geert lovink on Sat, 18 Mar 2000 17:21:48 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] market on prozac?

[reference found in francisco van jole's dutch 2525 nieuwsgids]

The Third Culture  Randolph M. Nesse, M.D.
Is the Market on Prozac?

The press has been preoccupied with possible explanations for the current
extraordinary boom. Many articles say, as they always do while a bubble
grows, that this market is "different." Some attribute the difference to new
information technology. Others credit changes in foreign trade, or the baby
boomer's lack of experience with a real economic depression. But you never
see a serious story about the possibility that this market is different
because investor's brains are different. There is good reason to suspect
that they are.

Prescriptions for psychoactive drugs have increased from 131 million in 1988
to 233 million in 1998, with nearly 10 million prescriptions filled last
year for Prozac alone. The market for antidepressants in the USA is now $6.3
billion per year. Additional huge numbers of people use herbs to influence
their moods. I cannot find solid data on how many people in the USA take
antidepressants, but a calculation based on sales suggests a rough estimate
of 20 million.

What percent of brokers, dealers, and investors are taking antidepressant
drugs? Wealthy, stressed urbanites are especially likely to use them. I
would not be surprised to learn that one in four large investors has used
some kind of mood-altering drug. What effects do these drugs have on
investment behavior? We don't know. A 1998 study by Brian Knutson and
colleagues found that the serotonin specific antidepressant paroxetine
(Paxil) did not cause euphoria in normal people, but did block negative
affects like fear and sadness. From seeing many patients who take such
agents, I know that some experience only improved mood, often a miraculous
and even life-saving change. Others, however, report that they become far
less cautious than they were before, worrying too little about real dangers.
This is exactly the mind-set of many current investors.

Human nature has always given rise to booms and bubbles, followed by crashes
and depressions. But if investor caution is being inhibited by psychotropic
drugs, bubbles could grow larger than usual before they pop, with
potentially catastrophic economic and political consequences. If chemicals
are inhibiting normal caution in any substantial fraction of investors, we
need to know about it. A more positive interpretation is also easy to
envision. If 20 million workers are more engaged and effective, to say
nothing of showing up for work more regularly, that is a dramatic tonic for
the economy. There is every reason to think that many workers and their
employers are gaining such benefits. Whether the overall mental health of
the populace is improving remains an open question, however. Overall rates
of depression seem stable or increasing in most technological countries, and
the suicide rate is stubbornly unchanged despite all the new efforts to
recognize and treat depression.

The social effects of psychotropic medications is the unreported story of
our time. These effects may be small, but they may be large, with the
potential for social catastrophe or positive transformation. I make no claim
to know which position is correct, but I do know that the question is
important, unstudied, and in need of careful research. What government
agency is responsible for ensuring that such investigations get carried out?
The National Institute of Mental Health? The Securities and Exchange
Commission? Thoughtful investigative reporting can give us preliminary
answers that should help to focus attention on the social effects of
psychotropic medications.

Randoph M. Nesse, M.D., is Professor of Psychiatry, Director, ISR Evolution
and Human Adaptation Program, The University of Michigan and coauthor (with
George C. Williams) of Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian

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