Are You Addicted to Making Money?
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Now that inequality is finally on the mainstream media's agenda, we're hearing a lot of trash theories about why the top one-tenth of one percent is grabbing the nation's wealth. Conservatives will blame the poor for being poor and claim that the rich are rich because... well, they're just smarter than the rest of us.
TheNew York Times has added yet another dubious dimension this week by featuring a poignant piece by Sam Polk, a former hedge fund trader, who claims that he, and most others on Wall Street, are addicted to money: "I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted."
Polk sure had quite a Jones: "I wanted a billion dollars. It’s staggering to think that in the course of five years, I’d gone from being thrilled at my first bonus — $40,000 — to being disappointed when, my second year at the hedge fund, I was paid 'only' $1.5 million."
Yep, we feel your pain. But after suffering a rebuke from his billionaire boss, Polk saw the light:
"These traders despised anything or anyone that threatened their bonuses. Ever see what a drug addict is like when he’s used up his junk? He’ll do anything — walk 20 miles in the snow, rob a grandma — to get a fix. Wall Street was like that. In the months before bonuses were handed out, the trading floor started to feel like a neighborhood in 'The Wire' when the heroin runs out."
Polk also began to see that he was more than an addict; he was also an economic parasite:
"Not only was I not helping to fix any problems in the world, but I was profiting from them. During the market crash in 2008, I’d made a ton of money by shorting the derivatives of risky companies. As the world crumbled, I profited. I’d seen the crash coming, but instead of trying to help the people it would hurt the most — people who didn’t have a million dollars in the bank — I’d made money off it."
Unlike millions of low-income addicts, Polk had both the means to get counseling and the ability to build up a healthy bank balance that made going cold turkey possible (and perhaps not all that painful). He then embarked on a career path Mother Teresa would be proud of:
"In the three years since I left, I’ve married, spoken in jails and juvenile detention centers about getting sober, taught a writing class to girls in the foster system, and started a nonprofit called Groceryships to help poor families struggling with obesity and food addiction. I am much happier. I feel as if I’m making a real contribution."
Unfortunately, Pope —and the editors of the NYT— see much more in this story than a rich guy finally doing something worthwhile with his life. No, the real moral of the story is this:
"Wealth addicts are, more than anybody, specifically responsible for the ever widening rift that is tearing apart our once great country. Wealth addicts are responsible for the vast and toxic disparity between the rich and the poor and the annihilation of the middle class."
So if only these greedy SOBs became less greedy, rampant inequality would go away. What's the solution? Wealth Addicts Anonymous. I kid you not:
"Dozens of different types of 12-step support groups — including Clutterers Anonymous and Online Gamers Anonymous — exist to help addicts of various types, yet there is no Wealth Addicts Anonymous. Why not?"