Lambert here: This is a fun polemic with a lot of linky goodness, but while I’m intrigued by the notion of putting tolcapone into the water supply (kidding!), I’m dubious about the central trope, addiction to money. For one thing, the author slides between money, cash, and wealth. Those are three different things! For another, an addiction is typically thought of as an individual or at most family matter (see, e.g., AA). But wealth, at least, is constituted by complex, extended social relationships. Finally, the concept of addiction tends to be applied promiscuously to anything we feel has power to remove our sense of agency from us but is not well understood. (“We admitted we were powerless over capital.” Sensible as a First Step, or not?) Absent a physiological pathway, I tend to resist the addiction trope. The author proposes two physiological pathways: Dopamine, but qualified (scientists “are beginning” to understand, and tolcapone, which speaks to altruism, not money per se. And so but enjoy the read and discuss. Family [blog] discussions about money are always entertaining, and sometimes instructive!
By Mike Sosteric, Associate Professor, Sociology, Athabasca University. Cross-posted from Alternet.
In a widely cited confessional in the New York Times in 2014, former Wall Street trader Sam Polk outed himself as a recovering wealth addict.
He intimated a toxic childhood and an abusive parent (a common theme in the biographies of addicts).
He revealed the exhilaration (a well-known symptom of dopamine release) at the power that money provided him.
He admitted that he abused money like he abused alcohol and cocaine — to feel better about himself.
In the powerful throes of his deep addiction, his “fixes,” including cash bonuses, were never big enough. Like the “users” on Wall Street who fly into addiction-fueled rages, he would do anything, including bringing harm to others, to amass more cash. A typical addict, he didn’t care as long as he could have more.
Scientists are beginning to see the addictive link between dopamine and money, but we don’t have to wait for them to catch up. We know this is a problem. As I argue in this video, money is the most highly addictive substance on the planet:
It is a powerful addiction, unrivalled in its ability to trigger good feelings, and what’s most frightening about it is that you can’t ever physically overdose.
Cocaine, heroin and crack will kill you if you do too much, but not money. Money won’t harm you, physically anyway. The cash addict can madly mainline moolah from the trading floor, the Senate floor or, with smart phone in hand, the bathroom floor without ever risking a deadly OD. It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic, yet it is very tragic indeed, for the addict, their families and society at large.
Money Addiction as Tragic as Any Other
Make no mistake about this. Like all addiction stories, wealth addiction is tragic. Like all junkies, cash junkies will do anything to service their need. They will certainly neglect their own families while they work long hours to make more.
To the outside world, everything will seem fine. They will “keep it in the family” as they dissemble, distract and confuse. They will buy nannies and ponies and cars. They will snort cocaine and go shopping and jet off to exclusive resorts to hobnob with other wealthy people. They will present their wealth fashionably, but as Sam Polk one day realized, the pain and anguish are real.
And it’s not just the neglected family that suffers. There are no boundaries. Like a fentanyl addiction, it takes over and distorts everything. Cash addicts in the U.S. government (in any government, really), their campaigns funded by the wealthy, will steal from the poor, destroy the environment, rip off sick children, engage in colonial exploitation, start wars and even sacrifice kids in yet another school shooting, if it means they can make some more bucks.
And that’s not even the worst of it.
The addicts will hijack human spirituality, exploit hatred, brainwash the masses, derail democratic politics and tinker with fascism in their desire to have more.
So what to do?
Well, as strange as this is going to sound, there might be a pill for all this. In a remarkable experiment in the journal Current Biology, tolcapone, a drug that prolongs dopamine feelings, made participants who took it rather than a placebo become more egalitarian about money. A magical cure seems all right to me. But even if you can’t get access to tolcapone, there are immediate things you can do.
Stop neglecting and abusing children. The research is coming in on this one: Abuse and neglect in childhood cause copious mental and emotional problems, and lead, via damage to neurochemical systems, to addictions in adult life. If we don’t want to raise another generation of addicts, speak up when you see children being mistreated by their parents, teachers, priests or anyone else given access.
