7 July 2020

Christopher Ryan asks Why Are Rich People So Mean? “When the researchers posed as pedestrians waiting to cross a street, all the drivers in cheap cars respected their right of way, while those in expensive cars drove right on by 46.2 percent of the time, even when they’d made eye contact with the pedestrians waiting to cross. [W]ealthier subjects were far more likely to claim they’d won a computer game — even though the game was rigged so that winning was impossible. Wealthy subjects were more likely to lie in negotiations and excuse unethical behavior at work, like lying to clients in order to make more money. When [researchers] left a jar of candy in the entrance to their lab with a sign saying whatever was left over would be given to kids at a nearby school, they found that wealthier people stole more candy from the babies.” But it seems that it is inequality, rather than wealth per se, that makes people mean: “Research conducted at the University of Toronto … suggest[s] … it’s the distance created by wealth differentials that seems to break the natural flow of human kindness. … Rich people were as generous as anyone else when inequality was low. The rich are less generous when inequality is extreme, a finding that challenges the idea that higher-income individuals are just more selfish. If the person who needs help doesn’t seem that different from us, we’ll probably help them out. But if they seem too far away (culturally, economically) we’re less likely to lend a hand.”