Rich vs. Poor

Published by marco on

I recently received a request to post an info-graphic (included below) detailing the results of a recent study published by UC Berkeley, called Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior by Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancatoa, Stéphane Côté, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Dacher Keltner (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). The original infographic is hosted at a site called Accounting Degree Online, for some strange reason. At any rate, the findings are kind of interesting.

The URL to the graphic includes the text “Rich people are unethical” but it could more accurately be called “Rich people are unethical (so are the poor, but to a lesser degree)” or “Some people are unethical, but the rich are disproportionately so” or “Rich people are not as nice as poor people, even though they more easily could be”. Some of the results are that the poor give a higher percentage of their income to charity, or that the rich were more likely to take candy that was clearly marked as being for children. They cheat on their wives more, default on mortgages more often and cheat to win more often. Given the dominant form of capitalism today, where cheating is encouraged and actively rewarded, it’s hardly surprising that the winners of the game are also those who are willing to cheat more. It would have been strange had the results shown the contrary.

The reason the study is interesting is that, though it provides support for the rational hypothesis—in a system that rewards cheating, those who cheat more will win—and belies the oft-promulgated maxim that the poor are no-good scoundrels trying to suck the system dry. In fact, the poor are poor because they’re worse at cheating; the study shows that this is not from a dearth of ability (the likely next defense that would result) but from a surfeit of morality.