Bill Black: Sorkin on the Street’s Surge of Suicides – Ignoring the Obvious

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By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Jointly published with New Economic Perspectives

Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote two related columns only two weeks apart, but ignored his first column in writing his second. The May 15, 2015 report by the University of Notre Dame on the results of its survey of financial sector participants in the U.S. and the UK was the subject of Sorkin’s May 18, 2015 column entitled Many on Wall Street Say It Remains Untamed. “Untamed” is a word with a positive connotation that Sorkin chose as his euphemism in his self-appointed role as apologist-in-chief for the banksters. Here is the report’s summary.

Nearly seven years after the global financial crisis rocked investors’ confidence in the markets and financial services in general, our survey clearly shows that a culture of integrity has failed to take hold. Numerous individuals continue to believe that engaging in illegal or unethical activity is part and parcel of succeeding in this highly competitive field. With legal and regulatory sanctions coming out on almost a daily basis, the industry has a long way to go to regain the confidence of the public. 47% of respondents find it likely that their competitors have engaged in unethical or illegal activity in order to gain an edge in the market. This represents a spike from the 39% who reported as such when surveyed in 2012. This figure jumps to 51% for individuals earning $500,000 or more per year. More than one-third (34%) of those earning $500,000 or more annually have witnessed or have first-hand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace. 23% of respondents believe it is likely that fellow employees have engaged in illegal or unethical activity in order to gain an edge, nearly double the 12% that reported as such in 2012. 25% would likely use non-public information to make a guaranteed $10 million if there was no chance of getting arrested for insider trading. Employees with less than 10 years’ experience are more than two times as likely as those with over 20 years’ experience, reporting 32% and 14% respectively.

In the UK, 32% of individuals said they would likely engage in insider trading to earn $10 million if there was no chance of getting arrested, compared to 24% of respondents from the US. Nearly one in five respondents feel financial services professionals must at least sometimes engage in illegal or unethical activity to be successful. 27% of those surveyed disagree that the financial services industry puts the best interests of clients first. This figure rises to 38% for those earning $500,000 or more per year. Nearly one-third of respondents (32%) believe compensation structures or bonus plans in place at their company could incentivize employees to compromise ethics or violate the law. 33% of financial services professionals feel the industry hasn’t changed for the better since the financial crisis.

Sorkin’s column on the Notre Dame report was poor and will be the subject of a later column by me. For the purposes of my current column I simply want to establish that Sorkin was aware of the report’s finding and their obvious relevance to his second column. Sorkin’s second column is on a subject that people in finance have been whispering about for the last several years – the many apparent suicides among finance participants. In the trade, this subject often sparks discussions of dark conspiracies.

Sorkin entitles his June 1, 2015 column Reflections on Stress and Long Hours on Wall Street. He writes about the “numerous unexpected deaths or suicides” on Wall Street and the City of London:

Mr. Gupta’s death, one of numerous unexpected deaths or suicides of young bankers over the last year, has caused a new round of reflection and re-evaluation by Goldman and other Wall Street firms about their work policies just two weeks before a new class of college interns descend on the industry for the summer.

But Sorkin never examines the sources of “stress” or even why so many young bankers are “overwhelmed by the all-nighters and 100-hour workweeks.” I know well the rigors of this schedule. I am one of many people who have maintained that schedule for nearly 40 years. (Abandon your biases against American financial regulators and academics if this fact startles you. Our hours are obscene, the deadlines frequent, and the support that is so abundant on the Street and in the City is nearly non-existent in our professions. The advantage we have is flexibility – I can often decide when and where to work my 100 hours each week.) Sorkin reports that Gupta was one of the skilled good guys.

The firm held a small memorial service for Mr. Gupta, who was universally liked by his colleagues and whom several said was so good at his job that he had become one of the “go-to” analysts. Indeed, his proficiency and work ethic appear to have led to him to take on a large workload.

Here is Sorkin’s catalog of things that could explain Gupta’s death (if it were a suicide).

Of course, it is always difficult to directly link a death or possible suicide to work conditions. Other factors can be in play, like family problems, medical issues or a history of depression. And in Mr. Gupta’s case, the cause of his death remains undetermined.

Still, the string of deaths on Wall Street appears to rise above the level of simple coincidence. Last February, Fortune ran an article titled: “Is there a suicide contagion on Wall Street?”