As cliched as this may sound, do something about the addict in your life. Stop avoiding the situation. Quit enabling the addiction. Stop suffering in silence. Don’t lie to yourself. We all have experiences with addiction and we all know, if we don’t do something, it only gets worse. So do something.
To make sure we don’t fall victim to a money addiction, get out and get active. Educate. Prognosticate. Most important, get involved politically. At the very least, get out and vote. Democracy may be under global attack and fascism may soon come a knocking, but we still have the power to vote. Sure, they’d like you to believe it is a “good versus evil”, left versus right, Darth versus Luke sort of thing, but there are addicts on both sides, and even the princesses struggle with addiction.
See this problem for what it is: A loosely organized group of global addicts getting together to figure out ways to enrich each other financially. If you think this is about “draining the swamp” and jobs for the people, you are gravely mistaken. It is about sidling up to the trough and gobbling as much as they can, no matter how obscene it gets. It is about the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” service of globalized addiction. It is a serious problem, and we should all be concerned, because to the enabling addicts, everything, even a holocaust, is merely an “opportunity” for amassing more wealth.
Like any addict in the throes of their addiction, there’s no limit to how far this can go.
While there is still time, gently, carefully, take their big sticks and red buttons away. Don’t hurt them and punish them, because that’s what made these people sick to begin with. Instead, remind them of the illness that binds them, and get them the help that they need.
Don’t let yourself or the ones you love become like Sam Polk, “a giant fireball of greed.”
See the truth. Take some action. If you need it, get help.
Lambert is dead on in his skepticism of a characterization of drug addiction as a metaphor for Wall Street megalomaniacal personality disorder (Let’s add MPD to DSM-6) is hilariously flawed. Using the Koob and LeMoal neuroscience model of addiction [Science. 1997 Oct 3;278(5335):52-58.], it takes a regular and excessive increased release of dopamine to cause the body’s homeostatic mechanisms to make permanent adjustments to increase metabolizing dopamine and a few other related neurotransmitters commonly triggered by opioids (nicotine too smokers out there). Extending Koob’s model to wealth accumulation, it is reasonable to speculate that addiction to wealth would be like hitting the lotto on a daily basis for months – not likely.
As a psychologist, the suggested cures of wealth addiction triggered my guffa mechanism (an increase in dopamine release to the funny bone). It is based upon flawed models of developmental psychology, popular but wrong stereotypes of the triggers of antisocial behavior, and well a lack of logic. There is scant evidence for an association between abuse as a child and drug addiction [Cohen, et al., J Psychiatr Pract. 2010 Nov;16(6):394-404]. How does one withdraw from wealth addiction? Cold turkey? Maybe WRT (wealth replacement therapy). Like Suboxone treatment for drug addicts (opioid replacement therapy), you shift to daily maintenance hits off your ETF supervised by a board certified addiction rehab broker. Alternatively, how about the Nancy Reagan cure – Just say NO to wealth? :-)
The idea of money addiction works well as a metaphor, but the idea that it’s just another addiction – to be treated by the ever-present pharmaceutical industry no less – is specious. In the end, it’s just a choice, no more, no less; although it does reveal a great deal about the chooser’s character.
maybe closer to hoarding than an addiction (although those actually share a lot of similarties). But does more harm than the person who is killed by their unopened boxes from ebay collapsing on them, or whose house reeks from their 50 cats. Too much ain’t enough.
Yes! Probably no coincidence that levels of actual hoarding are also at epic levels (my ancient mom’s one of them). Inability to ever have enough and fear of ever letting go of what you already have, all rolled into one insane neurosis.
Amassing wealth beyond a point where needs are met isn’t like hoarding; it *is* hoarding, off shore accounts and properties aren’t really any different than old newspapers–it’s just lowbrow stuff vs. highbrow stuff.
I may well be wrong here, but I got the impression the author was a little tongue-in-cheek.
The “addiction” metaphor maybe scientifically lacking in value, however, as a general metaphor it is illuminating: we often speak of the “money hungry” – suggestive of need amounting to obsession & a drive over which we lack agency.
My wife always says that the DSM has plenty about “Hoarding” as a mental illness, and how it’s associated with things. But they do not have anything under there for “hoarding wealth”.
