A recent series of studies by UC Berkeley (Click HERE to read more) and a professor from the University of Toronto suggest that rich people are less ethical than those who are not as well off.
According to the presentation, rich people are more than twice as likely to take candy that was intended for children; they were more likely to drive through a crosswalk with a pedestrian than others; and they were more likely lie, cheat, and steal when given the opportunity to do so. Some believe the studies are inherently flawed (just because a person is driving a Mercedes does not mean s/he is rich); others believe that an inherent personality trait makes the ruthless more prone to financial success; still others believe it is a left wing plot to denigrate the rich yet again.
Regardless of all of these possibilities, the one study that really needs to be highlighted here involves a game of Monopoly where one person is rigged with a definite advantage over the other player. In this particular study, one player (regardless of financial standing in the “real world”) was given an advantage like starting off with more money or having two dice instead of one. The “randomly rich player” became less empathetic towards the “randomly poor loser”.
I believe this has less to do with ethics and more to do with survival. Consider the fact that the poor player is always on the edge of bankruptcy, constantly focused on making it around the board to get the promised salary, and continuing to play in spite of the fact that the game is rigged and the efforts are sure to be fruitless given the known odds stacked against them. In some ways this is a poetic beauty of mankind: that we continue to struggle against all odds even when it is just a game.
Now focus on the rich player who is given an obvious advantage from the beginning. Chances are, even if they lose everything, they will still be better off than the opponent after getting around the board. The amount they can lose before they have reached the apparently survivable level of their competition is substantial. Importantly, they also will be stuck in that situation for substantially less time than the poor player because of their advantages. Add to this that the poor player has nothing to offer (little property to trade etc), while the rich player can take advantage of this predicament by giving the poor player the option to either pay rent, mortgage a property, or sell a property into a monopoly, and you have a situation painfully reminiscent of… reality.
When you think about this concept of how far people have to fall to be as uncomfortable as others, it really makes the disparity of the top 3% from the lower 50% quite impactful. What laws apply to a person who is still better off than 80% of the population when, say, 45% of his/her income was taken for not complying with moral/ethical/legal standards? That person would still be eating well, living in a nice home, putting kids through college, and driving nice cars with plenty of vacation time. How different would losing 10% of the lowest income be to the poorer population? It could mean a choice between food on the table or clothing on his or her back. It could mean the halt of medication. It most likely would mean moving to a more dangerous neighborhood where the basic needs of safety and survival would be at risk constantly. Suddenly, every move on the Monopoly Board is more meaningful.
If your decision could cost you the food on your table, how would it change? Perhaps that is the mantra we should be living by….
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