There’s something obviously missing from this catalog – the thing Sorkin wrote about only two weeks earlier and which is synonymous with Goldman Sachs – the intense pressure on its people to act unethically and even criminally. As the Notre Dame report documented, this pressure is not unique to Goldman, but criticisms that the firm repeatedly follows an unethical approach to business are well known to Sorkin.

Sorkin’s column shows that Goldman treated Gupta’s death in an ethics-free manner, implicitly assuming that his only source of stress was “work-life balance.”

For more than a month, Mr. Gupta’s death has largely remained held in confidence among a small group of his colleagues and family. After Mr. Gupta’s death, David Solomon, Goldman’s co-head of investment banking, and John S. Weinberg, a vice chairman, flew to San Francisco to speak with a small group of the bank’s employees and discuss the firm’s approach to work-life balance.

Sorkin presents this paragraph as if we are supposed to take it seriously. He runs DealBook. He knows that Goldman’s “approach to work-life balance” is that “work” trumps “life” – full stop. That’s the same “approach” taken by every top investment bank on the Street and in the City.

Sorkin, being Sorkin, proceeds to claim that the Street and the City’s worst traits represent “success.”
Wall Street has always thrived, in part, on its eat-or-be-eaten culture. Would curbing its competitive nature cut into its success?

Earth to Sorkin: Wall Street and the City of London represent horrific failures, not “success.” You do recall that they blew up the global financial economy, right? You recall that they did so by leading the three most destructive epidemics of accounting control fraud in history? You recall that they engaged in at least three massive cartels, two of which were, by three orders of magnitude, the largest cartels in history? You recall that they committed over a million felonies collectively in money laundering/illegal sanction busting for the most violent drug cartels, regimes engaged in genocide, regimes believed by the U.S. and EU leaders to be developing nuclear weapons? You recall that even DealBook now admits that the banksters engage in rampant recidivism and commit massive new felonies even as they settle old felonies without any personal accountability? You recall that in the course of blowing up the global economy they systematically misallocated capital causing waste? You recall the Notre Dame study that shows that Wall Street and City of London finance participants are frequently – and increasingly – convinced that they need to cheat to counter their rival’s cheating in order to avoid being “eaten” in the corrupt “culture” of these two giant financial sectors? Sorkin could, of course, be right that the Wall Street banksters “thrive” in an inherently unethical “eat-or-be eaten culture,” but he has defined a moral and economic failure rather than a “success.”

Sorkin is willing, even with everything that has been made public, to openly call the pressure to cheat to avoid being “eaten” the source of Wall Street “success” – and to caution against changing that “culture.” Sorkin’s columns serve as unintentional admissions of his contempt for ethics and his ignoring and even serving as an apologist for the catastrophic harms that result from the corrupt culture of finance.

Consider the terrible choices that confront a skilled analyst at Goldman like Gupta who is known for being moral. He knows, as Sorkin quoted from the Notre Dame study, that many of his competitors within the firm, and competitive rivals outside the firm, will act unethically to win the client. Gupta had three choices. He could leave Goldman and the corrupt culture of finance. (Sorkin relates that Gupta made a serious effort to leave, but was dissuaded by his father.)

Gupta’s second choice was to cheat. To quote from Sorkin’s first article about the findings of the 2015 Notre Dame study.

In the study, to be released Tuesday, about a third of the people who said they made more than $500,000 annually contend that they “have witnessed or have firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.”

Just as bad: “Nearly one in five respondents feel financial service professionals must sometimes engage in unethical or illegal activity to be successful in the current financial environment.”
One in 10 said they had directly felt pressure “to compromise ethical standards or violate the law.”
What the study results are reporting is a “Gresham’s” dynamic in which bad ethics tends to drive good ethics out of the marketplace.

Gupta’s third choice was to try to be so far beyond outstanding – without cheating – that he could succeed at Goldman. This could have led him to take on a workload so hellish that it produced a breakdown. Note that this is not a “work-life balance” issue but an ethics issue. Goldman’s corrupt culture can cause those who are highly ethical and ambitious to take on hellish amounts of work. That will cause some people to break down.

