18 thoughts on “Social Scientists Provide Some Fuel for the 1% Fire”

  1. Yeah, yeah, the eggheads will have their say, but last time I checked this was America. Where any kid can grow up to be sleazy and unethical even if he doesn’t have a dime!

  2. I don’t even see an argument in your CS Monitor link, just a bunch of hypothetical questions.

  3. The argument for redistributing income from the 1% does not depend on their moral character. There are enough reasons – luck, use of social capital, good old marginal utility, the danger to the equality of citizens – without it. For the 0.1%, it’s more interesting. Here the last argument – the danger of plutocracy – looms very large. It becomes very relevant what sort of people the plutocrats are. Gates and Buffett make OK Guardians, perhaps. But the collective political behaviour of the current crop of super-rich has been the opposite of noblesse oblige, more like a plot to reinstall feudalism. There’s a point where the survival of democracy is more important than a few points of economic growth.

  4. There doesn’t seem to be much detail at the end of the link.
    I assume this is a study I’ve heard mentioned. Tyhe experiment that was the biggest hoot was where a jar of candy was placed in a room and the subject was informed that the candy was for children in another room so please don’t take any. When left alone the wealthyer subjects were not only more likely to steal candy from children but when they did they took more of it.
    More to the point in all instances the wealty showed themselves more willing to cheat, lie, steal and break laws than individuals of more modest means.

    None of this surprises me. As a small business man it was my expierience that apparently wealthy clients were far more likely to be delinquent in paying bills than poor or middle class clients. As to doing business deals with the very rich, they will welch on a deal and leave you holding the bag without a qualm. Particularly people with inherited wealth. Count your fingers.

    1. But from what I can gather, the experient with the candy didn’t involve any actual rich people. They simply told some of the participants that they were rich (or gave them some token amount of money making them “rich” in comparison to the other participants and only in within the limited context of the experiment (i.e., they didn’t give anybody a check for $1 millon) and then watched to see what ordinary people would do under the circumstances if they believed themselves to be rich. That’s not the same thing as seeing what people who either made or inherited fortunes would do under those circumstances.

      Similarly, as is often said, the plural of “anecdote” isn’t data. I didn’t experience any problems you speak of with my wealthier clients when I was in practice but then my clients were typically more worried about going to jail so money was perhaps less of a concern and, naturally, I always got paid most of my money in advance.

      My feeling is people are just people. It’s not the money, it’s the values your parents impart to you at home and the expectations of people in the social environment in which you function. (That said, there are studies which show a much higher number of sociopaths on Wall Street then in the general population and this does very much agree with my personal observations)

  5. I haven’t been able to find the study on the internet either but from what I’ve read about it, I have some real questions about the methodology. It appears that they didn’t use any actual rich people in conducting the survey but instead seem to have simply told poor or middle class people to pretend that they were rich people and then watched what they did. So the control group wasn’t actually rich people as such but simply ordinary people pretending to be rich—-so maybe the comparison is really between ordinary people and how that same class of people would see themselves if they were to become rich. Not at all the same thing as observing actual rich people.

    Frankly, if they couldn’t get actual bankers, hedge fund managers and assorted aristos to participate, it seems like a basically worthless study to me.

      1. Thanks very much for the link. It turns out that the descriptions on Kevin Drum’s website and other places were quite accurate with regard to all of the experiments except for the one about cars. I saw nothing in the study itself to cause me to alter my original judgment that this study is worthless except that it seems to me that my earlier criticisms understated the methodological flaws of the study.

        If I am reading this study correctly, they didn’t have a sample of rich people (bankers, hedge fund managers, Paris Hilton) to study. They had basically a random bunch of people who were assigned to be either “upper class” or non-upper class and to behave accordingly based on whatever preconceived ideas about rich people the participants might have. This obviously tells us nothing about how actual members of the “upper classes” would act in the situations studied.

        Neither did the researchers go to places with high concentrations of such people to conduct their observations. And they keep saying that they “correlated” for factors such as race, ethnicity, and sex but they don’t explain why it was necessary to do this or even how it was possible. Are they suggesting that Stanley O’Neal (former head of Merrill Lynch) should be classified differently from Chuck Prince (former head of Citigroup) because O’Neal is African-American? What’s the point of all this classifying by different factors unrelated to being possessed of great wealth?

