Jay B. Rohrlich

Wall Street on the Couch

VTR Date: June 14, 1987

Guest: Rohrlich, Jay B.


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Dr. Jay Rohrlich
Title: “Wall Street On The Couch”
VTR: 6/14/87

Heffner: I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. It isn’t money that’s the root of all evil, as we were taught in my day. What is, for too many of us these days, is the addictive quality of our search for more and more of it.

Because the Wall Street people involved recently in insider trading and other unethical and illegal schemes to make bigger and bigger bucks, were themselves such heavy, heavy hitters, making so much money anyway, the real question before American society now seems to be: for crying out loud, how much money is enough: at what point can the rich, the richer, even the richest, draw the line and say, “We’ve got enough, we’re not going further – certainly not beyond morality and the law – to get more and then most? And the answer seems to be that for too many people there is no such point, because, as a recent New York Times Op Ed piece noted: “What most of us overlook is that fact that some people actually get high and hooked on money in the same way that others become addicted to alcohol and cocaine and other drugs. And ‘injection’ of money can make people feel instantly secure, victorious, strong, loved, proud and sexually attractive. Money becomes the antidote to a perceived sense of insufficiency.”

Well, of course, that such an insight into Wall Street’s occasional money junkies should be offered by my guest today is quite appropriate. Dr. Jay Rohrlich, who is Adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College, actually practices psychiatry in the Wall Street area itself. And when he first joined me here on THE OPEN MIND a half dozen years ago, he had just published his intriguing Summit book, Work and Love: The Crucial Balance, elaborating upon what seems to be a natural, necessary, opposition or dichotomy between work and love.

Well, now, given the recent scandals on Wall Street among those who make so incredibly much money anyway, perhaps it’s time to examine Dr. Rohrlich’s notion that these are money junkies…addicts, if you will…though first I want to ask him if this use of the medical model is going to become still another modern day example of getting wrong-doers off the hook: arguing that they’re sick, not evil, to be treated, or medicated, not punished. How about it, Dr. Rohrlich?

Rohrlich: I think the medical model is very useful, Dick, and punishment is part of the medical model, at least insofar as some of these people are concerned. Because I do believe that to help people who break laws and don’t set limits for themselves, limits have to be imposed on them. And punishment is very much of the therapeutic process.

Heffner: Is this a new illness? A new addiction?

Rohrlich: I guess if I were a journalist I would probably say “yes” and it would make interesting copy. I think that it’s a new name for something that I think gives us an angle into certain behavior that I think is helpful to look at from this angle.

Heffner: I remember nearly seven years ago when you first came on the program, you answered one of my questions in the same way, if you were a journalist you might say “Ah, yes” or “Ah, no”. But quite seriously, and I know you’re being serious, to what extent do we have to assume that something in American life has propelled, has provoked and stimulated and made more important this addiction?

Rohrlich: I think there’s no question that it is a symptom of the times. Not being an economist, simply being a citizen who is subject to the same kinds of economic pressures that everybody else is subject to, I think there is something in our society…in our economy that is forcing a lot of people…particularly young people, into an obsession with money for the sake of apparent survival. And in a way that we’ve never had to experience before.

Heffner: But I believe, as I understand what you have written, that survival is not a financial matter, rather money is a substitute for many other things.

Rohrlich: Well, I think one of the things that’s interesting in the history of psychiatry is that there are certain social factors that become woven into symptoms. There was a paper written a hundred years ago or so about a person who had a delusion about an influencing machine that was affecting him. And fifty years later it might have been or seventy-five years later…The Central Intelligence Agency or laser beams. So I think something that’s current in the society becomes woven into a lot of symptomatic behavior. And I think that’s certainly the preoccupation with money. The Yuppie phenomenon has made money the external focus for internal problems, more so than it has been in the past.

Heffner: Which leads me to ask you, well, first how many years have you been practicing on Wall Street?

Rohrlich: I have been practicing there about ten year, ten or eleven years now.

Heffner: Right. Now, important question, to the degree that there are no names to that degree, to what extent do you feel your practice has, not uncovered, but revealed a greater propensity for going beyond traditional ethical, moral and even legal grounds in following the almighty buck?

