With Britain losing its AAA credit rating and the eccentric murmurs of another massive financial collapse ready to hit anytime soon, the financial world seems always to be one step away from falling back into the abyss. Banks have shook their heads at the thought of negative interest rates, independent economists see little sign of the so-called “recovery” and big banks are still getting away with money laundering on an incredible scale.
One man who watches on calmly as the banks hoard their money and prepare for the worst though, is New York based psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert.
Before the 2008 economic collapse, a handful of people saw the destructive financial crisis closing in on us all. On the stock market trading floor, in the analyst’s office, from inside the White House—some saw that the economy was about to free fall, but no one quite had the unique insight into the minds of the Wall Street bankers responsible for it that Alpert did.
Jonathan Alpert treated some of the most well paid Wall Street bankers before the collapse hit. Due to his unconventional “no bullshit” treatment methods, other professionals in Alpert’s field consider him a radical. Radical is a trait that attracted the traders, Libor fixers and stock market managers of Wall Street though, many of whom employed the help of Alpert when battling their demons.
“Psychopath is a term that is misused and misunderstood by most,” he tells me, speaking from New York. “A psychopath, or sociopath, is characterised by a disregard for and the violation of the rights of others, failure to conform to social norms or to respect lawful behaviour.”
So far Alpert’s definition of psychopathic behaviour sounds strangely familiar to that of the “banking elite”.
“Psychopaths are often deceitful. They lie, use aliases and con others. They are impulsive. Their mood can be irritable and aggressive and they can get into frequent physical fights. They can have a reckless disregard for the safety of life or others. They’re irresponsible and lack remorse.”
“One ‘Wall Streeter’ who easily comes to mind when speaking of psychopathic behaviour, is Bernie Madoff.”
Bernie Madoff, characterised as a “former stockbroker, investment advisor, financier and white collar criminal” was responsible for arguably the largest financial fraud in US history. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme swindled billions of dollars out of thousands of investors who were effectively paying themselves back on their own “investments”. When the pyramid collapsed, Madoff was arrested and sentenced to 150 years in prison, where he claims that he’s treated with respect. Boasting in a letter to his daughter in 2011, Madoff said that he was treated “like a Mafia Don” by other inmates and prison guards.
Madoff’s lack of remorse and the elaborate scam he orchestrated to con people out of their hard earned cash, is exactly the sort of reckless behaviour Alpert was consistently privy to when treating his Wall Street banker clients. Many of them contributed heavily to the collapse in 2008.
The stereotypes of these suited stock brokers finishing their 12 hour shifts and heading out for a night of cocaine, heavy drinking and prostitutes, Alpert says, is very much a reality.
“Cocaine use in my view runs rampant in New York City and certainly within the financial service industry. Partaking in drugs, wasting thousands of dollars at strip bars and utilising prostitutes are all commonplace on Wall Street."
He tells me how bankers will regularly “put a spouse at risk of disease” by constantly having sex with hookers at one of the many “massage parlours” situated on Wall Street. The fact there are so many in close proximity to the financial district Alpert tells me is “no coincidence”.
From what we now know about the Wall Street rat pack, this behaviour, all whilst “making bank” off of other people’s misfortune, is hardly news, but then Alpert throws me a curveball.
“Some [Wall Street bankers] dress up in women’s clothing,” he says. “Some of the guys have affairs with other guys even though they are married to women.”
Suited high-rolling cavemen by day, cross-dressing gay fantasists by night. I wonder if the world of Wall Street doesn’t literally propel the sociopaths it attracts just further into insanity.
Alpert insists though that many young Wall Street hopefuls of course aren’t born with a predisposition for carnage, iniquity and fraud as pop culture may have us believe. He says they’re corrupted at an early stage in their career due to the need to fit in.
“Many young people on Wall Street cave to social pressure and often don’t know how to say no. They fear being seen as ‘not one of the guys’. In their mind this equates to not getting a promotion.”
The problem is if bedding prostitutes, taking out big bets with other people's money and burying your face in an 8-ball of cocaine on any given week night constitutes “fitting in with the guys” and gaining a step up on the career ladder, it's no wonder that once these bankers make it to the levels of power that they continue this crazed behaviour. If you're prepared to act like a total psychopath to get ahead, I guess the reasoning for such a likeminded individual would be “why stop now?” The odds in favour of fucking over poor people improve tenfold when you pretty much know you’re guaranteed to get away with it too.
The Obama administration has fuelled these feelings of injustice following the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. To date, not one prosecution of a single senior Wall Street banker for the large scale fraud that caused the 2008 financial collapse has been brought before a court. Compare this to over 2000 Occupy Wall Street protesters who have been thrown into a cell.
Jonathan Alpert assures me however, that despite the antics of the Wall Street elite and the seemingly free reign for them to carry on committing crimes, not all bankers share the same taste for mass fraud, corruption and cocaine.
“Seriously though, many are very good people and give their time to the community through volunteerism, Big Brother programs, and the like. Not all bankers are evil, just some are.”
I couldn't find any examples of Wall Street bankers who had officially contributed to “Big Brother” schemes though, only those who contribute to a culture of “big swinging dicks” as the Salomon Brothers top traders liked to call themselves.
Much like his Wall Street clientele, Jonathan Alpert has courted his own share of controversy himself, caused by an article he wrote in the New York Times last year. The op-ed piece “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already” had fellow psychotherapists frothing at the mouth and celebrating his outspokenness in equal measure.
In the piece, Alpert criticises the use of conventional long-term therapy techniques, effectively calling out many mainstream shrinks who tend to make a lot of money off of their clients ongoing treatment.
“I had therapists write me and tell me to go to hell,” he says. “Some told me how they lost business because of me. People would go to their therapist with my article in hand and question why they weren’t getting better.”
Despite Alpert’s treatment, the Wall Street bankers don’t seem to get much better, as this year alone they’ve already awarded each other nearly 10% increases on their bonus’, despite the companies they work for having a rough time of it.
Like Alpert tells me repeatedly though, there are definitely senior bankers out there with a heart—I’ve spoken to one myself—but the fact they tend to turn their back on the “Wall Street culture” can mean they’re not recognised as a game player. Therefore they might not reach the levels of their coke loving associates and won’t get a strong enough foothold in the game to make a difference.
With the threat of financial crisis always looming and a departing comment from Alpert that the remorse shown by his Wall Street clients was only in “vague terms” and that the blame was always shifted to “the person at the top”, it might well be time we all threw our bank cards out and learnt how to hunt game.