Finally, a business magazine has asked a question on many folks' minds: "Is Your Boss a Psychopath?"
The magazine is Fast Company and its answer to that question is: Yes, your boss might very well be a psychopath. After all, many of America's legendary titans of industry exhibited symptoms of psychopathy -- folks such as Henry Ford, Armand Hammer, even Walt Disney.
Psychopaths are people who are amoral, ruthless, pathologically selfish and utterly unburdened by qualms of conscience. You find a lot of these folks in prisons. You can also find them in corporate boardrooms, the magazine reports.
"I always said that if I wasn't studying psychopaths in prison, I'd do it at the stock exchange," Canadian psychologist Robert Hare told Fast Company.
Hare, 71, is one of the world's foremost experts on psychopaths. He developed the "Psychopathy Checklist," which has been used to diagnose psychopaths for 25 years, and the "P-Scan," which is widely used by police departments to screen out psychopaths among recruits. Hare sees similarities between the psychopaths he has studied -- Mafia hit men and sex offenders -- and the corporate crooks behind the Enron and WorldCom scandals.
"These are callous, cold-blooded individuals," he says. "They don't care that you have thoughts and feelings. They have no sense of guilt or remorse."
Hare's view is supported by two studies, including the research of British psychologists Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon, who administered personality tests to 39 high-level executives and found them to be egocentric, exploitative and lacking in empathy -- in short, "successful psychopaths."
Whether this boss-as-psychopath theory is sound science is, of course, debatable. But the folks at Fast Company have taken this serious idea and run with it, producing an entertaining eight-page package that also includes a goofy quiz on how to tell whether your boss is psycho -- "Does he have a grandiose sense of self-worth?" -- and a cover portrait of J. Montgomery Burns, the beady-eyed evil capitalist from "The Simpsons" whose credo is "What good is money if it can't inspire terror in your fellow man?"
Best of all are the deliciously nasty mini-portraits of "Bosses From Hell," a category that includes many of America's most famous executives, past and present:
* Ford: "used shadowy henchmen to run 'secret police' who spied on employees . . . cheated on his wife with his teenage personal assistant and then had the younger woman marry his chauffeur as a cover."
* Hammer: "bribed his way through the oil business. Laundered money for Soviet spies. . . . Then promoted himself for the Nobel Peace Prize."
* Disney: "a dictatorial boss who underpaid his workers . . . made anti-Semitic smears . . . cooperated with Senator Joseph McCarthy."
* "Chainsaw" Al Dunlop: "His divorce was granted on grounds of 'extreme cruelty.' That's the characteristic that endeared him to Wall Street, which applauded when he fired 11,000 workers at Scott Paper, then another 6,000 (half the labor force) at Sunbeam."
* Andrew Fastow: "so hot-headed that he once got into a punch-out with a taxi driver over 70 cents. Pocket change indeed compared to the $24 million of illicit gains the Enron CFO agreed to give back when he pleaded guilty to securities fraud."
No wonder Hare has created a test to screen potential CEOs for psychopathic behavior before they're hired. "We screen police officers, teachers," he says. "Why not people who are going to handle billions of dollars?"
Well, Alan Deutschman, who wrote the Fast Company story, suggests one good reason why not: Companies would use the test not to weed out psychopaths but to hire them.
"It's easier for them to act callously and remorselessly," Deutschman writes, "which is exactly what their backers want."
If "Is Your Boss a Psychopath?" doesn't make you cynical enough, then maybe you should read "The Great American Pork Barrel" in the July Harper's.
Deftly written by Los Angeles Times reporter Ken Silverman, it's an intriguing -- and maddening -- expose of how Congress uses "earmarks" to pick the pockets of the American taxpayer.
As careful readers of this newspaper already know, "earmarks" are allocations for specific pork barrel projects that are inserted into appropriations bills, usually anonymously and usually at last-minute closed-door sessions. Earmarks are as old as Congress itself, but the numbers keep getting bigger.
"Last year," Silverstein writes, "15,584 separate earmarks worth a combined $32.7 billion were attached to appropriations bills -- more than twice the dollar amounts in 2001, when 7,803 earmarks accounted for $15 billion."
Earmarks are now so lucrative that they've spawned a Washington industry of lobbyists who make big bucks by steering the folks who want to get earmark money (and who doesn't?) to the appropriate Appropriations Committee member who can give it to them, usually in return for a generous campaign contribution.
Some of these lobbyists just happen to be related to powerful pols -- Sen. Ted Stevens's brother-in-law, Rep. John Murtha's brother, Rep. David Obey's son.
The results would be funny if they weren't so expensive -- a $443,000 grant for the "development of baby food containing salmon" ( yum! yum!) and $2.4 million for Mississippi State University's "Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park," which just happens to be named after the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
On and on the story goes. Along the way, Silverstein reveals a brilliant Catch-22 that enables our pols to insert earmarks without ever being identified:
"When requesting an earmark, lawmakers must make their request in writing to the relevant appropriations committee. But" -- and this has to be one of the great "buts" in American politics -- "all congressional correspondence is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act."