We Want More More More

That there’s something wrong with the 1% – 99% division in our world is obvious.

But apparently, rich people are unethical on many more levels. Maybe that’s why the richer get richer and the poor stay poor?

A new psychological study by the University of California in Berkeley shows that the richer the people, the more they tend to cheat, lie and steal compared to poorer people. “Elevated wealth status seems to make you want even more, and that increased want leads you to bend the rules or break the rules to serve your self-interest,” says Paul Piff, the lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in psychology at the university (CNN).

Over 1000 people where part of the research which included different experiments. Let’s take a simple example: “Drivers with shinier, newer, and more expensive cars were more likely to cut off other motorists at a busy four-way stop and less likely to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.” 45% of the drivers of fancy cars didn’t care about pedestrians whereas only 30% of the modest cars ignored people wanting to cross the street. Do you think rich people have a more stressful life? It’s not just about driving though. Another example from the study shows that the wealthier were also more prone (2x) to take candy from a jar which was clearly designated for children.

But why is this all happening? CNN proposes that “the independence offered by financial security may foster a sense of entitlement and a lack of concern for others, the authors suggest. On a more concrete level, affluent people may be more likely to get away with misbehavior (because they are less supervised at work, for example), and they may be more willing to take ethical risks because they have the resources to bail themselves out — both literally and figuratively — if they get caught.”

But that is not it. What the research showed repeatedly is that the unethical behaviour was often simply and only linked to greed. Greed seems to be the one big problem: “although the connection appeared to be strongest among high-status individuals, even lower-status individuals were more prone to ethical lapses if they felt that greed was good.”

The Huffington Post knows that these experiments are not the only ones connecting richness with unethical behaviour. The quote different studies which similar outcomes: “a study by Adam Waytz and Nicholas Epley, professors at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, respectively, found that people with more social connections are more likely to dehumanize others. And a report from researchers at the University of California-Berkeley released in December came to a similar conclusion: that rich people are less likely to feel empathy.”

However, wealth itself is not the problem, as Paul says nicely in the New Internationalist Magazine: “If everyone in the world was a millionaire – then so what? It’s comparative wealth and consumption that’s the issue – particularly in the light of environmental constraints.” Unfortunately, inequality is a given fact and that’s when it becomes ethically questionable. “In a world where democratic equality is seen as a virtue, by what right have they acquired this influence in the first place? If being a multi-millionaire in a world where thousands of children die of malnutrition isn’t unethical, then what is?”

With these findings – which just remind us of the fact that the 1% will do whatever it takes to stay where they are – we should be even more concerned about the fact that they control the world.

If you’re interested in this topic, I suggest you read the full article in the New Internationalist Magazine titled: Is ‘ethical wealth’ a contradiction?

Picture by 401K, thanks!

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11 thoughts on “We Want More More More

  1. A wise person once said that “we are not so much punished for our sins as by them” The greed factor may be a problem for those who experience lack, loss and being treated as less-than because of it. By far the greatest loss is the inner loss of the taker. One is inescapably reminded of the biblical quote reputedly from Jesus. For what does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his everlasting soul. Sounds right. Of course in Buddhism we are told that attachment is the basis of all suffering. Now if we could just set up a charity to counsel all those rich folks suffering because of their greed . . .

    • Very interesting to point out the religious view on greed, that’s seems to be one of the points where all religions agree – except maybe if we consider the link between capitalism and calvinism…

