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The Almighty Buck Science

Are Rich People Less Moral? 1040

sciencehabit writes "New research suggests that the upper classes are more likely to behave dishonorably than those lower on the economic spectrum. The rich are more likely to cheat, steal, and even disobey traffic laws than those with less money and power (abstract). Curiously, in one experiment, Prius drivers also behaved badly, regardless of their wealth."
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Are Rich People Less Moral?

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  • Sorta (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Aerorae ( 1941752 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:30PM (#39178611)
    Up to a point, then they become moral again because it no longer means as much. I think it occurs once you get past the billionaire mark: Examples: Warren Buffet, Bill Gates...
  • by ZeroSumHappiness ( 1710320 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:36PM (#39178719)

    Is that really the cause?

    Perhaps people who are rich perceive a smaller consequence for behaving badly. They "know" (possibly only at a subconscious level) that they can buy their way out of trouble so they feel the risk of being chastised is weaker.

    Or maybe they feel that because they are rich they have contributed (again possibly only subconsciously) and so should be allowed to bend or ignore rules. I think this meshes with the Prius driver example -- maybe Prius drives feel that the good karma they've gained by driving a Prius entitles them to more leniency in road etiquette. (Again, this is most likely subconscious if this is the actual reason.)

    I think it's just a knee-jerk us-vs.-them reaction to say that the amoral get rich and the nice guy loses, as if the rich deserve to be brought down a peg because they must be evil to be rich, rather than power and money corrupting them once they get there.

  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:39PM (#39178769) Homepage

    In the book "Freakonomics", about how the statistical tools economists use can bring some light to other areas of social study, the tale is told of a guy who ran a business model of dropping off bagels at office coffee rooms around town, with a voluntary-contribution box, and kept meticulous records for many years of his repayment rate. Turns out the upper floors (as in, upper management) and near corner offices and so on, had the lowest rate.

    The authors were careful about drawing conclusions, though they entertained by speculating - was it "have to run to my important meeting, that's more important than digging around for change, my time is worth $900/hour", or was it just a "sense of entitlement"?

    This may tip the needle towards "self-entitled bastards", though it remains speculation, of course, not conclusion.

    The Prius thing may indicate another reason for being a "self-entitled jerk", of course: environmental smugness. Now I'm just TOTALLY speculating, obviously, but I'd add a data point: my rotten self, and all the rotten cyclists like me. We disobey traffic laws with wild abandon, we're notorious for it. And bikes are vastly more environmental (and, better yet, non-road-space consuming) than Priuses. I am shamelessly anti-authoritarian on a bike the way I am not in a car.

    I claim, in my own head (never had to try it on a cop, and don't plan to) that I coast through stop signs and so forth because of the vast importance of Conserving Momentum. And the roadway just "owes" me a little slack because I take up so little of it. And I'm only risking my own damfool neck, I can at most cause others a dent. Or something. If you can get self-entitled by contributing to the common weal that little, imagine how much you get from doing work others value at $900 per hour...

  • Re:Of course (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cptdondo ( 59460 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:41PM (#39178805) Journal

    A little bit. Just my own $0.02.... I used to own an engineering company. We were mostly based on repeat business and word of mouth, and had a steady clientele. We did OK. Our typical hours were four 9s and a 4 and most of us would be gone by Friday afternoon. We had a reputation for being fair to our clients and charging a fair price. I would not accept shady clients or do anything that was unethical.

    One of my major competitors was a workaholic with the instincts of a jackal; you were a disappointment if you worked less than 60 hours a week, for which he paid you your base salary. He worked probably 80 to 100 hours a week and took his laptop on vacations. He spent 3 hours a week with his kids; one hour per child. He had a reputation for being voraciously money hungry and would skirt the law on almost everything as long as there was profit in it. He had no problem cheating clients, employees, or the government.

    He consistently made far more money than I did. He didn't care what his reputation was or how much damage he did to his family or the lives of his employees or the community. He had no friends that I know of.

    I on the other hand still keep in touch with my former employees, sleep well at night, and live a modestly successful life.

    So yes, from my own limited experience, you get richer than me by being morally corrupt.

  • by SomeKDEUser ( 1243392 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:51PM (#39178945)

    There is this fascinating experiment. It occurred in Israel. The setting is this: there is a day-care centre at which people come to pick their kids at a fixed hour. Now some people are late, and there are no other consequences than the reprobation of the staff.

    Comes in the economists. And they say "incentives matter!". And lo, a small fine is introduced for being late.

    And now many more people are late, for the fine was too low: social pressure had kept people in line, but the small fine told them being late was no big deal. And so the fine is removed.

