Commenter chartreuse writes:

great wealth was never a virtue in itself nor a sign of virtuein christendom and only since 1980 in the US.

most people were very suspicious of the super rich in the early 20th c.

chomsky has noted this.

sociopathy the way i use the word is a necessary accompaniment of elite status, unless you’ve inheritied it.

it is the inability to distinguish between what is “appropriate” and what is right and the inability to distinguish social status from virtue.

in this sense almost every one is a sociopath. and this explains why things like nazi germany and the stalinist soviet union can happen.

two fundamental truths:

1. the norms, conventions, mores, and institutions of a society stand or fall not by the opinions of its members in general but by the opinions of its power elite, which is always a tiny minority.

2. every human society’s power elite is “selected” such that the elite is composed of exactly those people who either:

a. most agree with the status quo, have internalized the ruling ideology….socipaths in my sense of the word.

OR

b. are sociopaths…in the psychiatric sense…who believe nothing and are always faking for their own benefit, that is, those for whom dissembling is as natural as telling the truth.

if you listened to the chomsky vid i posted last, he says…

whatever your native ability, if you think the system you live in is shit you’ll wind up “driving a cab”…and no conspiracy is required…it’s simply the nature of human societies.

chomsky admits that he faked it until he got tenure, but that most people simply can’t endure the bullshit…that he is a rare exception.

The problem with arguing that people at the top are sociopaths is it comes across as sour grapes:  They’re not richer and more powerful than me because they’re better than I am, they got there by being monsters.

But the problem with arguing that people at the top are better than we are, is you come across as a pathetic sycophantic doormat, who worships the very elites who exploit you.

So as a wannabe scientist, I decided to look at the data.  I found research showing that while 1% of the general population is sociopathic enough to be considered a psychopath (an arbitrary cutoff point), 4% of top executives are. This implies that with reference to the general U.S. population,  top executives have a normalized Z score of +0.6 in psychopathy.

I estimate that only about one in 600 American middle aged adults become as rich or powerful as the top executives in this study.  In other words, people with a normalized Z of +2.93 in money/power, have a normalized Z of +0.6 in psychopathy.  Assuming a bivariate normal distribution which is roughly linear to the extremes (the default assumption in my view) this implies the correlation between money/power and psychopathy is 0.20 (0.6/2.93).  But since the measure of psychopathy in the study was quite crude (a check list not a brain scan), which probably only correlates 0.7 with true psychopathy, the true correlation is probably something like 0.2/0.7 = 0.29.

So your average self-made billionaire (an astonishing +4.87 normalized Z in income) might be +4.87(0.29) = +1.41 in psychopathy.  The average self-made U.S. president (a stratospheric +5.4 in self-made power) might be +5.4(0.29) = +1.57 in psychopathy.

In other words, the average self-made U.S. president would be more psychopathic than 95% of Americans, but there would likely be a bell curve, with some self-made presidents being absolute monsters, and a small minority being less psychopathic than the average American.  Historians have ranked Jimmy Carter as perhaps the least psychopathic president and found that even among presidents, certain psychopathic traits positively correlate with job performance.  Of the first 43 U.S. presidents, the following were ranked highest on certain psychopathic traits according to a study by Lilienfeld et al. (2012):

  1. Theodore Roosevelt
  2. John F. Kennedy
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  4. Ronald Reagan
  5. Rutherford B. Hayes
  6. Zachary Taylor
  7. Bill Clinton
  8. Martin Van Buren
  9. Andrew Jackson
  10. George W. Bush

Leading psychopathy expert James Fallon (you got to love this guy because not only does he study psychopath, but he actually admits to being one, at least biologically, yet continues to be a respected academic) explains which historical leaders were and were not psychopaths.

 

[Update Jan 29, 2016: an earlier version of this article included scores beside each president, but these were removed because they were being misinterpreted.]

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