Rohrlich: To be absolutely candid with you, Dick, most of the problems that I see in my practice don’t focus primarily on the problems related to the almighty buck, the people who get into trouble. The rest of the people whom I see are people whose problems derive more from being successful. They don’t come to see me when they’ve lost their shirts, for the most part. They go to lawyers or, you know, they go to the bank or they go out looking for a new job. So I have not seen, directly, a trend in terms of my own experience, a trend that has to do with direct money kinds of experiences, or problems…occasionally I’ve run into this where there is a couple of people who have had problems with their firms where they’ve gone overboard, in terms of breaking rules. But most of those people don’t go to see a psychiatrist. In fact when these few people have come to see me, they’ve left quickly because I was not going to be the answer for them.

Heffner: Of course you say they don’t go to psychiatrists generally. You do make the point, of course, if they did, they would reveal something much more fundamental than a quest for dollars.

Rohrlich: Yes.

Heffner: But they do go to their friends, their colleagues, the other people on the street and many of them are people you see, and I’m really asking you for a trendline, if there is one, whether you’ve identified that. You say in Yuppiedom there is an increased involvement with dollars. In this post-Yuppie period, are we finding a greater and greater willingness to cut legal, moral, ethical corners, as reported to you perhaps by the patients you see who are not involved in such activities themselves?

Rohrlich: I’ll tell you what I’ve seen. I’ve seen a definite trend in spending money and in needing to have the things that money can buy, needing the big cars, needing the vacation homes, the second and third homes, needing the trips, needing the custom-made suits, needing to entertain in ways that are splashy and extremely competitive. In the ten years that I’ve been working on Wall Street…I’ve been in practice for seventeen years…just happened to be in a different place…but I’ve seen these same folks for all of those years. I didn’t see the kind of intense competitiveness and rivalry and preoccupation with a sort of designer life from what you wear on your back to what you drive to where you live, that I see now.

Heffner: Perhaps we ought to start reading Veblen again, ‘cause you’re talking about conspicuous consumption. There was a line that you used at the beginning of the comments you made at your Cornell Medical College two years ago, (Where is that quote from a friend of yours who said that money doesn’t…you can’t buy…money doesn’t…oh here it is) prompted a friend of mine to suggest your title Is Money Really Magic?, prompted a friend of mine to suggest that the sub-title should be, “If you think money can’t buy happiness, then you don’t know where to shop” and I gather that’s presumably what it’s buying these days.

Rohrlich: A lot of the people who got into trouble were people who were basically broke, who had spent so much that this question, “How much is enough?”, we can always spend, you can always find things to spend even enormous amounts of money on. And a lot of these people may be earning one or two million dollars a year found ways to spend it. And particularly younger people don’t have the kind of wisdom and experience to be perhaps more patient with holding onto some of their money and investing it properly. They have it, they make it dramatically quickly and they want to purchase and obtain the things that the money can buy.

Heffner: Psychiatrically speaking, what’s the opposite of anal retentive? Seriously, because that’s what you seem to be talking about.

Rorhlich: Well, there’s a kind of anal explosive quality with a lot of these folks. And need to exhibit themselves.

Heffner: How would you carry that further, psychoanalytically?

Rorhlich: A lot of the people whom I’ve seen and this is why I think the medical model is a useful way of looking at it, by medical let me say perhaps a more sympathetic or human or understanding model of looking at these people rather than simply seeing them as scoundrels who should be punished. I don’t think those two things need to be mutually exclusive, but scoundrels perhaps can be understood and perhaps sympathized with. Certainly worked with an effort made to try to help them. A lot of these are very troubled people who are either…who are feeling inadequate for a variety of reasons. It may have to do with manliness, it may have to do with being socially outcast as children, it may have to do with shame that they’re experiencing as a result of their parents. One of the men in the scandal I read in the newspaper, evidentally was haunted by a bankruptcy that his father had gone through, so there was a lot of social shame. People who are physically unattractive believe that through money they will be able to enhance their attractiveness to the opposite sex. So I think there is a tremendous amount of magic that they believe money can bring to transforming themselves from all of these limitations.

Heffner: Does it work? Not forever, but do you get a good night’s sleep from that injection of money?

