and lively money economy (ibid., 239). Thus, it is no surprise that in our contemporary capitalist economy particularly during the current crisis this is even more so. The high level of greed is not least fueled by the extreme predominance of financial service industry over traditional economy, both on the world markets and in our minds. Though money made the world go round long before the famous line in Cabaret was written, it appears that the crisis and its aftermath have widely contributed to the fact that avarice, the greed for money, has taken the lead in turning the world around. Although theres not space to look at everything in so brief a treatise as this one (Tickle 2006, 64), I would like to conclude with a few thoughts on the impact that the comteporary culture of greed has had on our thinking and lives and how we possibly may be able to cope with it from a less psychotic perspective. During my research on greed I became increasingly fascinated with the reaches and depth my exploration opened up. On occasions I even had the impression that the very fact of writing about this topic can make one greedy. Gradually the realization of the enormously destructive impact that capitalist greed has had on the financial service industry, our economy at large, the growth of globalization, and the future of democracy left me with serious doubts, if not despair, as to how the inner void that only greed can fill can ever be acknowledged and managed differently both individually and collectively. Or, to put it another way, how can the psychotic dynamic and thinking, inherent in contemporary capitalism and our inner and outer world ever come into balance? Although I may have illuminated the way that greed compensates for the void and the lack of meaning that a market-driven society promises (Nikelly 2006, 68), it is not clear (at least to me) where and how to proceed with this insight. While renouncing wealth and adopting asceticism may be our only chance to subdue greed (e.g. Safranski 2010, 173), it leaves us pondering how it can be put into action. Wilfred R. Bion, the psychoanalyst, opens up a different, further leading perspective with his notion of negative capability, a concept which he takes from John Keats (1795-1821), the English Romantic poet. A negative capability is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason" (Keats, quoted in: Bion 1970, 215). Instead of regarding the lack of knowledge and the experience of frustration as a vice or a shortcoming, Bion reminds us that a capability for not-knowing and tolerating 16

frustration actually is a virtue; it has a critical impact on the development of thoughts and the capacity to think; it enables the psyche to develop thought as a means by which the frustration that is tolerated is itself made more tolerable (Bion 1962/1967, 112). The capacity for toleration not only allows the individual to think normally; it also develops the social capacity of the individual and helps to resolve the conflict between narcissism and social-ism (ibid., 118, cf. Lawrence 2003). Instead of denying reality, as in psychotic thinking, to tolerate frustration is fundamental and decisive for adaptability to reality (Klein 1975, 11-12). While this paper has emphasized the destructive side of psychotic dynamics, it should be said that the psychotic parts of the person and the organization alike might also be sources of creativity. Negative capability permits the thinker to be available for psychotic thoughts, i.e. thoughts so-far unknown, which at first sight appear bewildering, crazy, scary, unspeakable, devastating and delusional. To endure such thoughts and ultimately reintegrate them, through thinking, into the non-psychotic parts both of the thinker and the system in which s/he holds a role is a capacity that comes from what Klein calls the depressive position (Hinshelwood n. d.; 1989, 271-277), i.e. the capacity to experience, acknowledge and endure the pain and anxieties that are related to the experience of guilt, grief and the desire for reparation. What Robert French and Peter Simpson (2009, 197) suggest as a precondition of creative leadership, i.e. the capacity to integrate positive capabilities in the sense of particular forms of action rooted in knowledge with the ability to resist dispersing into inappropriate knowing and action (ibid.), typical for negative capabilities, may well indicate what is required individually and socially to find a more appropriate balance between our greedy and non-greedy, i.e. our psychotic and non-psychotic parts and thinking with regard to contemporary capitalism and future crises. References Acharya, V. V. and Richardson, M. (2009): Causes of the financial crisis. Critical Review, 21, 2, 195-210. (10/15/2010) Akhtar, S. (2009): Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. London: Karnac Auchter, T. and Strauss, L. V. (1999): Kleines Wrterbuch der Psychoanalyse. Gttingen: Vandehoeck & Ruprecht Bain, A. (1999): On Socio-Analysis. Socio-Analysis, 1, 1, 1-17. (2/6/2010) Balot, R. K. (2001): Greed and Injustice in Classical Athens. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Bion, W. R. (1962): A Theory of Thinking. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 43, 306310; republished in Bion (1967): Second Thoughts. Selected Papers on PsychoAnalysis. London: Heinemann, 110-119. Bion, W. R. (1970): Attention and interpretation. London: Tavistock Publications. Bion, W. E. (1984): Elements of psycho-analysis. London: Karnac Brown, V. (1997): Mere Inventions of the Imagination: A Survey of Recent Literature on Adam Smith. Economics and Philosophy 13, 2 (October), 281-312. 17

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