      • Don’t mention the war!!! OK, so it’s not a “religious view” it’s a spiritual view. An important distinction. The reason that most religions agree about the corrosive affect of greed is that it is a spiritual truism. On the other hand the deficiencies of specific religions and religious practitioners is of course well known. The common practice of blaming the shortcomings of religion(s) or religious figures such as preachers, priests, ministers etc, for some imagined lack of spirit and spirituality is merely compounding the error which thankfully is undoubtedly entirely human. If it isn’t then we’re really in trouble. If there is a spiritual realm and power then we are open to utilise this as a resource of impeccable reliability. Many,many people will attest to the impeccability of the spiritual power. Many will also attest to the shortcomings of human beings engaging with it. The masculinist identity of Calvinistic religions or Protestants in general can be viewed as part of the whole project of industrialised and mechanical rape of the biosphere, of mother Earth, of Nature. It is interesting to note, surely that this virulent, organised and vigorous Protestant movement went forth into the world to subdue nature. They were very successful in murdering forests and probably billions of trees. They wiped out entire ecosystems and bioregions, brought Mother Nature to her knees(it appeared) and these same blokey MEN will today turn around and argue for the continued destruction of the last vestiges of some tract of land containing the last of a species. It helped these MEN that in their religious tradition they had long since killed off any notion of the divine feminine. The Mother Mary was retired from their game just before they went forth to conquer the world. The Catholic Church who had retained the Mother Mary had become so corrupt in many respects that even the presence of the Mother was of little restraining influence. In general though we see these primitive self-destructive Earth beings attacking their own life support system – Mother Nature – under the banner of an angry and masculine God. One can only suspect that they may have pause for regret at some stage. In such a state, if and when they reach out for spirit and ask forgiveness, spirit will not reject them. She will embrace them, love them, heal them. This seems to be the commonly reported experience. It may well be their only hope. I am not a member of The Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima or of any religion as such but I am happy to be a witness for the impeccability of Spirit

  2. just some more thoughts….agreeing on the notion that wealth and poverty is relative…
    for me, it’s always strange to read “we are the 99% – they are the 1%”… what a misleading figure.. On a worldwide level, I would account myself to the top somewhere and am taking decisions with my lifestyle day in and out and I realize more and more how hard it is to give up the lifestyle I am used to, that my friends and family live. Not necessarily because of me, but also because it is the life my friends and family members live and they are also part of my life. Of course there are things I can change, but I am fine with it, as long as they do not tremendously change my lifestyle, as long as I can still be part of the social life I want to be part of. When I think about rich people born into rich families and surrounded by rich friends it might be similar. You don’t want to give it up, not be part of social activities, etc. … maybe rich people or newly rich people are more prone to being greedy, although I am not so sure, if that is true or if the relations and dimensions change. Some rich people give also a lot. One can say, it doesn’t even hurt them to give. Does it have to hurt when you give? Do our changes in life really hurt us? As long as we can still participate in our social lives and don’t feel threatened by others wanting to change our life style, we feel fine. I think, rich people constantly, if subconsciously feel threatened that somebody wants something from them….

    Old question -when is enough enough when is rich rich? I really liked the article -the debate on ethical wealth, thanks. I also liked some of the comments to the article, such as: “Wealth does not have ethics . People have ethics and I hope that more ethical people gain control of enormous wealth and do some good stuff with it.” I think, though, that when they get into control, it will be hard to give it up for them, too. There is something about power and wealth- people who have it, try to keep it, but it is not only about them, it is about others that need to demand it as well….

    • Interesting thoughts, Elke! I think Rob explains nicely below that it’s easier to compare the distribution of wealth within a country (but you nicely point out the different types of inequality which are very important too) which in my point of view the 99% debate is referring to. I agree on what you say about power and wealth, it is indeed problematic but I think at least we have plenty of voices in the world today asking for a redistribution – that’s how I perceive the Occupy movement: as a call for change.
      Finally, a comment on the “some rich people also give a lot” … I’ll just quote a post I wrote some time ago: “the point is that the poor are not begging us for charity, they are demanding justice.” (https://kosmos9.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/charity-or-fairness/)

      • yes, you’re right, the poor are demanding justice and I hope and support they go many steps further and take what they need or put more pressure on instead of hoping to be given. I wonder, if justice is really possible in another way, further, if wealthy and rich people would give up, change, adapt their lifestyle even if they would exactly know what their current lifestyle, demand for oil and resources, products etc. means to people living in ‘supplying’ countries, assuming that the rich are also rich, because the poor are poor…A direct link one can nicely see in South Africa. I feel, if people are not forced to give up something they seldom do it. What is the best way to get rid of inequality, to redistribute money?

        I am not such a fan of charity either and prefer fair trading and exchanging, however, one can do a lot good with giving money for good causes as well. Am happy about my aunts’ and relatives’ charity when I am out of money as well as poor people are happy about their kin’s remittances. Rich people put money into foundation for research and education, of course they pursue their own goals as I would pursue mine, which do not necessarily have to be good. So the question is, what to do, if you’re heavily rich, let’s say by heritage or by having worked hard (and after having consumed everything you need (?) in a fair way)…
        Of course, I agree with Rob, that richness cannot only be measured in monetary or material terms, to the contrary…

  3. For generations many societies’ most common measurement of “success” and wealth” have been the amount of money and status symbols an individual accumulates. This societal norm may naturally lead to greedy and selfish behaviors. Imagine how different things might be if we measured “success” and wealth” differently – perhaps by our positive impact on those around us, on our environment, etc. Our cultures, societies, ecosystems, and planet might all benefit.

