Monday, July 7, 2008

Capitalism Gone Psychologically Mad

by Norman Markowitz

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.


Doug said...

Excellent analysis. In my opinion I think I big part of society's problems is that the majority of us no longer "work" for a living. When I say work I mean actually having to do manual labor. Over the years Americans have been softened both physically and mentally by the lack of manual labor. Once this energy crisis brings down the American capitalist system many people will be forced back to doing manual labor. It will be for their own good and for the good of society.

Anonymous said...

Automation and technology have advanced so much that productivity
has increased to the point that
the developed capitlist countries
are a miniscule international ruling caste served by service workers and paper-shufflers. All the industrial work is done by under-developed countries which are struggling to break free of the bonds of economic or political colonialism. Once developed, (and independent,) they will hold the
winning cards in the international game. If we can just keep the new
capitalists in China from seizing the reins in the meanwhile, we can still build socialism; but, otherwise, Chinese capitalists have had enough years of U.S. oppression that I suspect they would be every bit as merciless as competitors as the U.S., Britain, etc., has been to them! Hang in there, C.C.P.!

Warren Greer said...

1. The problem with society is capitalist rot at the core.

2. "Softened" by lack of adequate health care, lack of income necessitating more than one job, lack of education, lack of social ties
between workers, constant propaganda for junk food and other unhealthful
aspects of life. Freed from a destructive social system, workers will
assiduously maintain their health, regardless of the nature of their work.
There have been jobs such as tool and die makers and certain cutters in the garment industry, and many others as well, whose work is manual but has a strong element of skill and thoughtfulness in it also.

3. The energy crisis will not bring down the system of U.S. capitalism.
It will rebound from any crisis and find a way to profit from the crisis-
caused chaos at the expense of the victims. The only thing which will bring it down will be the movement of citizens who are determined to tolerate no longer the smash-and-grab basic nature of capitalism and, like the song, say, "Basta Ya!", and finally replace it.

4. People will not be 'forced' to do labor which has been outmoded by
technology. If production is for use rather than profit, the drudgery of labor can be extracted, leaving the satisfaction of an interesting job well-done, and output will soar. This was the kernel of the Stakhonovite movement

Anonymous said...

Thanks Doug for the compliment and your comments and anon makes some interesting points, reminiscent to me of Hobson in many ways in terms of contemporary political economy, that is, the rich living in a world of conspicuous consumption, managing their investments while all the goods are produced in the colonies and imported to the metropolitan centers. Hobson also saw the people of the imperialist countries, the great majority, see their societies decline in terms of employment, education, social infrastructure as they become like the East Enders of London a century ago, living geographically close to the fancy districts but socially as if they were on another planet.
I want the CCP to hang in there against the domestic and foreign capitalists but I am not that optimistic about the winning cards being in the hands of the working class from the former colonial regions even if the CCP "hangs in there."
Lenin's view of the major capitalist states forming alliances to control the rest of the world fighting with each other in great wars(that Lenin believed would accelerate revolutions) seems to be more likely, as the Europeans develop their economic union and attempt to separate themselves from the U.S., the Japanese seek to open the door to their militarization and develop an Asia Pacific force, the U.S. seeks to extend its "free trade zone" through Latin America and its power over oil and other natural resources in the Middle East and Africa.
Although both China and India are now major forces in the global economy, their relationship to each other and their own internal development, neither of which can be predicted with any clarity at this time, has to be weighed against the manipulations of the traditional imperialist powers, particularly the U.S., in a post Soviet world in which the only thing that united them under U.S. leadership an anti-Soviet based anti-Communism, no longer functions.
Norman Markowitz