    And people are still late, because now, the value of being late has been set, and it is low.

    Moral of the story: if someone is a dick, don't let them get away with it. Politely voice your disapproval. Social pressure keeps people in line. And I would bet, even bankers: whatever they think, they cannot buy the respect of people around them. No-one can. An nice person is a nice person, and a dick a dick. Treat people accordingly to their behaviour, and ignore their social status.

    At the end of the day, we are all dead. When you die, having been fair with the people you met means you leave a slightly better Earth.

  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DesScorp ( 410532 ) <> on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:56PM (#39179007) Homepage Journal

    But only because they don't interact with peasants.

    Most of "the rich" interact with "the peasants" a great deal, because that's where the money is made. If there's any truth to this study... and I have doubts... it's probably more because wealth brings power, and power is what the real corrupting influence is. Steve Jobs was infamous for doing things like parking in handicapped spaces and daring cops to do anything about it. They never did, and not because of his money per se, but because with a phone call, he could have them fired, because Apple carries a lot of weight with politicians and the various government bureaucracies. Wealth isn't the problem at all. The problem is the unwillingness for the law and government to punish those that assert power that legally they don't have. Blame cowardice here.

  • BERKELEY UNDERGRADS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by theNAM666 ( 179776 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:57PM (#39179013)


    >working with groups of 100 to 200 Berkeley undergraduates or adults recruited online.

    Ya gotta be kidding me.

    There is, of course, the recent research that points out that US-American psychology is, largely, a profile of the US-American undergrad population (ie, the population that are easily available to find, to study).

    That said, if you choose Berkeley undergrads, then you're going to get results that match them. Berkeley is a large anonymous state institution, where an undergrad has every incentive to cheat, and where only the third incident of plagarism has any chance of repercussions. (In pactice, GSIs and many professors are unlikely to report plagarism, no only because of the paperwork, but because it's likely to have negative repercussions for them).

    Change this context to Stanford or the East Coast Ivies, etc, and you've got a very different system. Getting caught cheating or plagarizing-- once-- at a small college or many of the Ivies, is a death sentence-- immediate explusion, and if you do choose to come back in a year, you're going to be a paraih among your peers and under very close scrutiny.

    My guess is this study, like so much social science, isn't speciifc and precise enough to say anything.

  • by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:59PM (#39179059) Homepage Journal
    Well, some years back, I read an interesting article on the subject, observing that this was a nearly ideal example in which cause and effect are difficult to disentangle. There are reasonable arguments for the causation to go both ways, and data to support both of them. One conclusion was that it was best explained as a feedback loop, in which having wealth tends to make you part of a social group that's immoral, and when you adopt various immoral behaviors, society rewards you. As long as you have a feel for the boundaries and don't get jailed for your behavior, it's to your personal benefit to follow this feedback loop.
  • Re:Not really (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:10PM (#39179205) Homepage Journal

    ... hanging the 1% and redistributing their wealth to the other 99% would be quite democratic, wouldn't it?

    That would be more communistic.

    Nah; a much better precedent would be the French Revolution. It's a nice example where the 99% didn't profit much, if at all. Mostly, it just led to La Terroire, with lots of commoners dying of the blade along with the famous few of the rich and powerful who met their fate there. The government that came out of it was even worse than what was deposed, and eventually led to the coronation of yet another monarch (nowadays referred to as a dictator). So basically not much was changed.

  • don't think so... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by slew ( 2918 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:10PM (#39179213)

    Up to a point, then they become moral again because it no longer means as much. I think it occurs once you get past the billionaire mark: Examples: Warren Buffet, Bill Gates...

    First, there are just as many counter examples Steve Jobs, Larry Elison, Donald Trump, etc, etc...
    Secondly, I don't think Mr Buffett nor Mr Gates are particularly moral, they seem to be really just doing this to "pad" their future historical biography (not unlike JD Rockefeller).

    Apparently, Mr Buffett wanted to give his money for his wife to donate as she desired (as payback for his "cheating", well it's more complicated than that, but I digress). Since his wife died earlier than Mr Buffett and he didn't seem to trust his long term "girlfriend/housekeeper" with that role, he decided just do matching donations w/ the BMG Foundation with all that money he was saving for his wife. On the other hand, The BMG Foundation's investment philosophy (for the money they haven't spent yet as opposed to the money they are putting to use) is to maximize return which often put it at odds with the same people they are trying to help (high pollution companies, or big-pharma companies). A common gripe about the BMGF is that they seem to only pick-up high-profile healthcare issues which sometimes divert attention to basic healthcare which is also needed by the same population groups. Also, as I understand it, the BMG Foundation also isn't structured to last forever either. All money must be spent before the 50th anniversary of Bill and Melinda's death, so they basically have to spend it all pretty quickly and after the causes they are funding dry up, well, that's all they wrote...

