Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Risky Testosterone

In my last blog, Hapless Hobnobbing, I looked at social climbers. Now I want to look at the role of testosterone in the banking debacle. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a layer of our society that believe they are better, smarter, and therefore entitled, to the senior positions in our government, corporations, and banking industry by virtue of their birth and education. These people usually come into the world with certain advantages that put them in positions of power. It is the people they know, the schools they attend, the money they are born with. Of course, not all privileged people believe they are better than everyone else, nor are all the people in power born with a silver spoon. But we are talking about a layer that has an advantage by birth, and inherently believe they are more shrewd and better qualified to make decisions for the rest of us. The specific departments in the investment banks that made such a debacle of our economy maintain only a small part of the overall banking system. But we now know, that part had the capacity to end our world as we know it. The gambling that went on with other people's money is unbelievable, except if you really look at the people who did it.

In his book Liars Poker, Michael Lewis discusses the twenty-six year old traders that lied, cajoled, begged and basically did whatever it took to make a sale. The fact that someone might loose their life savings was of no consequence. It was all about competition. And who better to compete than twenty-something males? The movie Boiler Room gave us a fictionalized view of what Lewis describes as being very close to reality. He paints a picture, of largely young men, playing hard and fast with the rules.

Vanity Fair's Wall Street on the Tundra by Michael Lewis is an important look at that country's bizarre descent into greedy madness. Fueled by, guess what?  Men - and a society that is so polarized, men and women actually have different political parties. Lewis describes a small country of 300,000 where it is customary for men to push and shove, literally, on the streets and everywhere else. It is a country that had very few women, if any, involved in their descent into investment-banking hell. Many of the players were fisherman, as that was their chief economy before "banking." Lewis describes a people who believe they are special - highly educated, and unique.

My point?

I recently read where some banks are actually discussing the need for more women, often felt to be more risk-averse, to lead in this country. They are obviously entertaining the idea that our investment banks may have an over abundance of highly educated males. Of course not all the bankers responsible were male nor were they young. However, we know that many of our brightest young people have headed to investment banks, at the exclusion of other careers, for the money. Stories abound of bankers making millions before turning thirty. It's obvious that vetting someone for their ability to see the difference between risk that is dangerous, and risk that is detrimental to a company that needs to grow, would need to be evaluated. But having young men, often privileged and entitled, not old enough, or wise enough, given the kind of power that they have been given, is clearly not the direction we need to be going. The frontal lobe, the source of our higher reasoning, is thought not to be even fully developed until the mid twenties. Until then, hormones like testosterone play a far bigger role in decision making than we would like to imagine. And far beyond, it would seem.

6 comments:

Natalie said...

Absolutely staggering.Very interesting post.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

Deep thoughts. I tend to agree with you. The younger you are the more risks you take. How many times have we all lamented that we wish we had known then what we know now. I think you are onto something.

TheChicGeek said...

Interesting. I don't know that an estrogen-driven banking system would be much better. We need balance to have a happy medium :)
I believe our country is going through a much needed attitude adjustment and we will be the better for it in the end.

Star said...

and I have noticed that women are a lot more like men these days! Many women like to behave like men and be treated equally e.g. not wanting a man to open the door for them etc. etc. Instead of utilising the natural power that women have over men, they fight it and drive the men away...Likewise men are becoming like women in a lot of cases, losing their confidence and retreating. Doesn't seem right to me.
Blessings, Star

Lover of Life said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I know this blog is controversial. I think we currently have an imbalance in business (and in many other components in our culture), between men and women - each bringing something different to the table. Balance is the key, I think, and lots of oversight. But the young men of Wall Street had to be comfortable with risk - something that people who are older or in the case of women, often have a lower risk-threshold. My husband and I have often talked about the competitive nature, and how it affects business decisions. Certainly women can be just as competitive, and men can be risk-averse, but men still dominate the board rooms and top corporate offices.

Another factor, my husband likes to remind me, is the investor - they want a return on investment that often pushes companies to take risk that they wouldn't ordinarily take. It's the investors that see one company making a return that is larger than theirs, so they push for a bigger return. So we all need to share in the blame game, I guess. Anyway, food for thought...

Dixxe's Doodles said...

I do think women take less risk, but it seems as soon as a women are put into an office of power or decision making, she begins to behave as a man! I want to see women take leadership roles and retain their best qualities, keeping the feminie point of view.