Obama's Generous Banker Caught Hoarding Dopamine

Josh Clark

CNN, world news leader and supplier of Anderson Cooper's impeccably tailored suits, reports this morning on Leonard Abess, Jr., a banker and former majority shareholder in City National Bancshares, based in Miami. During his address to a joint session of Congress last night, President Obama singled out Mr. Abess as a model for CEOs the world around.

It turns out that last November, Abess sold his 83 percent stake in CNB and pocketed a cool $60 million in return. The dough didn't stay in his pocket for long, though. Rather than add to his already considerable wealth, Abess bucked the trend and engaged in wealth distribution that would have made Karl Marx proud: Abess divvied up his $60 million among 471 present and former employees of his bank. By my calculations, if divided evenly, each received $127,388 and change (enough to buy eleven half-constructed penthouses in Miami these days).

In his nationally televised address, Obama said Abess, who never mentioned his act of generosity to anyone, demonstrated "responsibility."

But was Abess' donation genuinely a one-way street? It turns out, no. While the banker did something most of us probably wouldn't have when the chips were down, he did get something in return: A hefty release of the pleasure-inducing chemical dopamine.

In studies using functional MRIs (is there anything these wonder machines can't do?), researchers have found that regions of the limbic system (the brain's reward center) activate when both receiving money and when doling it out generously. In other words, we get a good feeling when we give money away. One can only imagine the staggering flood of dopamine Mr. Abess must have enjoyed.

This, of course, begs the question then, is there such a thing as a truly unselfish act? Are acts of generosity undermined by the fact that we receive something in return? Is Josh Clark a cynical jerk?

Funny I should ask, because HSW has some articles on those very questions here:

Is there such a thing as a truly unselfish act?

What's the ultimatum game?

Can an MRI machine also act as a lie detector?