But let us be frank – there was no fourth choice for Gupta at Goldman or its major rivals. Gupta could not choose being ethical and adopting a work schedule that actually favored “life” in the “work-life balance.” He would have been removed from the firm if he actually choose “life” no matter how good his analytical skills were.

Sorkin implicitly acknowledges the lack of a fourth path.

[A]s long as young analysts are expected to work 80 to 100 hours a week, invariably some run the risk of finding themselves in a situation they cannot handle. With new classes of such analysts arriving each year, it is incumbent on the industry to make sure it is doing everything possible to make sure that no one is too overwhelmed.

It would be even more “incumbent” to ensure that “no one” feels pressured to act unethically or to work obscene hours to try to overcome the advantage the cheats have within the firm because they are willing to act unethically or unlawfully.


None of us knows whether it was the Grehsam’s dynamic that Goldman’s controlling officers created in order to pressure employees to act unethically that led to Gupta’s death. But Sorkin deliberately omitted what he knows is the worst source of “stress” borne by financial sector personnel on Wall Street and in the City. Any solution to the plague of deaths needs to start with ending the corrupt culture of finance produced by the regulatory “race to the bottom” and the financial sectors’ perverse compensation systems designed by the CEOs to spread that corrupt culture throughout the bank. Financial CEO knows how to craft the non-perverse incentives that would lead to ethical behavior, a financial system that was a “success” for the world rather than the controlling officers of the corrupt banks, and a vastly more humane place to work. Financial CEOs craft the perverse incentives because fraud is the “sure thing” guaranteed to make them wealthy (often at the expense of the firm). That’s why they never react even to the deaths of their employees by ending the perverse compensation and promotion incentives that create the Gresham’s dynamic. No one expects Goldman to live up to its blasphemous lie of its leader that it was “doing God’s work,” but it should at least stop doing the Grim Reaper’s work.

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  1. Clive

    My TBTF has introduced an “ethics” section into the performance review criteria. The idea being that you have to show that you’ve not been nasty to your mother and done something that looks like it might be a service to the community. I kid you not, you get kudos for having a cake sale. If those aforementioned cakes are somehow related to helping sick kids (especially if they’re photogenic despite their illnesses) or, second best but still a good one to go for, “disabled people” so much the better.

    But these criteria are an adjunct to the producer measures. Not instead of. So your score for income generation or cost savings (and cost savings can be just as fraudulent as out-and-out control frauds or looting if they knowingly prevent customers from receiving a benefit which they are entitled to get under a policy or service they’ve bought) racks up so it’s still possible to get a big bonus even though you’ve not scored that many ethics points.

    And nobody, not the senior management, not the regulators who sign off on the comp scheme and its distribution mechanism nor the government who is supposed to safeguard society seems to think there’s anything wrong with this.

  2. HotFlash

    A culture of high competition, low ethics and huge rewards is also conducive to murder, I would think. A la Game o’Thrones.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Pam Martens had a similar take on this phenomenon yesterday –

      She suggests it may be related to the massive amounts of life insurance policies the banks are taking out on their employees. And not all the deaths have been suicides –

      “…54-year old Melissa Millan, a woman who had the very type of peer review records we were seeking from the OCC, was brutally stabbed to death while jogging in Simsbury, Connecticut, a quaint, quiet town. Millan was a Senior Vice President with Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts, who worked in the Bank-Owned Life Insurance area. That meant Millan was among a limited group outside of Federal regulators who was in a position to have broad data on the death benefit claims being submitted by multiple banks and able to run studies to detect if anomalies were emerging.

      Millan’s death is still under intense investigation and, according to Fox news, which credits Wall Street On Parade for the original investigative report, Simsbury Police Chief Peter Ingvertsen is looking into the Bank-Owned Life Insurance connection. Fox quotes Chief Ingvertsen as stating: “I would say that is something we looked at. We were familiar with it. We looked into it. And we continue to look into it.” ”

      1. Yata

        Russ and Pam have been following this for some time now. The high profile suicides in the financial world make for great wonder.
        The dark psychotic thoughts the mind can entertain. The macabre side thought that, like Enron, near it’s end, it’s employees were encouraged to buy company stock..
        Trying to picture a financial firm encouraging employees to take out a life insurance policy in the company’s name. No need to worry over severance packages. : )

  3. Ned Ludd

    Once you cheat, someone in power will have dirt on you.

