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Deep Sociopathy

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To receive a free full-text email of The Zeitgeist whenever we publish to the website, please sign up here. You’ll get two or three of these emails every week, and your email will not be shared with anyone. Ever.“We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.“That’s Leona Helmsley, New York City hotelier and billionaire by marriage, pictured and quoted above. Not a direct quote, mind you, but what one of her housekeepers testified to hearing at Leona’s tax evasion trial.Leona – who, among many other infamous Queen of Mean escapades, sued her son’s estate for the cost of flying his casket back to New York after he died of a heart attack at age 42 (and evicted her daughter-in-law and four grandchildren from their Helmsley-owned home) – may have been the most flamboyantly villainous

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Deep Sociopathy

We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.


That’s Leona Helmsley, New York City hotelier and billionaire by marriage, pictured and quoted above. Not a direct quote, mind you, but what one of her housekeepers testified to hearing at Leona’s tax evasion trial.

Leona – who, among many other infamous Queen of Mean escapades, sued her son’s estate for the cost of flying his casket back to New York after he died of a heart attack at age 42 (and evicted her daughter-in-law and four grandchildren from their Helmsley-owned home) – may have been the most flamboyantly villainous NYC cartoon character of the past 40 years, but scratch any New York real estate development family and you’ll find tales of sociopathy that will make your skin crawl. And no, I’m not just sub-tweeting the Trumps. But yes, definitely them, too.

People get all worked up over the Deep State. Not me.

I get worked up over the Deep Sociopathy, the seemingly universal view among the humans who manage the most powerful corporate and social organizations in the world that both laws and social norms are nothing more than speed limits – arbitrary behavioral constraints that have no intrinsic meaning, but are merely part of an annoying cost-benefit analysis that must be performed as they drive merrily down the road at top speed.

Is murder bad? Hmm, I dunno. What are the chances I will be caught and what price will I pay if that happens? If the odds are high enough and the price steep enough, then yeah, I guess THAT would be bad. But the act of murder itself? I mean, I’m sure whoever I murdered – if I were to murder someone, that is, because I really don’t think you can prove that I did – was getting in the way of something that was very important to me. When you really think about it, they were doing the bad thing! Why do you ask?

I thought about Deep Sociopathy when I read this article about BNP Paribas exiting or at least sharply curtailing their commodity trade finance business, following in the footsteps of SocGen, who did a similar pullback recently in Asia.


The French bank, one of the largest lenders to global commodity traders, has recently told clients that no new deals will be concluded unless there’s a contractual obligation, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. BNP is currently reviewing options for the future of its EMEA commodity trade finance business, the people said.

The move comes after the bank took a hit from commodity trade houses facing financial stress from Dubai to the U.S., the people said. BNP’s commodity trade finance team suffered heavy losses from the bank’s exposure to companies including crop trader Phoenix Group, energy firm GP Global Group as well as coffee dealer Coex Coffee International Inc., the people said.


It’s not BNP getting out of the commodity trade finance business per se that’s revealing of the Deep Sociopathy at work here, but rather this gem of a quote:


“The bank has been shrinking its commodity trade finance business since 2014, when it was fined $8.9 billion for violating U.S. sanctions.”


From 2004 through 2012, BNP Paribas was the go-to money launderer for Cuba and Iran, funneling tens of billions of dollars worth of transactions and assets around the world, as well as the functional central bank of Sudan, all in egregious violation of multiple US laws and sanctions.

Because that’s what commodity trade finance IS … providing loans and processing transactions for the middlemen who run the shell companies who move the oil and other commodities that finance every murderous despot on Earth. Unfortunately for BNP, these particular murderous despots in Cuba, Iran and Sudan – not to be confused with all the murderous despots on friendly terms with the United States – were on the wrong side of US law at this particular time, and BNP got caught. Oops, gotta pay that speeding ticket. An $8.9 billion speeding ticket.

But wait, there’s more.

See, this article isn’t quite right when it describes the $8.9 billion that BNP paid in 2015 as a fine.

No, the fine was only $140 million.

The balance – more than $8.8 billion – was just a forfeiture of the fees and trading profits that BNP made in its decade-long criminal conspiracy with these three regimes and their cut-outs.

And here’s the kicker, from a Reuters article describing the final plea deal and settlement in 2015:

BNP’s sentencing had been delayed for months while it awaited word on whether the U.S. Labor Department would allow it to continue to manage retirement plans despite the plea. The department granted BNP that exemption this month.

I mean, organized crime has got nothing on banks like BNP. Organized crime is a bunch of pikers compared to banks like BNP.

Imagine running this sort of criminal enterprise for years, and then negotiating a deal where you agree to forfeit your profits and pay a wrist-slap fine, BUT ONLY if you’re allowed to keep running your legit businesses with no repercussions.

And as if that weren’t enough to make you sick to your stomach …

Now imagine the criminal enterprise that AGREES to this plea deal.

That’s Deep Sociopathy for you. Deep State ain’t got nothing on that.

Or maybe, come to think of it, it’s all one and the same.

#BITFD


About Ben Hunt
Ben Hunt
He is the chief investment strategist at Salient, a $14 billion asset manager based in Houston and San Francisco, and the author of Epsilon Theory, a newsletter and website that examines markets through the lenses of game theory and history. Over 100,000 professional investors and allocators read Epsilon Theory for its fresh perspective into market dynamics.

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