    It is interesting to see the study separate people into wealth categories; when we take a global perspective there are very few truly poor people in the EU or US. From a national perspective though each country has its own numerical definition of wealth and may feel that significant local populations fail to meet national definitions of wealth. “Poverty” also then needs to be measured differently – is it a lack of the comforts to which we were once accustomed (e.g. unemployment), or is it a lack of food, shelter, and security (e.g. malnutrition, refugee status, war)? How much more harmonious might our societies be if we stopped judging each others value based on displays of money and status symbols? “Poverty” might be defined as a lack of compassion, and therefore associated with the same greed and selfishness now connected to “wealth.”

    Language evolves and word meanings and uses change over time, and the exact catalyst for such changes is often rarely known. I remain hopeful then that people like us can help inspire our societies to strive for goals other than accumulation… and that “success,” wealth,” and “poverty” will inevitably then be redefined.

  4. My country is currently living one of the biggest crisis it has ever faced, and, wherever you look, you just see quantification, quantification, quantification. There isn’t even a proper debate about how and why thoughtless spending, raging greed, political nepotism, and savage individualism – they are all part of the same problem, which is political indifference and civic carelessness – started erasing all traces of decency and any notion of common good. Portugal hasn’t been a rich nation in centuries, but it was, not that long ago, an “interesting” one. By “interesting” I mean creative, open, and willing, mostly thanks to a middle class rooted in humanitarian values born from the peaceful Revolution of 1974. But volatile governments, a bickering opposition, and politics built on selfishness and (deceptive) material affirmation, blatantly overlooked culture and education, in a country with a massively ignorant population coming out of 40 years of dictatorship. The foundations for an effectively rich society were never built. And yet, we produced great scientists, architects, painters, writers, musicians… Most of whom had to go abroad, then and now. The saddest part of the story is that some of the people that guided us into a new era were idealists and even revolutionaries that eventually got a taste of money and power. In our case, destitution was a foreseeable consequence. We had a chance. We still do, I like to think, but many people, usually those who provide for most of us, don’t, and will keep on enduring violent and unregulated dominance silently. The worst expression of poverty is the one that deprives you of the most basic means of subsistence. Still, how does one evaluate “evolution” and “success” when a modern society’s main driving force is “more”, not “better”. When individual and collective ethics lose out to the economic paradigm, as it is appealing above all things. That’s poverty right there. The kind that promotes it and the kind that leads to it. The main trait, of course, is ignorance. Imposed or somewhat chosen. In this case, all it takes is a couple of individuals, the apparently innate money/ power complex, and a twisted notion of Democracy, deviously marketed for mass consumption, to make sure that it is the right one. And this is not a matter of social and cultural development. It is (pessimistically, I’m aware) a “by default” course of human condition.

  5. When we lose our sense of community and we become a sea of faceless individuals that spend most of their time ascertaining how to elevate ourselves above “the masses” we also lose a good deal of our ability to care about anyone else. You are never more alone than when you are walking the streets of a busy city. In the western world we are taught that greed is good and that the individual is the centre of the universe. We are taught to shun nature and that we can stay young forever. It is no wonder that people are shunning simple human ethics to elbow their way up the corporate (indeed ANY) ladder in the western world. The media has a lot to answer for, pushing consumerism above community and “me” against “we” and when money and power are the chief objectives and “Winning at all cost” initiates a mass of small individual competitive races humanity ceases to work together and all of the ethics knitting society together start to unravel. The more selfish we become the less we care. I am taking a lot of heart from the growing sustainability movement and an increasing awareness of just how important communities are in society. The need to simplify and make do is something that is going to be foistered on us. We won’t have much of a choice, but in saying that, we are going to have to adapt. We are also going to be forced back into smaller groups of communities and that can only reaffirm the importance of
    “The whole” rather than the individual as being most important. We need a real sense of direction and reality today to balance out years of mindless belief in what we are being fed by the media and huge corporations.

    On saying that, cheers for following Serendipity Farm 🙂

  6. Pingback: Bye Bye GDP | Kosmos 9

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