Rohrlich: If it didn’t work, it wouldn’t be a problem. It absolutely works. You look at the people who, and the title of the paper that I wrote was “Is Money Really Magic?” and, of course it is. You have to understand what magic is. Magic is an illusion but it’s a very effective illusion and there are lots of short people who feel tall and ugly people who feel gorgeous and weak people who feel powerful with the acquisition of money.

Heffner: Then the problem seems to come in, socially speaking, when in order to have more and more for increasing fixes that are more costly, obviously, is when they pass a moral or legal line.

Rohrlich: Or personal. Because they’re certainly…and this was the subject of my first book, family conflicts may arise to blow the whistle on this kind of compulsive behavior. Because the more money you need to make, presumably the harder you have to work. Or even if you’re not working that hard, you’re flying to off-shore banks, making deposits and doing all kinds of scheming to be able to either make more or hold on to what you have. And the strain on the family and the effect on children is…can be devastating.

Heffner: You’re an observer. You watch this happen, you read about it in the press. As you point out, your patients don’t generally fit into this pattern, although they must talk about it. What do you think’s going to happen A) to the financial institutions that attract these people and B) to us, generally?

Rohrlich: Well, the financial institutions, I think, are…I hope will take a long range perspective on this and try to institute different attitudes that can identify problems that can enable them to be a little bit more reflective and have some more perspective on what they’re doing. One thing’s for sure, I think they will have to probably be more management-oriented than entrepreneurial.

Heffner: What do you mean?

Rohrlich: the firms…Wall Street tradition has been to train somebody and then set him loose and allow him to make as much money as he possibly can. A lot of these people were and traditionally have been unsupervised, and I think that’s been part of the culture of the Wall Street firms, as opposed to banking institutions where everything is quite rigidly controlled and managed. So people have been operating in their sphere, absolutely independent of organizational control and a lot of these things have gotten out of hand as a result. So I think there will be an imposition of greater management structure on the activities of the people who are working there.

Heffner: Do you have any sense of what that will do? That kind of restraint will contribute to restraining these financial institutions themselves?

Rohrlich: I think so and it might change the personality of the people who are going to be going into the field. It’s an interesting kind of time in the history of financial institutions. The banks are becoming much more entrepreneurial and much more like the brokerage houses and I think a lot of young, aggressive financial type people are going into the banks now where they’re getting paid a tremendous amount of money which they never were able to do.

Heffner: You mean I’d better take the money out…my money out of the bank now?

Rohrlich: I don’t know. (Laughter) I think that they are going to become more risk-oriented as opposed to…don’t worry so much, it will take plenty of time before they start. (Laughter)

Heffner: As long as you tell me, Jay, not to worry, I won’t worry. Why…if my observation is correct, and it may not be, but there seems to be very few women, if any, involved in these scandals. Now is this a function of how few women there are in Wall Street? Or is it a function of some sexual differentiation in your estimation?

Rohrlich: I’m sure both apply. I think that the women whom I have seen, traditionally are far more balanced in terms of the kinds of obsessions with money that characterize the men. They can put it into much more perspective than the men can. But I think that, without question, there just aren’t enough women around to, and in powerful places, to break the…to break as many laws as the men are breaking.

Heffner: You mean even among the young entrepreneurs?

Rohrlich: Yeah. I mean…I think they are there, but I don’t think they’re in the positions of power or influence or danger that the men are.

Heffner: Alright, that’s a matter of fact which we can support or refute. I’m interested…intrigued by your statement that women are not as likely to fall into this situation. Why not?

Rohrlich: Well, women’s reaction to money or experience with money, I think…money can do many things…money can make you feel secure, it can make you feel powerful, it can give you competitive…a competitive edge in terms of a scorecard, if that’s the way you keep score and traditionally, I think women have derived much more of a sense of security through money. And you don’t need as much money to feel secure as you need to feel powerful. Because there’s always somebody else who might have a little bit more and there’s that competitive issue that applies to men much more frequently than it does to women.

Heffner: You mean their needs then, the primal needs are more easily, more readily satisfied?

Rohrlich: I think so, yes. And satisfied at a lower level, in terms of quantity.

Heffner: what does that tell us, if anything, about the status of women? Now status is a poor…about the value of women in high position, in responsible positions, if they don’t have quite the same needs…makes them more trustworthy?