    In the study, to be released Tuesday, about a third of the people who said they made more than $500,000 annually contend that they “have witnessed or have firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.”

    Just as bad: “Nearly one in five respondents feel financial service professionals must sometimes engage in unethical or illegal activity to be successful in the current financial environment.”

    One in 10 said they had directly felt pressure “to compromise ethical standards or violate the law.”

    And if you don’t cheat, you will be crushed.

    Gupta’s third choice was to try to be so far beyond outstanding – without cheating – that he could succeed at Goldman. This could have led him to take on a workload so hellish that it produced a breakdown. Note that this is not a “work-life balance” issue but an ethics issue. Goldman’s corrupt culture can cause those who are highly ethical and ambitious to take on hellish amounts of work. That will cause some people to break down.

    But let us be frank – there was no fourth choice for Gupta at Goldman or its major rivals. Gupta could not choose being ethical and adopting a work schedule that actually favored “life” in the “work-life balance.” He would have been removed from the firm if he actually choose “life” no matter how good his analytical skills were.

    Enhanced by mass surveillance, this resilient system towards capital accumulation demonstrates the success of capitalism, not its failure. Consequently, reforming capitalism to make room for ethics is like trying to reform organized crime to be ethical.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      To come up with a life-favorable schedule while being ethical at those places, that’s a puzzle to be solved on an IQ test.

      To decide whether to work at those places that present the above dilemma or some other corporations, or to pursue a different line of work, one would need wisdom. Part of that journey also involves meditating over the subject of ambition.

  4. Praedor

    The entire system is corrupt and cannot be reformed, only burned to the ground along with all inside. The people running the firms are entirely corrupt, the regulators are often corrupt or hamstrung by THEIR corrupt bosses and the corrupt politicians song the “rules”. I just wish the deaths/suicides were more heavily weighted up the chain. Blankfein plunging to his death, striking and killing a group of laughing CEOS from other firms would be grounds for a national celebration.

    Those who go to work in Wall Street do not do so to improve the world, to help their fellow man, they go EXCLUSIVELY to make obscene amounts of money for nothing of societal value, hence have to be corrupt at core top be drawn to that in the first place.

    People who want to be doctors have as a prime motivator the desire to save lives, to help the sick and injured. Those who join the military usually are motivated by a desire to protect their fellow citizens and their rights, protect and defend what all hold dear or take for granted. People are drawn to be scientists by a desire to understand the world we live in, to expand knowledge, to improve society or medicine, to understand and defeat cancer, etc. People go to Wall Street with one motivation:to strike out rich. The end. Filthy motivation for a filthy activity and social structure.

    1. Charles Fasola

      While reading your comment I made the mistake of taking mouth full of coffee. The next thing I knew it was flying across the table onto the wall. Then I choked.

  5. Bearpaw

    I’m surprised that Sorkin didn’t speculate that a contributing factor to the suicides is how “mean” everybody is to these people. Surely, the widespread antipathy toward a subset of financial “service” professionals who have cheated so many and trashed the economy for their own benefit succeeded by dint of their ability and hard work is a factor?

  6. Praedor

    Forgive the typos. Still trying to teach my mobile device’s STUPID word prediction dictionary.

  7. dbk

    Maybe the TBTF should include “unethical” as one of their job requirements. The whole financial establishment is so outrageously unethical and immoral at its very core that one can scarcely bear to contemplate it, though contemplate it we must.

    And by the way, there are large swathes of people who work 80-100 hours a week, both among the other professional classes (who may be poorly or well-remunerated, depending on their job classification) and among the working classes. This doesn’t stand up as an excuse.

    When a person’s core humanity – their sense of justice, fairness, compassion and empathy – is so massively betrayed, there will inevitably be heavy casualties.

    1. James Levy

      Perhaps even more apt would be On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, a much talked-about but rarely read book (like The Wealth of Nations and Das Kapital). There we see that every high-level incompetent rose to their position of authority because they offered the institution they served something that institution wanted and believed in. Other than hereditary monarchs, losing military commanders are rarely flukes. They are personifications of some set of ideals, values, or behaviors which the society that elevated them admired. I’d say out financial sector malefactors fit that description nicely.