    Not saying that Mr Gates and/or Mr Buffett are moral or not, but I don't think these examples show that billionaires either as a group or as individuals become particularly more moral because of their inflated monetary status. In fact, these particular examples seem to show that for some, money is just a NOP. On the other hand, one might argue that they appear less moral that the person that spends 50% of their time helping a neighbor, or stops investing their money with companies that pollute the environment and perhaps a bit narcissistic for wanting specific credit for their donation of resources.

  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:18PM (#39179327)

    " Blame cowardice here."

    Politicians are cowards because they fear corporations ability to take jobs away from their citizens and move away from their nation permanently. Corporations threaten this all the time. Governments can do little without a world governing body. Corporations and rich are too nimble given their excess resources.

    This is one problem with capitalism - it gives too much power political power to a few individuals and hardly any to most people.

  • Re:Yes (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:18PM (#39179335)

    Have you checked out how many people are not getting kicked out of their homes. I know at least 6 people (which makes up a significant chunk of the people I know) who for more than a year did not pay their mortgage. All they did was keep refiling their loan modification application. One person has been not paying his mortgage for 2 years. They still haven't comet to foreclose.

    We can harp on the rich and their policies all we want, but usually we ignore when they are playing fair. They are playing so nice that it is almost annoying to those of us that do manage to keep paying our mortgage.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:22PM (#39179377)

    Actually, the ticket for solo in HOV is closer to $450. The other issue is that the 'violators' vastly outnumber the police, and the chances of YOU getting caught are next to nothing.

    If you think about it, driving is a highly competitive activity where people compete against each other and against the police. Combine that with relative anonymity behind the wheel along with the fact that the people with higher incomes tend to be more competitive on average, is it any surprise that the folks driving nicer cars have fewer inhibitions about speeding, cutting people off, and using the carpool lane to pass some idiot doing the speed limit?

  • by w_dragon ( 1802458 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:33PM (#39179551)
    The first of those is misunderstood, the 'eye of the needle' was a term that described that back door to a walled city - the door that would be used after dark when the main gate was closed. It was too small for a fully loaded camel to fit through, so wealthy merchants that arrived at a city after dark would be forced to unload the camel to get into the city. Basically it's just saying that rich people can get to heaven, but they can't take all their stuff with them.
  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:34PM (#39179559)

    Subtle my ass.

    They stole nearly a trillion dollars right in front of our faces. I am talking about a subset of people that have the state of being rich. Saying that all wealthy people are evil just plays right into their hands by engaging in class warfare.

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:45PM (#39179721)
    Yeah, the summary left out these key points in TFA:

    When participants were manipulated into thinking of themselves as belonging to a higher class than they did, the poorer ones, too, began to behave unethically.

    In another test, participants were asked to list several benefits of greed; they were given the example that greed can help further one's professional goals, then asked to come up with three additional benefits. Again, lower-class subjects whose attitudes toward greed had been nudged in this way became just as likely as their wealthier counterparts to sympathize with dishonest behavior (taking home office supplies, laying off employees while increasing their own bonuses, overcharging customers to drive up profits).

    So the real take-home point from all this is not that wealthier people are more dishonest as the summary phrases it. It's that people tend to become more dishonest when they become wealthier. i.e. The rich guy didn't become rich because he's an asshole. He's an asshole because he became rich. And if you became rich, you'd probably become an asshole too.

  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:49PM (#39179755)

    It's much different now, especially in developed countries.

    In the US it is nearly impossible for a colonel, in military uniform, to walk around with a side arm in public and give orders. It is highly, highly, likely that somebody would call the cops. The only exception would be if the public was convinced that there was immediate danger that required military intervention. So unless Bruce Willis is blowing up the local mall and smoke is everywhere, I think that the public is going to react rather negatively to military personnel acting like military in public.

    It is the exact opposite in some place like Burma. A man in uniform with a side arm is something to be feared. Greatly feared. If he says to lay down on the ground, I am betting that most citizens will comply immediately.

    You could look at this as the degree in which the military is separated from the citizenry. I would think the US would be in the top 5 certainly. First place is probably held by some EU country or a more tropical country where people are more concerned about chilling out.

    If there was mass protests in the US and we go to the point of a civil war, or a coup, it is far more likely that citizens would have significant military support. Military personnel here are citizens too. Whatever is pissing us off to the point that armed conflict is actually being used to resolve it is going to gather proportional support from the military. I can easily see members of the National Guard loading up on weapons and joining the citizens.