Being Scrooge is detrimental to those around you.
We need a national effort to stem the epidemic of affluenza infecting the nation’s wealthy and driving them into lives of crime, abuse, and misery. Maybe a prohibition on wealth since they’ve proven they are incapable of responsible wealthy lifestyles? Mandatory greed testing for work and before getting government subsidies and tax breaks? Forced incarceration and rehabilitation for serial greed offenders?
If drug addicts are treated like criminals for their addictions, it’s only fair that wealth addicts who cause harm through their insatiable accumulation of wealth at the expense of those around them be treated the same.
People often misremember the quote in the Bible. It isn’t that money is the root of all evil, it’s the love of money that is. Maybe that Timothy was on to something although there are some ‘shellfish is an abomination’ parts in the old tome that could still use some work.
Fixing the quote does not depreciate money as an evil however. One could as well say heroin is the root of all evil or the love of all heroin is the root of all evil. Without heroin there would be no heroin addiction. IMHO, people who correct this quote are apologists for the evils of capitalism and it’s worship of money. Like many addicts can live off of small doses of heroin, apologists and money addicts will never call for its abolition, but normalize it and blame those with bad genetics or upbringing for not being responsible.
Money is not neutral. It carries the endowments of it creator.
The DSM criteria for addiction is limiting and up for debate. Anyone who felt the rush from a windfall of money cannot say it has no effect on their state of mind and the perception of the world. And that change is a result of shifting neurotransmitters. I have seen as many people do anything for money as I have people do anything for a drink.
Good points. I would much rather live in a world with no money whatsoever, but that still wouldn’t eliminate sociopaths.
“Money is not neutral.”
I believe society needs a conversation about money – specifically, when is “enough, enough” ?
The current answer appears to be “never”.
Can a line be
As a start, money is not neutral (in many, many ways). At some point (privately) accumulated money reaches a point were it ceases to be merely money – ceases to be simply an economic entity.
At some point money becomes, by its nature, by its existence, political power. At this point money/wealth does not even need to be used for it to have political affects. Like a large object introduced into a gravitational field
(an asteroid ?) it begins to cause ripples etc in a social/political field.
It is at this point, IMHO, that enough is enough begins to cut in.
Democracy can not allow private wealth to become public power. If allowed to wealth will…well the consequences are nakedly, blatantly, insultingly every where to be seen….
Re shellfish: Seems to me that the Hebrew Leviticus rules were in large measure a kind of early public health system. Shellfish are bottom feeders or filter feeders. A lot of nasty stuff ends up on the bottom or in the water column, since I bet a lot of Israelites and the tribes around them were less than careful about waste disposal.
New way to talk about greed, which for the past three or four thousand years has generally been regarded by most human institutions as problematic. At least until Thatcher/Reagan and the neolibs came along and said it was good.
It used to thought of as a flaw but now it’s considered an attribute.
Two thousand years ago, the last great Jewish prophet (to many, much more than a prophet) brought a startling and unsettling message to the Roman Empire. In a barrage of interlocking sayings and stories, he hammered home the central point there are only two deities competing for the human heart, God and money (mammon). You can’t worship both, he contended, but you WILL wind up worshipping one or the other. History has proven the truth of his message and will likely prove also the truth of his prediction, that a house built on the sand of greed and lust for power will collapse in the coming storm.
Being a sociology prof, Sosteric has to come up with things like this so he can publish, but Lambert is dead right that this is dead wrong. Sam Polk was (is) a junkie, but not for the money. Like the gambler whose thrill is the horse crossing the finish line or the cards falling right, Polk was there for the action, the trade. Money reflected his success at it, but the game was the thing.
It is not the game, it is the winning, or the chance of winning, which drives the behavior. Saying someone is “in it for the game” normalizes the addiction. The “game” is only the culture that arises around the specific addiction.
If Polk was in it only for the game, why did he keep the money? Money was the reward for playing the game. Winning is the addiction.
And who here cannot see the similarity between horse racing and stock picking?
The Game = Chasing the dragon?
