It has been a while since I wrote one of my capitalism gone mad articles, but a lengthy news item in the New York Times got me to thinking. The stock market continues to plummet and with that the futures of tens of millions whose pensions are attached to the market. 41 are killed in a bombing attack at the gates of the Indian embassy in Kabul and the Pakistani- Taliban-Al Qaeda alliance is suspected. The New York City Housing Authority is slashing various programs including senior citizen centers to make up its budget crisis.And there is a battle brewing among psychiatrists of the very rich in New York about whether the encouragement of greed is healthy.
I am not kidding. Gone are the days when Sigmund Freud demanded payment from his patients at every session to make sure they took the sessions seriously. I assume there are still plenty of therapists living a handto mouth existence in New York and having a bit of a vested interest in having their patients come back every week in order to get the pittance the insurance companies pay them. I have known such people over the decades, and I have known very good people, dedicated people, especially psychiatric social workers who were committed to helping working classyouth who fell prey to the social jungle that capitalism creates for the poor.
But these are big money psychiatrists who, according to the article charge $600 for a 45 minute session., with a minimum of two sessions a week, which means that these patients are providing them with a minimum of $60,000 a year.
One of the psychiatrists, a very distinguished looking fellow named Michael Stone(photographed in what looks like the study of a mansion) recently told a patient, a young real estate mogul who was more Woody Allen fumbler than Captain of Industry, to bid eight million dollars on a painting because "this is what you want. You should get it." Another psychiatrist, famous for dealing with the rich, T. Bryam Karasu, strongly disagreed, making the point that such advice was re-enforcing neurotic behavior, :excesses and consumption." The therapist, Dr. Karasu contends, is identifying with the patient and his wealth, seeking to help him become wealthier becoming, in Freudian language, the "patient's alter-id"(Freud's old trinity of Super Ego, Ego, Id, with the Ego the integrating "vital center" between the Super Ego or repressive self-denying conscience and Id or uncontrolled pleasure desires).
Karasu is an interesting guy; a 73 year old Jewish Turkish American born and raised in Istanbul, the son of a mystery writer, who makes some good points about the new robber barons whom Tom Wolfe called "Masters of the Universe in Bonfire of the Vanities in the 1980s. An outstanding scholar and former student of mine, Steve Fraser, has portrayed such characters as figures in what he sees as a late 20th century new Gilded Age which continues to this day (using Fraser's valuable analogy, I would see these psychiatrists as similar to those pre and anti-Social Gospel ministers late 19th century Gilded Age who cheered on the old Robber Barons as doing God's work through accumulating wealth by any means necessary, assuming they trickled down the wealth in the form of Christian charity).
Dr. Karasu and others in the article make some good points which Marxists can focus better than they can. First, as Karasu says, "the problem is the same, only the scale is different. Hedge funds, There is no product, only wealth. It's flabbergasting to my patients too. They can make so much money at once and then lose it."
Then there is the question of control. The therapists as some realize are becoming part of the big capitalists entourage (in essence the flatterers and yes men that all ruling classes have had throughout history). Karasu mentions Ludwig, the "mad King" of Bavaria in the 19th century, who drowned in a boat with his therapist (Ludwig wasn't such a bad guy and some historians still believe he was murdered but that is beside the point) Karasu calls this tongue-in cheek as the "King Ludwig syndrome," over identifying with patients, but big capitalists or corporate executives don't have to be insane to act that way. At the University of Michigan, where I took my advanced degrees, there was a famous story about the Ford Motor Company hiring a group of sociologists to do extensive multi-dimensional research to come up with the name for a new Ford car and funding them lavishly. After doing the most advanced study possible at the time, they were brought to company headquarters to meet with a senior Vice President about the final choices. He picked up their study, sneered(he hadn't even read it) and said, "this is a waste. Let's name the car about the Boss's son, Edsel."
Some therapists bemoan the fact that their wealthy patients regard them and everyone else as servants, and, following, I would say, the classic neurotic pattern, reject reasonable advice on virtually everything when it conflicts with their prejudices, dismissing people whom they hired based on their expertise when those people refuse to be yes men.
The rich and super rich aren't different, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote over eighty years ago, but, like petty hustlers at the bottom of the system, they learn to play it parasitically at the top. Like a woman I knew who cheated the public assistance system (yes, there are some "welfare cheats" that the right screams about, although statistically much much fewer than the right has led large numbers of people to believe) and then gambled away the few thousand that she hustled, these real estate moguls, hedge fund hustlers, take tens of millions and then make troubles for themselves by throwing the money away or, more likely, engaging in excesses of conspicuous consumption, carrying the capitalist ethos of "you are what you buy" to greater and greater extremes. And like that woman, they have no conception that there is anything wrong with what they are doing and will simply try to do it all over again when they have to (their chances of getting caught are much smaller than that woman,. because much of what they are doing is after decades of deregulation within the letter of the law).
It is capitalism itself which routinely rewards the neurotic and parasitic. It is the capitalist marketplace which reduces to fetishistic relationships the production and exchange of all commodities (with money as the central commodity) and makes insecurity, a vice in all previous societies, into a virtue, which in real life it can never be.
Traditional Freudian based therapy, which was conservative, encouraged people to learn to "cope" with their problems by examining themselves deeply rather than exploring the collective, societal nature of those problems. Today, it will take a system of socialized medicine, including mental health care, to help the people overcome the stresses that contemporary capitalism has produced for them. It will also, at the very least, take a major re regulation of the economy, providing social protections in housing and employment from the predatory real estate interests and Wall Street money managers and commodity traders, to begin to repair the damage that has been done to the U.S. economy in recent decades, the damage that has produced this "new generation" of Robber Barons in search of psycho therapy. That might even help them deal with their personal problems, even though it would cost them far more than $600 a session.