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Stock Jobbing as a Form of Paresis

Since the days of Juvenal satirists have scored pursuit of speculative wealth as a vice peculiar to modern times. The speculator has had his part, however, in all ages, and forestalling or monopoly has been a crime against which the fanatic lawmaker has always launched his legal bolts in vain. Even the corporation of the swindling variety is old. Of the close of the seventh century Macaulay draws the following picture: "An impatience to be rich, a contempt for those slow but sure gains which are the proper reward of industry, patience, and thrift spread through society. The spirit of the cogging dicers of white friars took possession of the grave senators of the city, wardens of trades, deputies, aldermen. It was much easier and much more lucrative to put forth a lying prospectus announcing a new stock, to persuade ignorant people that the dividends could not fall short of 20 per cent, and to part with £5,000 of this imaginary wealth for 10,000 solid guineas than to load a ship with a well chosen cargo for Virginia or the Levant. Every day some new bubble was puffed into existence, rose buoyant, shone bright, and was forgotten."

The new form which covetousness had taken furnished the comic poets and satirists with an excellent subject, nor was that subject the less welcome to them because some of the most unscrupulous and most successful of the new race of gamesters were men in sad colored clothes and lank hair, men who called cards the devil's books, men who thought it a sin and a scandal to win or lose two pence over a backgammon board. It was in the last drama of Shadwell that the hypocrisy and knavery of these speculators was for the first time exposed to public ridicule. He died in November, 1692, just before his "Stockjobbers" cam on the stage, and the epilogue was spoken by an actor dressed in deep mourning. The best scene is that in which four or five stern nonconformists, clad in full Puritan costume, after discussing the prospects of the Mousetrap Company and the Fleakilling Company, examine the question whether the godly may lawfully hold stock in a company for bringing over Chinese rope dancers. "Considerable men have shares," says one austere person in cropped hair and bands, "but verily I question whether it be lawful or not." These doubts are removed by a stout old roundhead colonel, who had fought at Marston Moor, and who reminds his weaker brother that the saints need not themselves see the rope dancing and that in all probability there will be no rope dancing to see. "The thing," he says, "is like to take. The shares will sell well and then we shall not care whether the dancers come over or no."

One great barometer of the social pressure resulting on stock jobbing is paretic dementia, or paresis, as it is popularly called. While this disorder has probably always existed, it was first pointed out by the great English neurologist, Willis, in the seventeenth century. It is found only in countries with a speculative commercial atmosphere. The influence of such an atmosphere is excellently shown in the fact that the paretic dementia is far more frequent among the negroes in Chicago than those in New York, and is practically unknown among the negroes in the South. This (as I pointed out seventeen years ago) is due to the fact that the negro in Chicago is treated as an equal in commerce and politics and is thoroughly under the influence of the speculative atmosphere which permeates the commerce of the city. The same influence is shown in the undue proportion of paretic dementia among the Irish, which is much greater in Cook County than in New York City. And this arises from the Irish in Chicago being much more addicted to speculation than those in New York. To my personal knowledge Irish women, who in New York would simply hoard their money and keep away from all speculations here deal in options on wheat and pork.

Paretic dementia is not only produced by a speculative atmosphere, but it tends to increase this. The paretic dement creates wild schemes and is apt to be optimistic when others are the reverse. Indeed, his mental state so frequently resembles that of the speculators around him that he long passes muster. Frequently the breakdown of a bank is due to unrecognized paretic dementia.

Often, as in the case of a great financier in the East, the line cannot be drawn between purely speculative schemes and paretic dementia schemes. The disorder is so comparatively frequent among commercial men that it is natural for an alienist to suspect something of the kind when a hitherto blameless, trusted official suddenly goes wrong. In a case in France the chief financial official of a large corporation became careless, apathetic, neglected his accounts, and then "forced" them. Later he began to frequent places of doubtful repute and finally dies from paretic dementia. During his unrecognized illness the company lost several thousand dollars.

That this condition should be unrecognized by the ordinary laymen is hardly surprising, since as a rule the early stages of paretic dementia are marked for what appears to be exuberant good health. Indeed, this is so emphatic that life insurance companies have accepted paretic dements as good risks. An alienist was called on by two brothers. One went along into the private office of the physician and said that while there appeared to be nothing the matter with his brother, he seemed no longer himself. After a long examination of the patient the physician told the brother that the patient was suffering from paretic dementia and would die in three or four years. The brother immediately placed an insurance of $20,000 on his brother's head. The latter died in three years and the company paid the policy. A French physician had had for nine years insurance on his life to the amount of $20,000. He suddenly gave evidence of cerebral exitation, went and came without object, wrote and spoke a great deal. He had an exaggerated opinion of his published works and vaunted his professional skill. He one day accidentally encountered the director of an insurance company in which his life was insured and after a long conversation said that the sum for which his life was insured was such a trifle he must increase the amount to $100,000. He was referred to the proper officials of the company, who consented. The papers were prepared and only the signature of the unfortunate physician was wanting when the latter spoke with such vehemence that the agent thought him drunk and under a technical plea carried off the policy. The following day the unfortunate physician was sent to a hospital for the insane. Here he was found to be suffering from an advanced stage of paretic dementia, of which he died within six months. The company paid his widow the $20,000 and thought themselves lucky that they had not to pay the $100,000 for which the deceased had subscribed in a fit of pathologic temerity, for he had done this in good faith and was far from foreseeing his sudden death.

Paretic dementia is one of the greatest factors in the seeming increase of insanity in civilized countries. While it appears to illustrate the truth of Goldsmith's lines: "Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates and men decay."

Still not every organism can take paretic dementia in a speculative atmosphere since there must likewise be acquired predisposing causes, generally what is euphemistically called blood poison, which, whether innocently acquired or not, creates a tendency to paretic dementia. All other things being equal, the man of strong constitution is more likely to be attacked by paretic dementia, since the weaker breaks down in nervous prostration. Fortunately, the patient rarely lasts over four years and the disease is not hereditary. It is, however, the danger signal of commercial civilization.