Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Socio-Analytic Reflections on Capitalist Greed

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Socio-Analytic Reflections on Capitalist Greed

Article excerpt


'Do we not see economists leaving out of account unconscious greed?' It seems that this question, which Donald W. Winnicott and his colleagues asked some twenty-five years ago, is still relevant today. While economists still broadly emphasise self-interest as a driving force and rarely discuss the impact of greed, socio-analysts are increasingly interested in it. Taking Melanie Klein's earlier work on greed as a starting-point, I offer the notion of 'capitalist greed' and attempt to elaborate some of the unconscious dynamics in the realm of economy and finance. I see greed as a psychotic dynamic that inhibits thinking and limits reality to what is bearable and desired. Greed is neither a phenomenon that began with the onset of capitalism nor the decisive cause of the current crisis; it is inherent in the former and became most apparent in the latter. Subsequently, I will elaborate how competition is often fuelled by excessive greed that seeks to damage or even annihilate competitors and is the source of corruption and fraud. The mere pursuit of maximising profit, fostered and legitimised by economics for almost half a century, has had a major impact on the prevalence of greed in our contemporary economy and the financial service industry in particular. In concluding, I will offer some reflections on how thinking may be maintained in a world gone mad with greed.

Key words: capitalist greed, competition, corruption, Daimler Chrysler, greed, merger, psychotic organisation.

Do we not see economists leaving out of account unconscious greed?

(Winnicott, Winnicott, Shepherd, and Davis, 1984, p. 113)

The literature of economics does not hesitate to laud self-interest, yet it rarely discusses greed.

(Wang and Murnighan, 2009, p. 5)

Behind the virtual reality of the hedge funds and investment banks lay an actual reality of hubris, parasitism, corruption and greed.

(Hoggett, 2010, p. 6)


In this paper, I will attempt to elaborate a so ciò- analytic perspective on capitalist greed and its impact on competition and corruption. My thoughts will be led by the working hypothesis that the predominant understanding of greed as an individual (character) trait of (top) managers and other actors in the world of finance is insufficient and misleading. Greed, in the context of economics, the business world, and the financial crisis, in particular, has to be conceptualised from a systemic perspective, which takes into account the irrational, social, and unconscious undercurrents. In concluding, I will offer some thoughts on how the psychotic dynamic inherent in capitalist greed and the psychotic thinking concomitant with it could be more balanced with non-psychotic thinking.


Socio-analysis is a social science discipline in the making. The notion of applied psychoanalysis seems to suggest the application of insights gained in clinical research. Socio-analysis, however, emphasises the study of the social, that is, of social, cultural, and political phenomena and dynamics. Using clinical concepts and theories from psychoanalysis, it aims to develop concepts and theories, specific means of observation, research, and hypothesising that contribute to a deeper understanding of the 'social fabric' of organisations and society.

Compared to the perspective of organisational psycho dynamics, that views social systems as organisations and / or groups, socio-analysis perceives these entities as embedded in a social, cultural, and global environment. Socio-analysis looks at issues such as the economy, the financial industry, 'the market', politics, and society at large.

Socio-analysis is at the confluence of certain disciplines, theories, and approaches to experiential learning: psychoanalysis, group relations, social systems thinking, social dreaming, and organisational behaviour (Bain, 1999). While rooted in psychoanalysis, socio-analysis aims to go beyond its traditional focus on the individual and its narrower frame of object relations. …

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