Psychology, poverty and corporate greed

Neia Glynn writes.

I was intrigued by the ending to Charles Mercer’s ‘Politics and psychology’ letter (July 2017). Yes, politics and psychology are different, but so are sport and psychology and it is established that we have a positive impact in sporting arenas.

In a time when organisations such as Economy for the Common Good are providing seminars about root causes of poverty, I believe it is a key moment for psychologists to join radical economists like Christian Felber and Ross Ashcroft to look at the components of wealth accumulation away from the majority.

Personally, I read ‘Psychology is action, not thinking of oneself’ (Presidential Address, June 2017) with a sense of hopefulness – that we could make inroads into the social construction of inequality. This may well involve novelty and bravery in learning and action. According to Michael Hudson of the University of Missouri, the economics often taught does not necessarily go to the heart of debt creation. As Professor Kinderman said, ‘we need a sound economy’, and I would argue that this needs to rest less on the shoulders of an unrestrained financial sector. Our knowledge of how austerity and debt affects mental health should inform policy but, in addition to this, we could look at the structures maintaining the status quo. These might include commissions-based lending and why politicians are not asking banks to have a set amount of capital before lending money that does not exist before asking for it back with interest. Underpinning discussions regarding these concepts could be a psychological look at why it is deemed acceptable to accumulate wealth. Financial speculation was a capital offence in the sixteen-hundreds, and now it is a laudable effort in the city.

I realise I risk looking naive, but, for all our knowledge, we still have multinationals wielding excessive power in terms of political lobbying and making workers redundant while CEOs claim pay increases that take their salaries into the millions. We need to be brave and, through greater dialogue with government, encourage restraint. What a tedious word that is, and yet the debt bubble that grew out of easy credit ended up with bailouts and austerity measures that hit hardest those with the least.

Julia Noakes, a psychologist in the City, talks of many financiers (I realise that there are banking philanthropists) being driven by a need to excel, adopting a warrior-like desire to be above others that stems from perhaps boarding school, colonialism or broken maternal relationships (see tinyurl.com/y858qn8h). She talks of splitting, where the corporate identity adopted is not truly who they feel they are, but the effects, often of institutionalisation, are such that they feel the need to be good employees. Throw the need to maintain shareholder profit into the mix and the courage to dissent is reduced. Some tell themselves that they will swap entrepreneurialism for beneficence when they have made all the money they deem necessary, but, according to Noakes, this is often not the case (see tinyurl.com/y9dankyj).

Neia Glynn
Berrylands, Surrey

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