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“Greed Isn’t Good: Wealth Could Make People Unethical”

February 29, 2012

I’m not a big fan of anything that generalizes, divides and separates people. I don’t care if it’s big stuff like gender, race, religion, political persuasion or body type, or simple stuff like choosing ketchup* over mustard for a hot dog topping. If it’s an issue that divides people into Us vs. Them or You vs. Me, or an issue that puts a group into a particular stereotype, I’m against it.

 

So I read this article on wired.com titled, “Greed Isn’t Good: Wealth Could Make People Unethical” and because they’re not asking a question, but making a statement of fact and leading us into a certain direction, a red flag goes up. As I read the article I couldn’t help but think that the studies and the article were nothing more than a way to capitalize on all the recent “class warfare” rhetoric going around lately and another way to antagonize the 1%. They’re rich so they must be bad. I’m not the biggest fan of capitalism, and I’m a solid member of the 99%, but even I recognize that as garbage.

I also wonder if some of their methodology isn’t flawed. The article doesn’t go into a lot of depth, but it cites a traffic study where researchers monitored a four-way intersection in San Francisco and noted the makes and models of cars. They were watching for drivers who cut off other drivers and pedestrians and they found that people driving cars which were believed to be an indicator of high socioeconomic status were twice as inconsiderate as people driving what I can only guess to be Chevys, Fords and hoopties**. I wonder if the researchers distinguished between different models of the same car. For example, did they distinguish between a Lexus IS (starting at $33,500) and a Lexus LS (starting at $67,600), or between a BMW 328i (starting at $34,900) and a BMW 740i (starting at $71.000)?  Did they know which drivers were owners and which drivers were leasing? Did they compare lease terms to realize monthly payments? Did they separate out their findings by 20-year-old drivers and 50-year-old drivers or just by make and model of car? Did they distinguish between male and female drivers or which drivers were in a good mood or a bad mood, or on the way to work or on the way home from work or who was driving their own car or someone else’s car? I could go on and on, and while I’m not trying to pigeonhole any one group of people as bad drivers (at least not publically!), I think there are lot of different factors to consider in addition to make and model of car.

I don’t know what studies like this prove. So now we believe the rich to be unethical and we know they’ll take something for free if they can get it and that people in low-income brackets, as well as the poor, are more ethical and the types of people you want to go to a baseball game with. If that’s the lesson then I think the research was a waste of effort and resources and reading the article was a waste of my time.

One final question I had after I finished the article was if I was now supposed to believe that the wealthy made their wealth unethically rather than working for it? Depending on what you read, it seems that becoming a millionaire nowadays is the result of work and not family which means that maybe millionaires and billionaires, these people in that particular corrupt and depraved socioeconomic status we’re being encouraged to envy and dislike, may possess certain personality traits that others don’t, or aren’t willing to, have.

It’s difficult for me to accept anything that generalizes and works to keep us separate and unequal. Maybe we are unequal and have always been unequal and are meant to be unequal until the end of time, but I’m not going to affirm that. While I have no way to prove this, I think maybe people who have power and/or influence over other people are possibly more unethical than others, but I don’t believe rich people are more unethical than people who aren’t rich. What I do believe is that in the grand scheme of things wealth is overrated.

* Of course the answer to this age-old question is ketchup.
** I had never heard of the word ‘hooptie’ before reading it in Soul Circus by George Pelecanos. It’s a slang word for a junker or beater car. I like the word.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2012 12:57 pm

    Interesting article. I am not one to damn another because of how much money they have or do not have.. I honestly think it would take a long time to discover if someone (anyone) was ethical or not ethical–because one couldn’t just take a “snipit” of that person’s life–they’d have to be studied over time. If that could happen, I do think the studies would prove most of us are in the same boat–we have good days and not so good days–and we go through a few trials and tribulations in our life–but basically most of us are decent people overall. I’m with you, in that I have a problem when people–for whatever reason–want to divide us.

    Cheers, Jenn.

    Like

  2. March 1, 2012 2:06 pm

    I don’t like anything that automatically categorizes people, either. It’s decisive and as you pointed out, certainly flawed in logic.

    My take on the haves versus the have-nots? A poor jackass who falls into a pile of cash will likely become a bigger, more noticeable jackass, and a sweetheart to takes the same tumble will be inclined to be even more widely known for his/her kindness. I think moolah–especially when there’s enough of it to free a person from the restraints of the workaday world–simply buys additional time and freedom to express who someone really is, for better or worse.

    Like

  3. March 2, 2012 1:37 pm

    Beth summed up what I was going to say quite nicely.

    Also, Us vs Them is a fear tactic to keep people distracted and is easily deployed since we seem to be a paranoid lot. “United we stand, divided we fall.”

    Like

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