No. In this case, money is how you keep score.
What’s the difference?
I think Megalomania works far better. If the word addiction is used aren’t the words addiction to control over society far better? I’m sure there are many who feel they can never have enough money – many times due to an experience with crippling poverty – but they never (and would never dream of it) perpetrate the massive social control as amoral persons such as: Bill Gates; Mark Bezos; Larry Page; Sergie Brin; Greg Schmidt; Peter Thiel; Elon Musk; Mark Zuckerberg; and countless, amoral financiers and politicians have attempted.
For people that have a problem with xyz, xyz is not the problem.
For thousands of years, it has been known that if we lose our equilibrium, something [of equal maginitude] will fill the void.
It seems to me that money accumulation itself is not the problem; it is the use of fraud and other corruptions in order to short-circuit one’s acquisitive tendencies. There is also the thrill of breaking the rules or ignoring the legalities or changing the rules that gives one a sense of achievement and money is just the concrete example of having broken the rules and not paid the penalty. People who hurt other people in order to gain money are particularly loathsome.
I think we are basically good creatures – the proof is right before our eyes: we would have died out long ago if we were too evil. There isn’t much evil in nature – just survival. But I’ve been coming to the opinion that politics is far bloodier and morecompetitive than it should be. I don’t think money can be defined as anything other than cooperation, or the monetization of cooperation. Which is why any “surpluses” should be spent on good things.
I agree wholeheartedly susan the other, I think that’s the reason we evolve rather than de-evolve. What’s wrong as you say is that our natural competitiveness seeps out in the politics where cooperation is needed. And we don’t seem to be able to get away from that evolutionary fear of loss that’s baked into our survival instinct — “if I give up my current stock of that which is in excess to my needs, what happens if I might need it back again some day?”.
We are not good or bad in the eyes of God and Nature, we only desire to survive and procreate in the context of our environment. Human thought has enabled humanity to push the limits of the laws of nature to allow us to surivive (industrial farming, medicine) and reproduce (invigorate fertilization, medicine) well beyond our original environment in an evolutionary very short period of time. This has created cultural conflict as inner species competition increases and an environmental imbalance externally that cannot hold.
Knowledge was the Apple (korporate kapitalization intended) that Eve plucked from the tree. In Eden there was no understanding of good and evil. But having gained knowledge, we have abandoned nature, and so are cursed with the sin of good and evil. Good is Yang, bad is Yin. Growth is Yang, decline is a Yin. Capitalism is Yang, socialism is Yin. The human race is a culture that cannot accept Yin as a reality, so we use technology to pretend it does not exist and pump up the Yang. Yang is heat, Yang is climate change.
We have discovered Yang and become addicted to it.
Surpluses always lead to a higher population growth. That is the Way. Higher population growth is constrained by the environment. That is also the Way. Knowledge can expand our environment, but knowledge is constrained by its environment as well. All things are constrained by the Way.
If you internalise the idea that money is a surrogate for worth, well, you want more money, not for what it can buy but because it makes you feel better about yourself. In that sense, money and dopamine are not far apart.
First symptom that popped into my mind was the refusal of creditors to write down debts that cannot be paid. Opportunities to win at Economic Warfare seem to have just been increased since the nonplussed attitude towards culturally destructive monopoly. I’m thinking of Bezos. “Only thing left is to make spaceships and go into space.” Up there in space what use is there for money? Money is not featured on the Starship Enterprise. It is back to the jungle. Bananas or a box that issues any food you want. Explorers either die of thirst or are frozen to death. The Norge didn’t go to the North Pole because their insurance wouldn’t cover it.
No way an insurance company would diminish coverage for wealth.
Leviticus was already mentioned by JTMcPhee, though I don’t recollect the shellfish thing at all.
I thought the story of Jesus preaching in favor of Jubilee, the traditional write off cycle of 7s and 50 was most significant. 3 weeks later and he is hanging on the cross. The idea that Jesus spread was forgiveness and when it is society and not just your lovers forgiveness is manifested in the write off of debts. The greedy are not good at love because they are not good at forgiving debts.
