An Occupational Hazard: How Cocaine embodies what’s wrong with the culture of High Finance

Drunken stupors aside, the notion of dancing tie in with another key component of financial culture, as described by Ho. It’s the obsession with the ideal of “the market”, where near-term thinking and acting in the moment are paraded as the only way to synchronize oneself with the ups and downs of the market.

This concept is easier to understand if you think of investment banks as a rave. A massively profitable deal flow takes on a trance-music like momentum. It becomes harder to stop partly because of the emotional and financial attachment that the top brass of the company has. As the rewards grow and the beat speeds up, it takes an amorphous burst of energy to keep you moving on the dance floor of the stock market. As the pay bonanzas and the competition with other firms intensify, the body naturally shuts itself down. Thus, cocaine, among other drugs, to quote Michel, “is an attempt to feel alive,” yet shutting down the body by doing so.

However anticlimactic it may sound, in a sense what poisoned financial culture – and of the industries imitating this culture – was its success. Competitive success influences a company’s culture by reinforcing the pre-existing perceptions and inferences existing within the psyche of a company’s culture. While success allows  a company to unite and focus in order to survive the stress of the market, in the end, the simplified beliefs it fostered to survive becomes dominated by a narrow focus and accompanying routines and myths. It happened to Enron, it happened with Lehman and it happened with Lance Armstrong. If your workplace is successful enough, it could happen to you too!

A company’s culture is something that is forged by the accumulation of unique beliefs and practices that symbolize the values that it will communicate. Thus, clear-cut mission and a corporate code of ethics becomes the key principle in deciding to emphasize on short-term gain or long-term stability.

As the beliefs and myths of Wall Street trickle down to various industries, having a mission that provides distinct guidance and a clear decision making ethic becomes crucial to fight the rave like influences and the impulse to dance. Once the momentum of shortsighted risk taking builds up, stopping it would be like standing in front of speeding train driven by a coke addict who is in a hurry. Although I am in no position to give any solutions, I will leave you with some words worth remembering. Cocaine is a dangerous drug, so be careful when business is booming.



Ken Cates has double majored in international relations and political science at the University of Toronto, while currently pursuing a certificate in freelance writing at the schools continuing studies program. Inspired by writers such as Christopher Hitchens and Chris Hedges, Ken writes about religion, politics, ethics, society, and on the little bits of irony surrounding our daily lives.

Blog: http://beuncomfortable.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dinowithsaddleK

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