Why the Rich Are Less Ethical: They See Greed as Good

Maia Szalavitz

While stereotypes suggest that poor people are more likely to lie and steal, new research finds that it’s actually the wealthy who tend to behave unethically. In a series of experiments — involving everything from dangerous driving to lying in job negotiations and cheating to get a prize — researchers found that, across the board, richer people behaved worse. But, rather than class itself, the authors suggest that it’s views about greed that may largely explain the difference.

In the first two experiments, University of California, Berkeley, psychologists positioned observers at San Francisco intersections to watch for drivers who didn’t wait their turn at lights or yield for pedestrians. The researchers noted the make, age and appearance of cars — a marker for the drivers’ socioeconomic status — as well as the drivers’ gender and approximate age.

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Gradually, by selective breeding, the congenital differences between rulers and ruled will increase until they become almost different species. A revolt of the plebs would become as unthinkable as an organized insurrection of sheep against the practice of eating mutton. (pg.51)

Source: Russell, B. (1968). The Impact of Science on Society. New York, NY: AMS Press.

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