Be careful who you show off to, Rajat Gupta edition

By Felix Salmon
March 1, 2011
John Carney asks why Rajat Gupta might have done what he's accused of doing:

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John Carney asks why Rajat Gupta might have done what he’s accused of doing:

Gupta ran McKinsey. He sat on the board of Goldman. He is the ultimate insider.

One of the reasons we rarely see insider trading charges against people who have the stature and wealth against Gupta is that insider trading makes so little logical sense for such people. There’s really no reason Gupta should leak confidential information to a hedge fund manager. He doesn’t need money, access, prestige or any favors at all.

If he did tip off his hedge fund manager friend, it was something darker than greed or ambition. It was something close to sociopathic narcissism—perhaps a belief that he was somehow above the law, immune to the rules that govern the rest of us.

“Sociopathic narcissism” is one way of putting it, but I think there’s something very human here. And John and I see it every day, at CNBC and Reuters: reporters get phoned up by very rich and important individuals, and get told information which can’t conceivably benefit the person doing the leaking, except psychologically. It doesn’t matter how rich or how important you are, the idea of being able to show off like that — to demonstrate that “I know something you don’t know”, to be cultivated and praised and effusively thanked — is very appealing.

Gupta, if he did give inside information to Raj Rajaratnam, wasn’t doing it for the money. He was doing it to feel important, to get the respect of his friend, to demonstrate just how plugged in he was to some of the most important decisions being made at the height of the financial crisis.

The moral of this story, then, is that if you ever feel that human need for validation and need to unburden yourself of a valuable secret, make sure you phone a journalist, rather than a hedge-fund manager. That’s not illegal, and it’s just as gratifying.

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