        Similarly, the only effort to test their theories in the field was their observation of the fact that the drivers of “high status” vehicles behaved differently from the drivers of “low status” vehicles. Again, there were observations about race and gender and a statement about how there factors were “correlated” but without an explanation of why race or gender matter. There is also no discussion of which vehicles were high status or were supposedly correlated with low or upper class drivers. Al Gore’s son famously drives a Prius as do many other extremely wealthy people from high status backgrounds. Similarly, how do they know that these “high status” vehicles were being driven by members of the “upper class” and not by their maids or gofers? What about a poorly educated African-American ex-convict drug-dealer driving a stolen BMW or Bill Cosby driving his Volvo? If you Google “Paris Hilton + SUV” you will learn that the prototypical American aristo sometimes drives a hybrid Yukon SUV. “Bill Gates + car” yields the information that he owns many cars, one of which is a Prius and also the fact that his chauffeur sometimes drives another of his cars (a Porsche) to the mechanic for repairs. Would this study have classified Paris Hilton and Bill Gates as non-rich, non-upper class based on seeing them in their “low status” cars but then classified Gates’s chauffeur as upper class based on observing him in his employer’s car?

        And the same flaw exists with observations of the supposedly “low status” vehicles. If you drive through a wealthy neighborhood like Beverly Hills you will find a mixture of different cars in the driveways. How do you know that the driver of the Jeep who courteously stops at the crosswalk isn’t a hedge fund manager who is also a surfer (and who prefers to go to the beach in his second or third car—a Jeep?

        As far as I can tell this is a very silly waste of time and money which tells us nothing about whether the rich are terrible people. Possibly it suggests that some academics are willing to waste time and money just to be able to pad their list of publications. Frankly, the study probably tells us more about the academics who conducted it than it does about the mores of the rich people who were its ostensible subject.

        1. Guess it’s been a while since you drove through “the Hills.” You will see a variety of cars, just about all costing more than 50 grand (Priuses excluded). But there is variety, various sorts of Mercedes, Lexi, Range Rovers, Rolls et al.

          I do recall observing years ago that if someone doesn’t like the results of a study a good thing to do is to try and debunk it and call for more (and more) studies, preferably those which would be impossible to ever do in the real world–for example, we cannot know whether Piff’s study had any validity until he gets folks with video cameras to ride around in all the cars in San Francisco for a month and then view all the video tape and do a statistical breakdown of all the interactions between each car with other cars, pedestrians, traffic signals, cable cars, muni buses and streetcars, not to mention garbage and other trucks, skateboarders and cyclists.

          Greater credibility is achieved by reading study before debunking.

          1. I do not know why you are so hostile. Neither do I understand why you don’t or can’t engage with my thesis that a study which purports to describe the behavior and attitudes of rich people needs to study actual rich people or else have a very good explanation of why the results of studying random people pretending to be rich is a valid substitute for studying actual rich people.

            I also don’t think your “put down” of my analysis of their “rich people behave badly behind the wheel” study is nearly as clever as you seem to think. The easiest and probably the only valid way to study a group to determine their attitudes, values or their culture is to actually study that group. None of the methods you describe would be likely to produce a more valid result. What’s more, I have been in Beverly Hills recently and I see lots of different cars parked in driveways and on the street. All different prices ranges. Not every family with money buys the kids a BMW to drive to school. And the fact that it’s difficult to generalize with all of these variables doesn’t mean that poorly designed studies ought to get a pass. It means that if it’s obvious that the study won’t work as designed then you need to either find a way to fix your methodology or else move on to something that can be studied in a valid way.

            I don’t feel that this was a well designed study. These researchers did not observe anyone who was known to be rich. Not even a single rich person was observed during their study. They don’t even bother to follow Paris Hilton around for a few days. In other words, they didn’t study the group they wrote about and they don’t show how the population they chose to study instead was a valid substitute and therefore likely to produce a valid result.

            This is particularly important since they are drawing some pretty far-reaching conclusions about the mores of a of group of people without studying even a single member of that group (let alone a valid sample). They don’t even bother to define the group about which they are drawing these conclusions. This study is what it would be like if Elliot Liebow had written a book about African-American streetcorner men by studying white people in Santa Monica. It seems to me that if you want to understand the streetcorner men of Tally’s Corner you need to go to Washington and study the actual black men on that corner. Similarly, if you want to say that rich people have certain attitudes then it is necessary to study rich people. I don’t see any legitimate way around that.