      1. ian

        That’s a fascinating observation. My mind leapt to Lincoln’s search for a halfway decent general.
        I’m going to check out the book. Thanks.

  8. Michael Hudson

    Well, Bill, I sent your great article to my psychotherapist wife regarding the possible motive for suicide stemming from screwing people.
    She called me and said, “Not if they’re psychopaths.” She has law school clients who want to drop out when they see how “winning” is all about character defamation, etc. She points out that mot of the leading financial executives are psychopaths — no guilt at all, but outright pleasure in screwing others — headed by their own partners and colleagues.
    So apparently Mr. Gupta was a non-psychopath. That’s the problem.
    When I went to work for Scudder Stevens in 1989 they gave me a psychological test. They said I wasn’t the profile they’re looking for, but that was OK because I was in research, not client sales.
    A “responsible” Wall Street firm therefore takes care ONLY to hire psychopaths with no guilt feelings, so as to promote a happier work/life balance.

    1. HotFlash

      Of course! They test! So sorry, that had not occurred to me. Another piece of the puzzle falls into place. Thanks, Prof Hudson.

    2. Nathanael

      The anti-social psychopaths simply need to be executed. Trouble is it’s hard to find pro-social people to kill them; the French Revolution ran into this problem, as did the Russian. Kind, loving, pro-social people who are happy to execute dangerous psychopaths are actually pretty rare. I’d guess that type of pro-social killer would have to be NTJ on the Myers-Briggs personality test among other things.

  9. Felix

    100 hours per week…… what do you think surgery residents do (or did before they changed the laws) in a busy trauma center? Add med school and clinical rotations? …..figure getting in at 5:30, rounding, doing charts, getting the preops set up, cutting skin at 7:30, doing four cases with turnover time to finish at 4 or 5, assuming no complications, ICU rounds on the post ops, three hours of chart work, op notes, and then endless interruptions for orders, ER evaluations and often emergency surgeries as they come in from the local knife and gun club. And constantly under the threat of not making it to the next level of the pyramid. My theory is that Gupta knew something that someone did not want to come out and he was given an option. Work on Wall Street is not as stressful as trying to get into a top surgical residency….no way.

    1. Tom C

      Beyond laughable that Wall Street analysts etc are compared to doctors.

      Young doctors are exposed to significant emotional, physical and mental burdens by their patients that, for some, last a lifetime. Also, a doctor’s mistake can result in real financial and professional penalties, again, lasting a lifetime.

      One can only hope that someday Wall St errors will create penalties that last beyond a day or two.

      1. lord koos

        “Physicians are more than twice as likely to kill themselves as nonphysicians (and female physicians three times more likely than their male counterparts). Some 400 doctors commit suicide every year. Young physicians at the beginning of their training are particularly vulnerable: In a recent study, 9.4 percent of fourth-year medical students and interns — as first-year residents are called — reported having suicidal thoughts in the previous two weeks.”

    2. HotFlash

      Never did MedSkool myself, but know many who did. Curious phenomenon. My conclusion abt the hours req’d for residency, in a milieu where it was well known that, for instance, sleep deprivation causes serious judgment errors, was that it was simply a hazing ritual.

      1. Praedor

        Exactly. It is not a requirement of the job that doctors be sleep deprived for prolonged periods. It IS a having ritual passed on by inertia and tradition. A big party is “They did it to me so I’m going to make sure it’s done to you to just because.” A lot of medical mistakes and attending malpractice suits could be avoided if this silly practice stopped.

        In the military during training you would OCCASIONALLY get some horrible long hours but this was the exception rather than rule. It was done to prepare you for real life times when sleep HAD to be put off for survival. For med doctors the same should apply: OCCASIONALLY push long hours, particularly in emergency rooms, to help prepare doctors for the rare emergency mass casualty event. Making it standard procedure is ridiculous and dangerous.

        In a financial firm it is purely in service to greed , primarily to highly enrich the bosses alone. Slave labor. And those willingly going along do so for greed, hoping/expecting to one day be one of the do nothing bosses who benefit from the slavery of others.

      2. Nathanael

        Med School hazing needs to be banned. It makes for a bad learning experience and bad judgment.

        Frankly, doctors trained abroad are *consistently* more competent than US doctors because the sleep-deprivation hazing doesn’t happen in most foreign countries.

