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Wealth Addiction: Legitimate Disease or Passing the Buck?

A former hedge fund trader has earned criticism from the national media for comparing the accumulation of money to drug and alcohol addiction.

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By Paul Gaita

01/22/14

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An op-ed piece in the January 19 Sunday New York Times written by former hedge fund trader Sam Polk, who blames his exodus from the business on rampant “wealth addiction” within the industry, has drawn criticism and even rebuke from the national media. 

Polk, who's currently the founder of the nutrition education and support charity Groceryships, detailed his early years as a college student struggling with addictions to alcohol, cocaine, Ritalin, and ecstasy, which spurred him to seek professional help. During this period, Polk also discovered that his internship at Credit Suisse would not only lead to a full-time position as a trader for Bank of America, but also absurd sums of money and numerous perks, like a $6,000 loft and tables at any major New York restaurant.

Though his therapist warned him that he was using money to boost his ego in the same way he used drugs and alcohol, Polk forged ahead, netting greater profits until he experienced an epiphany at a meeting in which one of his bosses decried hedge-fund regulation. Realizing that his fellow traders were hooked on money like any addictive substance, he quit the firm – though his boss’s decision to turn down a request for an $8 million bonus also appears to have factored in his decision to leave – and spent a year in “withdrawal” before finding redemption in his charity.

Polk’s piece concluded with the hope that readers will do their part in curbing a culture that “supports and even lauds” wealth addiction. Media response to Polk’s article has taken a dim view of his plea – no surprise, given the news of a report from Oxfam International which reveals that almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the global population -  as evidenced by New York magazine’s pungent assessment that “unlike sufferers of pretty much every other documented form of addiction, ‘wealth addicts'’ behavior threatens the rest of the world while benefiting those who engage in it.”

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