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Lemmings of Wall St and the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

Ok kids, let’s play a new game it’s called, “fact checking with statistics!”

So today we’ll be fact checking the growing story of the suicidal bankers. In case you haven’t heard, there’s a kerfuffle within the edges of journalism (Daily Mail, NY Post, RT to name a few). People are flipping out that 12 bankers have killed themselves recently. And by recently, I mean in since the beginning of 2014.

This from the Daily Mail.

The Daily Mail's running tally.

The Daily Mail’s running tally. It continues…

So, let’s play this game. Without knowing anything other than what I told you, does that seem odd? Sure.

Twelve people involved in the same business kill themselves, people jumping from buildings, death by nail gun? My investigative curiosity is piqued.

But before we even begin to get into the sordid details of these lemmings of Wall Street, let’s look at the numbers.

Just how many people kill themselves every year in the USA alone? That number in 2010 was 38,364, or one every 13.7 minutes, according to the CDC. Put another way, it’s 12.1 suicides for every 100,000 people. Suicide is now America’s number one cause of death by injury, beating out murder and car accidents. That number is only going up.

But that’s the USA – what about other countries?

Suicide deaths per 100,000

Suicide deaths per 100,000

In Hong Kong the suicide rate is 12.2, and in mainland China it’s nearly double at 22.23. The United Kingdom is at a 11.8 – but that’s male and female combined – for men it’s at 18.2.

According to the Department of Labor, 818,000 people worked in the “securities and investment sector,” and another 5.87 million in the  financial services and insurance sectors in the USA alone. I haven’t been able to immediately find numbers for China/Hong Kong, but one could assume the number would at least be as high as in the US. There’s also the London International Market to look at as well.


So, what the heck am I trying to get at here? Do I have proof that there is no grand conspiracy connecting these 12 ‘bankers’ to some murder/suicide pact? No. But that’s the thing about real investigative research. A lack of evidence is not, ummm… evidence. None of the articles I read about the “conspiracy” even flesh out an actual conspiracy theory; they just state that “another banker killed himself.” Well, statistically that’s something that people do, unfortunately. And if you look at the numbers I presented above, they actually do it in greater numbers than is reported in these articles. If there are 800,000 people working in banking in the USA right now (using the lower number), then one could easily and statistically assume that about 24 people in that group would have done themselves in.

That’s double the reported number that has everyone in a swivel, for those keeping score at home.

But wait, there’s more.

That’s only using the number of bankers in the United States. Hong Kong, Shanghai, London, Moscow – they all have financial markets. They all have bankers – there’s at least another couple million of them out there, and most of them have a greater statistical likelihood of jumping off of a high building, shooting themselves, or purposely overdosing.

So why does it seem odd? How do these stories gain traction?

I think some of it can be blamed on the desperate need for clicks on websites, and the collapse of investigative journalism, but science also plays a part.

It’s called “frequency illusion,” or “Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.” Here’s how Pacific Standard explained it:

Your friend told you about that obscure bluegrass-electro-punk band yesterday morning. That afternoon, you ran across one of their albums at a garage sale. Wait a minute—that’s them in that Doritos commercial, too! Coincidence … or conspiracy? More likely, you’re experiencing “frequency illusion,” somewhat better known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

Basically, someone wrote a story about the suicide of a banker – then another journalist noticed another one, and then another. And eventually we had a full fledged conspiracy, except without the theory.

And that’s why we can’t have nice things.


*Please note that I am not a statistician, just a journalist. I did consult with a graduate of the Chicago School of Economics for this article. He laughed at the idea of the banker suicide conspiracy, but just as I was ending the phone call, he added, “But have you looked into their connections to Tower 7?”

The line abruptly cut off. I haven’t heard from him since. 






5 Responses to “Lemmings of Wall St and the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon”
  1. Zyxomma says:

    Unless it’s Jamie Dimon, Paul “the Vulture” Singer, or someone of that caliber, I could care less. Can you hazard a guess as to why the only one of these fraudsters to get life in federal prison is Bernard Madoff? Unlike the Wall Street bankers who absconded with 20% of America’s wealth, he had the audacity to steal from the 1%.

    • nswfm says:

      Could it be Eric Holder and his law firm’s ties to his favorite big banks?

      McCain and Romney both would have been awful, but administration has a pathetic record on so many things. Can’t blame the roll out of the ACA on anything but its own self.

  2. JaneE says:

    Fond, I mean fond.

  3. JaneE says:

    Yessss, an acquaintance of mine sent me an email, oh about a few weeks ago relative to this. I read what she had sent and then shook my head and didn’t respond.

    This person has a lot of conspiracies that she is found of. One of them is relating to all of the underground bunkers out there that the literati are shoring up for the upcoming apocalypse. Most of these bunkers are old WWI and WWII installations, (one even at a 5 Star Hotel) in the burbs in England and Europe. Jesse Ventura is in on that one. Lordy, lordy.

  4. dr. sparemachinery says:

    well, i suppose this is one valid way of looking at things, but perhaps another – and admittedly speculative angle – might be that these are people who, in the recent grand tradition of bankers, have committed crimes and just didn’t want to go to jail…. not that there seems to be much danger of that.