  10. Tom C

    Many have worked long hours, its no big deal. But when senior management condones what appears to be poor business practices, further thought is required.

    1. The article focus is on sleep deprived twenty somethings apparently producing analysis to guide major corporates is beyond laughable. It is even more laughable that their own senior management takes it seriously. Perhaps this is more about producing goal seeking spreadsheets to allow pirates to take their booty with 100 page ‘analysis’ on fancy paper.
    2. To me, when top management show up to talk about a relatively unknown tragedy, it seems more driven by PR, legal and insurance reasons than genuine concern.

    As in many other financial ‘in cahoots’ articles we have seen, until personal responsibility is assigned, this sadness will continue. The other sad part, is many of the managements and their families are well aware of what happens and then go to church, synagogue, mosque etc acting as if their hands are clean.

    Sad for most of us, tragic for the families involved.

  11. alex morfesis

    thankfully sorkin will soon be joining joan blunden in the dustbins of the front seat of the neutertainment industry.
    The only time I enjoy his wondrous “insights” is when the comedy channels are only running reruns of Garofalo and I need a good laugh watching him and the barking toupee next to him in the morning kiss up to some asset stripper desperate to keep the chinese communist party in power by off loading jobs to asia.

    “mommas don’t let your babies grow up to be pyrates…”


    a greek word…

    you took (plural)



  12. Knifecatcher

    The elephant in the room that Prof. Black graciously refuses to address in this excellent post is motive. Jesse has been all over this story, and points out that:

    1. The TBTF banks (and many other Wall St institutions) have large life insurance policies on their employees.

    2. The criminal / civil settlements have been facilitated by the testimony of anonymous insiders. What might happen to such an insider once they were no longer anonymous?

    Sounds like a good episode of Law and Order to me.

  13. TU

    The structure of residency is partly due to hazing, but it is also partly due to unethical cost decisions made by hospital administrators. Something that is not well known is that Medicare pays almost all of the resident salaries and benefits in the US, for not just rural locations without enough doctors but for university hospitals of the top-ranked private schools and even private hospitals. As a result, hospital administrators exploit this incredibly cheap (in fact free!) source of medical labor.

  14. Ishmael

    So I talked to a PE firm about joining them. They sent me a psych test to take and at first from the test I thought the purpose was to screen out psychopaths but later decided the real purpose was just the reverse.

  15. RUKidding

    A lot of people work long hard slogging hours anymore just to survive. Most don’t commit suicide. Hard to say with absolute certainty why some working on Wall St/the Banks would commit suicide. Clearly the financial fields attract greed-driven sociopaths and psychopaths, who probably go into the field in order to find ways to rig and game the system and commit as many crimes as possible in order to laugh about getting away with it. Seriously.

    I didn’t see the film or read the book, but wasn’t that sort of the premise of the Wolf of Wall St? That what he did was clearly illegal and was ripping off commoners, but hey! Lookit me! I’m loaded and I do drugs and hookers and I’m invincible. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Do people like Gupta have some sort of moral center, where the crushing hours combined with the knowledge that he can’t get ahead without being a crook lead to suicide? Perhaps.

    Some have suggested in comments that these firms perhaps test prospective employees first to weed out the ones who have, uh, morals and ethics, looking only for the crooks and liars who are willing to sell their own first born if it’ll make ’em $1 richer. So what happened on Mr. Gupta’s test? Did he cheat on it in order to get the job, and then found out he couldn’t take it? Possibly.

    100 hour work weeks are grueling, but I don’t think that’s the whole reason for someone to commit suicide.

    1. ian

      I wonder how many people graduating from top institutions are enticed by the money and think “I’ll just do this for a while” even though it isn’t what they really want to do. Not really greed, just an opportunity to save, retire student loans, etc… before doing something else. Years later, they’re still there – burned out and disillusioned.

  16. Ollie

    Know what’s worst about breaking the law for your employer? Speaking for this patsy, the most horrifying part is, you can be directed to break the law and have no clue. Nobody says word one about the law. And, when everybody blithely breaks the law on a massive scale every day without a thought, who would even think there was a law? What fraud? This is work. That’s how easily you can be turned into a criminal.

    And when we got caught, what we learned about the law we learned from corporate lawyers robotically repeating words for us to say, to wit, we don’t do what we do.

