Study shows rich people are less ethical

It’s pretty funny to see the headline “Wealthy More Likely to Lie, Cheat: Researchers” on a news site owned by and named after the very wealthy Mike Bloomberg. Who knew Bloomberg was so self-critical and introspective?

New research, written up in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, attempts to answer the question “are society’s most noble actors found within society’s nobility?” And the answer found is no. The pursuit of self-interest is a “fundamental motive among society’s elite, and the increased want associated with greater wealth and status can promote wrongdoing,” The Bloomberg article reports that the study found the “wealthy were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to increase their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behavior at work.”

One of the researchers, Paul Piff, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of California, explained

“It’s not that the rich are innately bad, but as you rise in the ranks — whether as a person or a nonhuman primate — you become more self-focused…. upper-class individuals are more self-focused, they privilege themselves over others, and they engage in self- interested patterns of behavior.”

So, what is to be done? Piff says,

“You can change that by reminding upper-class people of the needs of others. That may not be their default, but have them do it is sufficient to increase their patterns of altruistic behavior…It might be as simple as not only stressing individual performance, but the value of cooperation and improving the welfare of others… That goes a long way.”

So, if Occupy Wall Street is reminding upper class people of the needs of others, they’re actually doing the 1% a favor; providing them with much needed empathy and altruism training… for free!


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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