Rich People Kind of Suck


“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'”

(Mathew 19:23-24)

Recently, I watched a TED talk led by Paul Piff, an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine, titled “Does money make you mean?” For 16 minutes I sat at my computer screen enthralled by Piff’s words and the conclusions he had drawn from his studies. In study after study, Piff found that people with higher incomes were more likely to be dishonest at work, cheat, encourage unethical behaviors, and exhibit lower levels of compassion and empathy.

In a study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, Piff paired over 100 students to play a rigged game of Monopoly. Students played for a total of 15 minutes and were asked to flip a coin at the beginning of the game to determine which student would receive certain privileges. The players with privileges were the “rich” players because they were given higher amounts of money and opportunities to roll throughout the game.

In his TED talk, Piff shows short clips of different participants in his study. Some patterns that he noted were that “rich” players were more authoritative and rude. “Rich” players were more inclined to show gestures of excitement and were more likely to boast about the money that they owned. What was most surprising was that at the conclusion of the study when players were asked to express their thoughts on the game, many “rich” players attributed their success to their own decision making and effort during the game. Many “rich” players failed to attribute their success to the fact that the game was engineered so only they (the “rich” players) could win. Piff’s results with the Monopoly game, directly correlated to his studies on people of higher economic backgrounds. All around, being rich or thinking you’re rich increases your chances of being a jerk.

So is there a silver lining to this dark cloud?

Yes and no…

Piff’s study concluded that after showing brief clips of child poverty to wealthier participants, they became more compassionate and empathetic towards other people’s problems which was a major issue during the Monopoly experiment. (Participants were oblivious to the feelings of the “poor” players as well as to their own route to success).

Piff also talked briefly of current projects like The Giving Pledge where the extremely wealthy vow to give the majority of their fortune to charities. While this sounds like a promising step forward I encourage everyone to watch two documentaries by Jamie Johnson called Born Rich and The One Percent.

In these documentaries Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune, questions his inherited wealth. Johnson asks questions in an environment where the rich don’t want to acknowledge the current wealth gap. He struggles to find acceptance within his family for filming a documentary his family sees as taboo.


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