    At that point it all became clear. GTFO. Best thing I ever did.

    1. Lambert Strether

      Thanks, but please don’t submit the same comment multiple times because Skynet doesn’t like that. In fact, you’re training Skynet to think you’re spammer, because that’s what spammers do!

  17. Oregoncharles

    Personally I prefer the conspiracy theory: murder in high places.

    Isn’t Wall St. precisely what “Game of Thrones” is about?

    1. susan the other

      me too. when other explanations fall short, that’s what we are left with – all psycho babble bullshit aside. and as expected, none of this is being investigated…

    2. different clue

      This possibility deserves more thought than it generally gets, at least in some cases. How many “suicides” were actually “suicided” by professionals because they “knew too much”?

  18. Rosario

    Presuming not all people working in “high-finance” are psychopaths this is pretty disturbing. Only a near total decoupling from meaning and positive social connection (complete alienation) could drive someone to take their lives. I’m pretty sure any psychologist would say something similar. Killing yourself is literally the final option. Long work hours is too simple. There are plenty of less privileged people in the world that work jobs that take a complete toll on their bodies and minds while still maintaining a positive sense of self and a connection to others that is not cynical and divisive. As for the people who could be qualified as psychopaths. Remember their ability to attain and hold power is the fault of the entire society for thinking that people with little empathy make better leaders. I’m certain there are many positive roles best suited for individuals who qualify as psychopaths, but it is not leadership.

    Ultimately, this ties into the “productive” capacity (or lack thereof) of high-finance and its attracting very bright, “normal” people to do work that is of little to no benefit to society. If a professional field has a questionable positive role yet it is highly lucrative it is probably inherently unethical/immoral. Given proper legal framing it would be criminal. Yet, young, eager minds are funneling into these institutions while being stripped of their humanity and, alienated from society in the acquisition of wealth. Similar to individuals in the military, society says killing is bad, the military says killing is necessary, society says killing is bad, a potential result of this impossible to traverse ethical gap, suicide. In finance it is, stealing is bad, stealing is necessary, stealing is bad, complete mental break. In effect, we are living in a culture that cannot reconcile its supposed values with practice. We are all participating in daily hypocrisies. Those most acutely exposed to those hypocrisies in the military and banking bear the heaviest ethical load, and without the benefit of little to no empathy, it is likely too great a burden.

  19. PQS

    Hell, NOBODY is talking about the human fallout from the Financial Meltdown….suicides in the “real world” (outside of Wall Street and High Finance), drug and alcohol addiction and abuse, child abuse and neglect.

    Our “leaders” look around and wonder why everyone is so Effed up. Well, why wouldn’t they be? No security at home, no security at work, everyone in charge coming at you with a melon baller to take out your vitals one scoop at a time. Good grief, it’s a wonder everyone hasn’t passed out from pure exhaustion.

  20. steelhead23

    The cheerful maniac inside me wants to say, “What, bankster suicides are a problem?”, but that’s beneath this dialog. What I will say is that from time to time, quite frequently actually, Dr. Black brings to mind that scene from “The Ten Commandments” when Moses tosses stone tablets at the golden calf the people are worshipping. In fact, I believe that those who worship Mammon are lost souls and for that reason society must punish their misdeeds lest they infect the lot of us. The Mammon worshippers will always be with us.

  21. Mark K

    Perhaps wider reflections are in order. The economic pie isn’t growing anymore. It still seems to be an employers’ market. Freshly minted graduates will be pretty easily bullied into submission, taking on huge workloads, and exorcising any moral scruples they once had, to pay off huge college loans and strive for success, as it is defined by Manhattan and celebrity society.

    1. different clue

      How many such questional deaths need to occur before many junior Wall Street staffers, analysts, etc. fear they may be killed at any time for something they don’t know they know? How soon after that before human waves of such people storm various Attorneys General offering to turn pre-emptive State’s Evidence for something-anything, and demanding police protection in return?

  22. Matt

    This was revealed by the epic WSJ article describing the demise of ethics at Arthur Anderson Accounting.

    Once the cheaters are in the game they drive out the honest executives. Once the cheater is rewarded with promotion and more power, the cheating increases. The cheater hires and promotes other cheaters who report to them. In the end the CEO and the board are all cheaters. Such is the death wale of U.S. corporations and government.