    What we have to worry about is hired mercenaries. Look at the Arab Spring movement right now. I keep seeing articles about governments like Libya that used mercenaries to perform actions that their own military would not go along with.

    Blackwater type security companies are who you would need to fear. After all, the most disturbing and heinous acts committed against Iraqi civilians was by mercenary groups granted immunity. Shit hits the fan, and the 1% (the evil evil rich people) would just have them on retainer.

    It would be interesting though. I'll give odds that some good ol' boys who raided a National Guard armory are going to win :)

  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bondsbw ( 888959 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:54PM (#39179831)

    One way to define immorality is the disregard of others out of selfishness. "The rules don't apply to me" is a very selfish way of life.

    In theory at least, traffic laws exist to reduce conflicts between people. Red light laws and stop sign laws exist to reduce accidents; the same applies for speed laws, at least in original intent.

    I agree that there is perversion of the law, that some laws are set and enforced beyond a reasonable level for the sole purpose of funding government. I'm not in argument there. But when laws are set and enforced at a reasonable level, lawbreakers are risking the livelihoods of other people for their own goals.

    Getting to the movie theater faster by risking the lives of other people is definitely immoral. If that type of behavior is correlated with wealth, then wealth is correlated with at least some types of immoral behavior.

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @08:05PM (#39179963)
    "The "eye of a needle" has been interpreted as a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could only pass through this smaller gate if it was stooped and had its baggage removed. This story has been put forth since at least the 15th century, and possibly as far back as the 9th century. However, there is no evidence for the existence of such a gate."

    (from Wikipedia, where else?)
  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SETIGuy ( 33768 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @08:07PM (#39179981) Homepage

    Here's one blog [] about it. But it's not a big deal. I don't know of tech billionaire that isn't an asshole.

    Jobs biggest talent was in being the second mouse. You know the saying the "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." He would let another company do the inventing, build the new product, take the risks. Then if the product failed, Steve would know why and build a product with fewer flaws and capture the market. If the earlier product didn't fail Steve would build one incrementally better and use the reality distortion field to capture the market. Either way, nobody knows the earlier product existed.

    The tech editor for Scientific American wrote a column for the February issue. It was supposed to be about products that fail or succeed some of which are predicted in fiction. Every "successful" product he listed was from Apple. Every failure was from competitors. Examples of failures were the Zune and the IBM PC. The point seemed to be that the iPad was destined for success because there were pad newspaper readers in sci fi and the iPad was obviously the first pad computer and nobody has ever built a pad style device specifically for reading.

  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @08:09PM (#39180007)
    Rich don't pay taxes. The "family trust" owns the house, and makes its money from capital gains (taxed at a much lower rate than salary), and so, only what you spend on personal items that can't be deducted are "income" and someone like Paris Hilton has no undeductable expenses (as partying is "marketing" and such, so even her cocaine should be tax deductable). Paris Hilton, set up properly, should pay less than 5% tax on all her earnings. The rich don't pay tax. Just the top 75% to top 1%. The top 1% pays much less than you or I do.
  • by irenaeous ( 898337 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @09:05PM (#39180593) Journal
    My understanding is that the earliest manuscripts have camelos, and only a few later ones have camilos. But Jesus spoke Aramaic. The aramaic word gamla has two meanings, a primary meaning of Camel and a secondary meaning of a thick rope made of camel hair. Assuming this represents an authentic saying, then it seems likely to me that the original saying used this word gamla and the intended meaning in context was rope and it is easier to thread a needle with a rope that it is for a rich man to enter into heaven. It would also mean that the person who communicated the saying in Greek mistranslated the word.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 27, 2012 @09:06PM (#39180595)

    So because he donated his money to a cause he believed in (and that he wouldn't benefit from at all, being dead and all) and not to you, you think he was just trying to keep it from you? Why do you think you're entitled to it in the first place? My dad's wealthy (and mormon, by the way), and from what I can tell, none of us will get a cent when he dies, and I don't think that's in any way unfair or greedy. He's a great guy. Very kind and generous to *everyone.* Maybe allowing you to work hard to get out of the hole you were in was what led to you being in the comfortable situation you're in now.

  • by jgdobak ( 119142 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:05PM (#39181155)

    This is why engineers are usually terrible human beings.

    Socialize your children and let them take a few arts classes, don't let them turn out like this.

  • Equality of the law (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:21PM (#39181263) Journal

    "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."
    (La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.)

    Anatole France []

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!