Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The rich really are different

They're more likely to lie, cheat, and steal than the rest of us:

A raft of studies into unethical behaviour across the social classes has delivered a withering verdict on the upper echelons of society.

Privileged people behaved consistently worse than others in a range of situations, with a greater tendency to lie, cheat, take things meant for others, cut up other road users, not stop for pedestrians on crossings, and endorse unethical behaviour, researchers found.

Psychologists at the University of California in Berkeley drew their unflattering conclusions after covertly observing people's behaviour in the open and in a series of follow-up studies in the laboratory.

Describing their work in the US journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, social psychologist Paul Piff and his colleagues at the Institute of Personality and Social Research claim that self-interest may be a "more fundamental motive among society's elite" that leads to more wrongdoing. They say selfishness may be "a shared cultural norm".

In interpersonal relations, that shared cultural norm of selfishness is largely an irritant (except when it crosses into outright criminality e.g. finance companies, fraud, and Enron-style scams). On a social level, it is devastating. The unequal political influence of the rich means that they can distort society into a tool for their further enrichment, at the expense of everyone else. Which is why we have welfare "reforms" in a recession, employment relations "changes" which strip workers of their rights and allow them to be fired at will, and privatisations whose sole purpose seems to be transferring a monopoly dividend-stream from the people of New Zealand into the pockets of the wealthy few.