Tom Purcell, 10/6/2008 [Archive]

Taking Stock of Testosterone



Taking Stock of Testosterone

By Tom Purcell

Here's another cause of our financial woes: testosterone.

A new study, detailed online in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, found that higher levels of testosterone correlate with riskier financial behavior. Men with more testosterone make riskier investments than those with lower levels.

To be specific, men with 33 percent more testosterone than average fellows invested 10 percent more of their dough. Men with manly facial features invested 6 percent more than their round-faced peers.

Higher risk can pay off. Another study shows that traders make more dough on days when their testosterone levels are at their highest -- when they take bigger gambles.

And in the old days -- before our government bailed people out -- high risk used to be the only way to attain high gains.

So how has testosterone contributed to our current financial mess? Researchers didn't get into that level of detail, so allow me to take a stab at it.

Was it testosterone that caused our Congress to put trillions of dollars of taxpayer dough at risk? Was it an overabundance of the male sex hormone that caused it to muscle banks into lending money to people who couldn't repay the loans?

We know that testosterone causes irrational thinking and that describes perfectly the actions of many Democrats in Congress, particularly Rep. Barney Frank. In return for favors and campaign dough, he thwarted any attempt by anyone to stop the insanity at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Surely, the insanity at Fannie and Freddie was caused by maddening amounts of testosterone that pumped through the politically connected cronies who ran the quasi-government organizations.

Though woefully undercapitalized, they happily bought up packages of the subprime loans that Barney and his pals made banks originate. They did so to maximize paper profits so they could enjoy millions in bonuses. When their rickety house of cards collapsed, the taxpayer was left holding the bag.

It's obvious the birds on Wall Street were testosterone-crazed. As the government-induced funny money drove housing values to absurd highs, even the oldest, most respected investment houses got caught up in a frenzy.

They bought up packages of risky mortgages, too, and as their profits soared on paper, so did their testosterone, which made them risk even more -- until the housing bubble finally popped.

But, then again, risking OTHER people's money -- the taxpayers' dough -- can't require much testosterone. It requires chutzpah and a lack of conscience. There's no shortage of either in Washington these days.

Look at Barney Frank. There are video clips of him all over YouTube.com telling us, even weeks before the collapse, how fiscally sound Fan and Fred were. Now he's talking out of the other side of the hole in his head assuring us it was all Bush's fault.

It's all for naught, however. Researchers tell us that failure causes testosterone levels to drop. The stress brought on by financial collapse also causes levels of another hormone, cortisol, to surge. Whereas testosterone makes a fellow take risks, cortisol makes him cautious and risk-averse.

Which explains why the Dow has been plunging.

Even more worrisome is this: High cortisol levels can become permanent. If the market is volatile for an extended period, a trader may persistently avoid taking risks. Could that portend a long bear market?

I have no idea. I know only one thing: Despite our powerful computers and data-analysis capabilities -- despite all the allegedly "smart" people in Washington and on Wall Street -- our hormones and biology have as much to do with this mess as anything.

Hormones and biology have inspired the irrational thinking that has resulted in inane government policies and the bad decisions our leaders continue to make.

To wit: The people who risked our future and got us into this mess are a bunch of biological morons.

If only we'd had the foresight to pump them full of cortisol a decade or more ago.

© 2008 Tom Purcell. Tom is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons. For more info contact Sales at (805) 969-2829 or email sales@cagle.com. Visit Tom on the web at www.TomPurcell.com or e-mail him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.

RESTRICTIONS: 'Tom Purcell's column may not be reprinted in general circulation print media in Pennsylvania's Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties. It may appear only in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and its sister publications.



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