Money is a metaphor for power, so those who love money love power. Gennen, the guy that was at the head of ITT said it wasn’t how much money you had but how much you had access to.
Trump is at the top with all the power one might possibly have short of head of the World government, or Solar System Regent. Best jet setter jets are at his beck and call. He can go around hitting a ball with a stick on the holodeck all he wants, but he can’t get a decent lawyer because he doesn’t pay his debts. His addiction to money is clearly pathological and the society taking up the philosophy of greed manifests in his election.
Hippies and hedonism are contributing factors in this whole mess of America imitating Rome so well civilization is collapsing around us.
Beatniks at least were united in the attempt to ban the bomb while more money prior to the power of the atom bomb was spent on the bombsight. No need of any particularly precise bombsight when you can just blow whole cities up.
Totally America illustrates an addiction to power. We are all made into counter revolutionaries demanding the enforcement of anti trust law and write offs of onerous debt.
Creditors who have risen to the top of the heap “in the white room” where they are shooting up money are so well protected now they will bring down the civilization before giving through forgiveness which is too much like love.
“Money Can’t buy you love.” and they don’t even want love, the money addicts, like heroin addicts who’d rather have a bag than sex.
Song lyric lines that went through my head are from the Beatles and Cream.
Thanks, I feel better now.
>>”See this problem for what it is: A loosely organized group of global addicts getting together to figure out ways to enrich each other financially.”
How utterly ridiculous! Are you kidding me? Someone wrote this with a straight face?
So that’s what we’ve been up against – a global group of sad, wealth-and-greed afflicted people who turns out just need more love. If we just give them a hug it might just make everything better. Right?..!??
I must be really misunderstanding something here because the absurdity of this kind of dreck is making me sick.
In some countries, there is the saying “He who eats someone else’s pie is not crazy; but crazy is he who gives away his pie to get eaten”.
That much about greed.
People with addictions need more than hugs. I suggest reading Lost Connections by Johan Hari.
Can you see how this addiction lives in you as well? Maybe that is a better place to start rather than worrying about your bosses addiction. You see, those with the hardest addiction sell their lifestyle as the correct way to live. You can see this same process happen in a group of alcoholics. Addicts have the best marketing. First one is free and all that.
I do not think it is absurd at all to think that we have culturally internalized an addictive behavior and normalized it.
Thanks for the book suggestion, I will check it out.
On the rest, I think Tomonthebeach above set the discussion on the right plane.
I personally do not dispute that there are real addictions and that real addicts do need much more than hugs.
But to regard greed (shorthand for behaviors abusive of power and consumption) as an addiction in my humble estimation is nonsense. And to endow this view of greed as an addiction with global socioeconomic explanatory power — is many times worse than nonsense. It’s delusion, or perfidious obfuscation.
P.S. Looking at the author’s bio (https://theconversation.com/profiles/mike-sosteric-404173), one would be inclined to think it’s a delusion.
But then, it’s a very convenient delusion. So it may indeed be in the end perfidious obfuscation.
I agree that greed is not the object of the addiction, rather, it is the winning. Greed is needed to win. Greed is good because it helps you win. That is the Dao of capitalism. I have no moral judgement on greed in that aspect. I am watching Beat Bobby Flay on FoodTV right now. These people have these same traits, they shout with glee when they win and you can almost see the glint of an amohrtamine high I their eyes. They need to want to beat the other person to win. That is the greed they need to get the hit. It is the dopamine that triggers movement in the human body that drives them to get out and cook food like a manic. Action, reward, good feeling. Rinse and repeat.
I do not see it as unreasonable that an addiction could be deemed positive by a culture if it leads to species growth. If it is sustainable long term is another question. Like the teen foot all star that gets depressed in late life because he misses the rush of his childhood fame.
The NC commentariat has done their usual excellent job of shooting down various points of the article. just leaves me to observe that, sure, there are some curious aspects of our accumulation of money and stuff, but I suspect it is a little more complicated than the author sets out.
The complete sentence from Paul 2000 yrs ago (often truncated) is “For the love of money is the root of all evil. ” Not money itself, if you control the tool rather than money controlling…you.
