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Why financiers commit suicide
Some theories on why losing a few million can prompt taking your life
 

These tough economic times “appear to be leading to more suicides by rich people,” said Yael Abouhalkah in the Kansas City Star online. Recent cases include German billionaire Adolf Merckle, Chicago real estate executive Steven Good, and fund manager Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet. “It’s not an upbeat topic," but we should try to understand what losing everything does to someone with "massive wealth and prestige," because there are more losses to come.

Suicide can be seen many ways—“as honorable, cowardly, sad, tragic,” said Michael Lewis in Bloomberg. But some financial types seem to be under the “strange assumption” that it’s “a form of ‘taking responsibility.’” Well, “there’s no noticeable decline in the sum total of responsibility in need of taking” when a financier kills himself, and his clients and creditors are no better off.

I’d blame cowardice and a skewed idea of what poverty is, said Patrick Edaburn in The Moderate Voice. Take Merckle—he was worth as much as $10 billion last year, and while his apparently-suicide-prompting losses “did appear to be substantial,” he would still be a millionaire if he lost 99.99 percent of his wealth. Killing yourself over that is “ridiculous.”

Mental health experts say Merckle threw himself in front of a train due to “deep feelings of shame rather than material losses,” said Erik Kirschbaum in Reuters. For Merckle and others on the “lengthening list of high-profile investors around the world to take their own lives,” losing face and losing honor was worse than losing a fortune.

Maybe, but historically, a rise in suicides during financial crises is more “urban legend” than fact, said Loren Coleman in The Copycat Effect. And it’s “highly doubtful” that we’ll see “an increase in actual suicides ‘caused’ by or in the wake of the Great Crash of 2008.” But “look for a dramatic spike in reporting on every stockbroker and bankrupt CEO who dies by suicide.”

 

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