Sep 19, 2019

Jeffrey Epstein demonstrates how capitalism rewards malign actors

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In reporting on Jeffrey Epstein I've been able to speak to a few different people who had firsthand experiences with him. (I also reported this week on how he managed to circumvent Harvard's rule against accepting money from him.) Common threads include his easy charm and the way in which he went out of his way to show concern for others.

Why it matters: Epstein is an extreme case, but charming sociopaths in general tend to do very well in business.

The intrigue: As detailed by investment banker and pseudonymous blogger The Epicurean Dealmaker in the wake of the financial crisis, most if not all senior investment bankers exhibit "a very substantial number of the commonly accepted markers for psychopathy."

These include superficial charm, manipulativeness, lack of empathy, poor judgment and the inability to distinguish right from wrong.

"Sexually deviant lifestyle" and "promiscuous sexual behavior" are also on the list.

A picture tells a thousand words: In one photograph that has been doing the rounds in recent weeks, Epstein smiles genuinely at Larry Summers, who is wearing his trademark rictus. The photo shows how good Epstein was at putting people at ease — very, very few people can appear so loose and relaxed around Summers in particular.

  • "Jeffrey was brilliant in understanding how people felt,” one of his ex-girlfriends told Vanessa Grigoriadis of Vanity Fair. “He could feel energy very clearly. But I think because he’s a sociopath, he would manipulate that for his own needs."
  • Epstein would help people in ways large and small. He would offer them access to top-flight physicians for their medical problems, make valuable introductions, donate money to their favorite charities or find the staff they were looking for. Such actions resulted in those people liking him, trusting him and feeling indebted to him.
  • Epstein's monstrous treatment of the women and girls he sexually assaulted proves that his shows of empathy were deeply fake. But those displays felt real to the targets of his attention.

By the time he was arrested on sex trafficking charges earlier this year, Epstein had amassed a fortune of more than $500 million — even after decades of lavish spending and despite the fact that he never even got a college degree.

  • While the exact source of his wealth remains a mystery, it ultimately must have come from his skill at manipulating individuals.

The bottom line: Capitalism often looks as though it has been designed to reward its most malign actors.

Go deeper

Jeffrey Epstein's richest friend

Bill Gates. Photo: Nicolas Liponne/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jeffrey Epstein was a master of maximizing and leveraging proximity to wealth and power. While some of his associates certainly inherited their social status (like Robert Maxwell's daughter Ghislaine and Queen Elizabeth II's son PrinceAndrew), most of the time he went straight to the top of the family tree.

The big picture: After Epstein was convicted of sex crimes in 2008, his friendships with the rich and powerful continued unabated. In fact, his relationship with Bill Gates started in 2011.

Go deeperArrowOct 17, 2019

Senate confirms Eugene Scalia as labor secretary

Eugene Scalia. Photo: Astrid Riecken/Getty Images

The Senate voted 53-44 on Thursday to confirm Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, as labor secretary.

The big picture: The position was previously filled by acting Secretary Patrick Pizzella after Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigned in July amid renewed pushback over his role in Jeffrey Epstein's 2008 plea deal.

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Trump: Giuliani investigation is a "one sided Witch Hunt"

President Trump. Photo: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

President Trump defended his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Twitter, saying the Ukraine investigation is a "one sided Witch Hunt."

"So now they are after the legendary "crime buster" and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC, Rudy Giuliani. He may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer. Such a one sided Witch Hunt going on in USA. Deep State. Shameful!"
— President Trump on Twitter
Go deeperArrowOct 12, 2019