Nothing new under the sun.
We’ve discussed this above, but I will add, read the whole of Timothy 6. But I will leave you with the complete paragraph for you to determine if Jesus thought money was just a tool. You should also understand that barter was a more common form of exchange in Jesus’s time and that “money” was less seen as we see it today and was associated with wealth.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.“
For another, an addiction is typically thought of as an individual or at most family matter (see, e.g., AA). But wealth, at least, is constituted by complex, extended social relationships.
I just want to say, all addictions are constituted by complex extended social relationships (a social/institutional framework) capable of a) providing the addictive substance (dealers, bankers, etc.) b) provide enabling ideology and excuse (it’s not that addictive, I’m not addictive, there’s nothing wrong with the addiction, etc.). Capitalism is the social/institutional framework that provides a) and b) for the people addicted to $$, not much different than the social/institutional framework that supplies and enables addictions you find on the street.
How can one leave out in this discussion, the human propensity for status seeking, the displaying of wealth, both primary reproductional strategies. Haven’t been able to find the comment in question, but I seem to remind reading one, posted here on NK, something along the lines of … not until highly prized women seek out tweed wearing professors instead of …. (high status alpha males) something something … preventing civilizational collapse.
The whole idea perfectly summed up of course by that famous film character Tony Montana in Scarface: First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women. There are a few nice passages on wealth, genetic fitness, reproductional strategies … in Michael Ghighlieri’s book on violence. Also containing a quote by Mr. Onassis: If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning.
Most people simply fail to see just how powerful a driver of human behaviour this is. Besides sex, women, there’s also the enormous enabling power of wealth, what it can get you. Sending your kids overseas to the “best” universities, where they can mingle with the rich, healthy, good looking offspring of other rich people. Never having to live on the threadmill like us mere mortals, having the means to escape the drudgery, body and mind breaking chronic stress of modern working life. Again not as black and white perhaps. But money just provides people/one’s offspring with immense opportunities, securing “fitness”.
Funny thing is, people are starting to deny their genetic programming. I suggest looking into some post on MGTOW. Young and older men deliberately dressing down, poorly, to avoid contact with women. The story of the beautiful ones often referenced to on the site is another good example of this.
And I keep wondering, what does it say about the future of a species, denying it’s most fundamental evolutionary drive? I find it quite remarkable that in any discussion on economic violence, inequality, … there’s so little investigation into human nature, behavior, the imperatives of life itself
Fundamentally changing the world, surely requires a human transformation (Peter Gretener wrote about this) of our minds, ultimately of our genes perhaps. MGTOW … is quite a special evolution in this regard. The acknowledgment of what makes us tick, and trying to overcome human nature.
Speaking about these imperatives, Peter Ward comes to mind somehow:
I would suspect that all life is inherently medean, and the reason being, … if you think of the definition of life, it metabolises, it reproduces, and it evolves through Darwinian selection. Darwinian selection means that you produce more offspring than can possibly live. So competition is built into life. You compete not only with other species, but with yourself. The competition in this entire system leads to one species trying to take over the whole planet. And this is built into every species, whishing it could be dominant. It’s just built into the system. And this is part of the basic fabric of life. The only out of this, because the ultimate end result is one species taking over, is eventual death of all life of the planet itself. The only out is intelligence. Only an intelligent creature can realise how the system works, and begin the engineering that can keep planetary life-giving systems like carbon cycles, nitrogen cycles, … All those are going, unless intelligence is there, it’s going to completely break down, and that’s the end of life on this planet.
People who make their living from treating or studying addictions are perhaps to be forgiven for attempting to regularize the definition. For most practical purposes, this precision is not particularly necessary. Pace, Krystyn, as I said above, it may not be about the ‘winning’, whatever you define that as, unless the addict is addicted to, um, winning. I see what I will continue to call ‘money addiction’ as the same as I see any other addiction, to wit: The life-bending, all-encompassing need for ever *more* of some specific thing. Drug and alcohol addicts can never have ‘enough’, the result can eventually be fatal (OD, cirrhosis, etc.). Money addicts similar, but the fatal result is usually borne by others.