            I believe that mine is an obvious and perfectly legitimate critique of their methodology. If you don’t agree, then defend the study’s methods and show where I’m wrong. Okay?

  6. Mitch:

    It appears that your Beverly Hills is not the same one I know.

    By the way, do you find it effective to put forward psychoanalysis of folks you have never meet as a method of argument?

    I repeat my observation that a good way to avoid dealing with a study you don’t like is to demand that a different, impossible to do study is the only true and correct way to research the matter.

    Your belief that your attack (or “critique,” if you prefer) is obvious is not relevant. And, again, be sure to read the study prior to attacking.

    1. H, you really don’t think Mitch has raised some valid concerns about the study? I didn’t hear him agreeing nor disagreeing with the findings, just the methods.

      Personally, I’m inclined to think the wealthy might be more prone to unethical behaviour but only marginally. However, even with these two “rigorous” examinations of the question I have to admit I have no objective basis for my bias. I could argue that because the wealthy have more access to power their unethical decisions are more likely to be harmful to more people. Again, questions I’d like answers to but nothing in this post moves me any closer to them.

    2. 1. I don’t understand how you arrived at what I take to be your conclusion that by criticizing the methodology of this study I am somehow demonstrating a hidden agenda. How did you arrive at this conclusion?

      2. I have, in fact, read the study (thanks to the link you provided) but even if I had not done so and continued to rely on the descriptions of the study and its methods provided in various summaries my questions about the study’s methodological defects would still be valid because those summaries were extremely accurate. I’m not infallible and perhaps I have misread or misunderstood some aspect of how the study was organized. I am open to hearing a defense of the study’s methods and why they were likely to produce a valid result. Can you point to any such error in my analysis?

      3. My main critique has been that a study that purports to describe the behavior and attitudes of rich people should do so by observing people who are actually rich. I also specifically critique the experiments and argue why I believe they were poorly constructed and unlikely to yield valid or useful results. You have had several opportunities to respond but you have never rebutted my arguments or explained why the substitute populations studied in these experiments were valid substitutes for studying actual rich people. I again challenge you to defend the study’s methods and show where I’m wrong in my methodological critique.

      I’m not expressing an opinion on the “sociopathology” of rich people or saying that the study has reached a wrong conclusion. My only point is that if an academic study wants to conclude that rich people have certain attitudes then it is indispensable to look at the members of the group about which you are drawing those conclusions. How could it possibly be otherwise? This seems to me to be a very poorly constructed academic study that is therefore unable to provide much useful information due do those methodological defects. Academic studies have certain requirements which don’t apply to, say, an appearance on Dr. Phil’s television program or a blog post.

  7. My experience with wealthy people is to merely observe that they can never reach the point of having “enough”–no matter how much they have, they always want more. Seems like quite a miserable (and pathological) approach to life, but it also explains how many of them got wealthy: when one’s strongest drive acquisitiveness, one will narrowly focus their life toward obtaining ever more than they have in whatever way possible, and morality can become overly burdensome.

    I will never understand such an undying need for more, more, more, that oftentimes is in extreme excess of what they could ever possibly manage to spend: I guess they entertain themselves with their spreadsheets, as Ebenezer did with his piles of coins, or just seek some kind of affirmation by comparing themselves favorably to others, but I would not be surprised if the wealthiest person in the world still wanted more. They are like economic cancers, single-mindedly consuming all in their path, heedless of the destruction in their wake

    In this sense, the rich really are “different,” and it’s a self-perpetuating phenomenon, and one that should be countered by the society, if the economy is to function.

  8. Or an equally interesting question: Pickle or orange. Which would make a better president?

    Actually, the core question is an interesting one, but the “evidence” we’re asked to consider is silly.

  9. Never having “enough” and always wanting more is not exclusive to the rich. Plenty of middle class people share this opinion. Personally I don’t find this approach miserable nor pathological; it’s called ambition and fuels people to be better. Everyone wants to be as successful as possible; nothing wrong with that.

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