Rohrlich: Not necessarily to their colleagues. I think to their colleagues they may be much more of a danger because they may not have the same killer instinct that they want to see in the office of power.

Heffner: You mean they may blow the whistle?

Rohrlich: Blow the whistle or may be more balanced in terms of what their goals are for themselves and for the firms that they’re working for.

Heffner: but aren’t they, perforce then, more reliable, more trustworthy managers…use the differentiation managerial, entrepreneurial. Would you find in your experience that they are, by and large, better, more trustworthy managers?

Rohrlich: I have not had sufficient experience form the inside of firms to be able to make that judgment. And I don’t think that in the brokerage houses, in the large financial institutions, that you have women, that you have enough women in positions of…powerful management positions to be able to make generalizations about how they have been functioning there. In theory, I think that they would make the better managers because of a more balanced and more kind of global perspective on what the nature of work is all about. I think men’s perspective would probably tend to be somewhat more narrow, just in terms of making the buck or making more than the next guy. And women might, in my experience, have a more…

Heffner: I must admit I always thought it was the other way around, that men had a more global and women had a more personal view. I mean to the degree that one could generalize.

Rohrlich: When I say “global”, I mean a perspective that takes in personal and human…

Heffner: I see.

Rohrlich: …aspects, as opposed to simply the bottom line.

Heffner: It’s been seven, eight years since you wrote your book on Work and Love. Has anything happened that you’ve observed in American…in the American work ethic that has changed your view on this? Have we changed?

Rohrlich: You always love to ask me questions about the American perspective and…

Heffner: Tell us Rohrlich’s perspective.

Rohrlich: (Laughter) Okay. One of the very interesting things that I experienced as a result of the book was that more and more people became sensitive to and more and more men, became sensitive to the issue of compulsive work behavior. And they came to see me. And got a lot of help and changed and became much more balanced in terms of their priorities in their lives and spent more time with the family, more time with their kids, wanted to come home in the afternoon to be with their wives and go on vacations which they’d never taken before. And I found that the strain on the marriage which was expected to be…expected to disappear as a result of their coming back into the family became aggravated and exaggerated. And there were a lot of marriages that were presumably in danger because of workaholism of one of the partners, when in fact were sort of operating in a kind of precarious balance, but nevertheless balance, that way and when the men ceased to be workaholics, the marriages either fell apart or became very problematic and needed to be dealt with. That people really couldn’t get any closer together than they were when they were functioning with the man at the office eighteen hours a day. It was a very interesting phenomenon and gave me another insight into work-addiction that I hadn’t been sensitive to when I wrote the book, which was that another cause of work addiction is that it may help certain marriages stay together.

Heffner: You know that’s such an interesting point and it leads to the questions…we just have two minutes left…of what has happened in terms of workaholism among women now, the other side of the family. If in, you know, we can ask why can’t a woman be more like a man, seemingly women have become more like men. What’s been the impact in terms of this work/love dichotomy?

Rohrlich: The women who choose to be workaholics, in my experience, by and large choose also to be single. Or choose to be childless. Whereas the men have the luxury of being able to be workaholics and be married and have any number of children as long as they have wives who are willing to shoulder the family burden. And I think that’s a sad choice that the women have to make or a difficult position to be in.

Heffner: That’s such an interesting point. That men don’t have the, what, moral gumption to make such a choice, or they just don’t feel the need to? Women do.

Rohrlich: And I think there are social constraints on women that men simply don’t have. I mean there are traditional roles that men have been fulfilling and women have been fulfilling and they’ve each been able to get away with certain things in the traditional roles that have been defined for them. But I think men have traditionally had more leeway in terms of what they could pack into their lives than women have had.

Heffner: Another subject for us to pursue and not just in six years from now. Thank you so much for joining me today, Dr. Jay Rohrlich.

Rohrlich: Thank you.

Heffner: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again next time. And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, please write to THE OPEN MIND, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150. For transcripts send $2.00 in check or money order. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.

Continuing production of this series has generously been made possible by grants from: The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation; The M. Weiner Foundation of New Jersey; The Mediators and Richard and Gloria Manney; The Richard Lounsbery Foundation; Mr. Lawrence A. Wien; and The New York Times Company Foundation.