Inside the mind of the rich…. maybe not such a pleasant place.

a5c4a0837a4cfdffde71d46de4f5b8c7Dangerous thinking. Apparently thats what I am engaged in. It makes a change I suppose. This charge arose in a twitter discussion on my proposal to tax the bejazuz out of the hyper wealthy, the billionaires.  Keith, a member of Renua, is agin this. Fair enough, but his charge and concern is that I am unfairly casting the billionaires as cold hearted and grasping. But… they may well be.  Lets look at some evidence on the psychological aspects of wealth. 

Its a sunday evening so I am not going to spend a whole heap of time on long arguments. I have just started The Long Earth by the late great Pratchett and the thankfully still here  Baxter and its more interesting than I had thought.  So what do we know about the wealthy?

  • They are actually quite cold in demeanour and are unable to empathise with the problems of the poor.The price of wealth.  Scientist. 4/21/2012, Vol. 214 Issue 2861, p52-55. 4p.
  • They are generally consumed with anxiety, about their money and their kids. “my daughter! my ducats! ” The Fortunate Ones. Atlantic. Apr2011, Vol. 307 Issue 3, p72-80. 7p. 1
  • Getting rich makes you more likely to support rightwing policies and makes you less egalitarian
  • They are aloof. The higher the social class the lower the number of  international  friendships.
  • The rich adhere to Geckoism – they see greed as good . 
  • As wealth grows compassion and empathy declines.
  • The wealthy give less, proportionally, than the poor, to charity. Piff, P. K., Kraus, M. W., Côté, S., Cheng, B. H., & Keltner, D. (2010). Having less, giving more: The influence of social class on prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 771–784. doi:10.1037/a0020092 but this has recently been challenged
  • The findings of higher income = less charitable is perhaps a function of perceived and actual inequality, with this finding stronger in more unequal areas. Greater inequality is associated with lower generosity  by the wealthy
  • The wealthy in general are less compassionate across a range of behaviors. Class and compassion: Socioeconomic factors predict responses to suffering.
    Stellar, Jennifer E.; Manzo, Vida M.; Kraus, Michael W.; Keltner, Dacher
    Emotion, Vol 12(3), Jun 2012, 449-459.
  • The wealthy are more likely to show narcissistic tendencies.
  • Higher social class is associated with both an increased self reporting of empathy and a decreased neurological expression of empathy. The wealthy literally are wired differently.
  • complementing this, greater aultuism and greater biological resilience and flexibility is found amongst less wealthy children
  • The wealthier the college network of people the more economically conservative they become. 
  • Higher social class is associated with more instances of unethical behavior.
  • The Devil does wear Prada. And Faberge. And Gucci.  The mere act of consuming luxury goods reduces generosity and reduces self control.

Enough said. There is a decent amount of decent scientific literature emerging that social class and wealth are related to the empathic and compassionate traits. The higher the lower it seems.


2 thoughts on “Inside the mind of the rich…. maybe not such a pleasant place.

  1. John Latham

    I like to think this is caused by nurture rather than nature. Tax audits should be seen as a form of therapy, helping the wealthy to better psychological health by reducing their harmful exposure to disposable income.


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