  23. Skippy

    It should be noted that aside from possible nefarious machinations, due to the corrosive social enviroment, that a number of these individuals suffer from PTSD related disorders.

    Skippy… it would be interesting to see a parallel in suffers to say military personnel.

  24. Jim in SC

    I wouldn’t want a surgeon who came through the system after residents’ hours were cut working on me. I’ve heard too many tales from medical friends about their lack of skills. I mean, they have a certain amount of knowledge that must be gained by doing in a certain number of years, and many don’t get it today. The way things were was not just a form of hazing. It was a form of skill acquisition. Perhaps we need to make surgical residencies longer: it would be a minor cost to medicare, and a major benefit to public safety.

  25. Otter

    Bill Black says “Gupta had three choices. He could leave Goldman and the corrupt culture of finance. (Sorkin relates that Gupta made a serious effort to leave, but was dissuaded by his father.) ”

    Hard to know what “dissuaded” means. Harder to know how Gupta felt about it : trapped, maybe.

    At any rate, he seriously tried to leave, one way. When that failed he tried another way.

    1. Demeter

      I think Daddy was a pretensions snob, living off his child’s “accomplishments” and deaf to reason. Daddy also claims son was hit by a car operated by a hit-and-run driver. Daddy is probably still in India…and denial. Tiger Daddy.

      And, no, I don’t have any parental issues (mostly because my ‘rents are dead).

  26. McKillop

    “The firm held a small memorial service for Mr. Gupta, who was universally liked by his colleagues and whom several said was so good at his job that he had become one of the “go-to” analysts.”
    I’ll be the nit-picker,the grammarnazi.
    Sorkin,as do many, passes himself off as a person of worthy thought -despite the noted failure to consider the obvious. His use of ‘who’ and ‘whom’ suggest to me a further pretentiousness. The second clause requires “who” (I think) in that Mr. Gupta is the subject who ‘. .. was so good at his job. . . .”
    It may be niggling to comment upon this mis-usage but the profession of writer calls for care. Would we allow errors in mathematics? Would we allow double negatives without quiet disdain?
    Why should we accept basic illiteracies in disciplines requiring expertise?

    1. H. Alexander Ivey

      I’ll jump in here and defend Sorkin (I can’t believe I just wrote that!) on his style of writing (and only the writing style). Despite being an English teacher, I confess to indifference about the who or whom argument. The sentence written by Sorkin is ostentatiously long, but the use of who first, then whom second, reads well. Better than both being “who”, IMHO. And as I remind my students, I am one of the two or three million people who decide what is proper English. Ha!

  27. HoratioParker

    100 hours/wk averages to 16.6 hours/day six days a week.

    That’s 9am to 1:36 am.

    Hard to believe.

  28. Bixie

    What an odd article. It’s full of unsupported statements, non sequiteurs and bizarre rants. Here are a few to get started:

    The use of the term “banksters” by an allegedly serious commentator such as Bill Black is unbecoming.

    Where does the statement “…synonymous with Goldman Sachs – the intense pressure on its people to act unethically and even criminally…” Huh? Where’s the proof behind that statement? Exactly what pressure is there to act unethically?

    “Sorkin’s column shows that Goldman treated Gupta’s death in an ethics-free manner…”. Really? It sounds more like they handled it responsibly and sensitively. What exactly is “ethics-free” here?

    Is this sentence simply completely made up? “Goldman’s corrupt culture can cause those who are highly ethical and ambitious to take on hellish amounts of work. That will cause some people to break down.” What specifically is corrupt about Goldman’s culture?

    This just sounds bizarre and paranoid: “perverse compensation systems designed by the CEOs to spread that corrupt culture throughout the bank”

    1. Demeter

      Calling a spade a spade (or an unethical financial crook a bankster) is “unbecoming”?

      I suppose that words like “Mafia” or “slum lord” or “drug dealer” should never cross one’s lips either? One can die from being “too polite” (ignoring the truth that will eat your future and your life).

      Bill Black is a blogger….the cognoscenti read all his work and keep up with his train of evidence and train of thought. He also provides links.

      NC is a place for long-term, detailed study, not for fly-by-night artists of thumbs-up movie reviews based on the number of car chases and explosions.

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