Wealth is correlated with greed, dishonesty and cheating -- are these effects or a causes?

Hey, the guillotines work fine either way.


I generally agree with this. I also know and work with a number of very wealthy people. The problems I’ve observed come more with people who view their wealth as an entitlement or sign of divine favour, who’ve either grown up with it and take it for granted or who came into it through work but refuse to acknowledge the role dumb luck and existing social capital and privilege played into it. Greed, dishonesty and a willingness to cheat and cut corners are characteristics of these types.


I had a long conversation with a guy on imgur, trying to explain how his folks paying for his college, being able to work and save while in college and living at home, and getting a job out of college with a family friend is a form of luck. And while it doesn’t discount any of the hustling he did, he didn’t actually earn those opportunities and advantages.

It was a very long exchange.


About 15 years ago, one of my family members ran into Bill Gates and his family in the first class cabin on a trans-Pacific flight. They started chatting, and he asked the obvious question about why Gates wouldn’t just take a private jet back. Gates told him matter-of-factly that he didn’t want his kids thinking that flying that way regularly is normal.


It’s difficult to give away what you don’t really have. Also it has the word “give” in it.


Maybe it’s just that the rich get away with it… I mean poor people who resort to this stuff get punished. And then once you get away with something you tend to keep it up. Especially if you are told it’s fine and legal (tax loopholes, lawyerly intimidation, worker exploitation are all highly immoral but can be done legally)


I think that’s one avenue where people have seriously fucked up ideas about wealth and privilege. That points to their values and what’s most important in their lives.

In the immortal words of Princess Leia Organa:


are these effects or a causes?



And that’s before you get into skin and gender privilege and class-based social capital, all of which also help one get through the door and maximise the outcome of all the hard work.

And it’s baked into America’s twin religions of Calvinism and capitalism.


I feel like a lot of people either weren’t around for the '80s and '90s (in fact, more and more as time goes on…) or have completely forgotten what Bill Gates was like then. Basically all advancement in computers, software and networking happened despite him. The great secret that allowed Linux to change the world was precisely that Bill Gates couldn’t buy it and kill it.

Don’t get me wrong, on the list of billionaires he is definitely one of the least assholish, but that’s a more of a threshold than a bar. His philanthropy with malaria is commendable, but other endeavors (covered elsewhere on this blog) are actually quite destructive and aggressively promote neo-liberalism. We can’t know, but it’s easy to imagine that if he had been paying Eisenhower-era taxes on his wealth instead of pocketing it, it’s likely that a great deal more good would have been done with that money.

I have to laugh, of course, especially about the rationale, but obviously if you’re a billionaire riding coach would generally be unwise, and I appreciate him not running his own aircraft just to push 180lbs across the Atlantic.


Shhhhh libertarianism is the political equivalent of anti-vaxx. If you ask them to hold logically consistent views, they react by just polishing their conclusions harder and harder until they no longer feel any dissonance amid the fumes.


That’s the challenging part for a wealthy parent, and why I pointed out it was the first class cabin. Gates can make the most admirable effort possible to lessen his kids’ sense of entitlement but they’re still likely not going to deliberately fly coach in their lifetimes. Unless you’re willing to wear the hair shirt all that money is going to have some effect on your kids and perhaps on you as well, if only for the options and lack of stress it offers.

Warren Buffett famously lives in a relatively modest home for someone of his net worth, but it’s still a 6570sqf house in a nice neighbourhood in Omaha and it’s fully paid off. Furthermore, if he or his family wants a change of scenery he has the choice of going to any luxury villa or hotel on the globe he wants.

That doesn’t necessarily make wealthy people dishonest or cheats, but having and keeping a high net worth can do a real number on your mindset.


Just like the Robber Barron philanthropists of the early 20th century - Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt - they destroyed a lot of lives acquiring their fortunes. With enough time, putting your name on a building is one surefire way of greenwashing one’s reputation.


Wealth is correlated with greed, dishonesty and cheating – are these effects or causes?


Empathy and Ethics can be seen a another form of muscle. The more you use them, the more pronounced they become. That’s why not cheating at the little things prepares you for the big ethical questions.

It’s also hard because the right thing to do is often not recognized and not remembered. Nobody remembers when I didn’t choose to take credit for something good that I made happen. Our society rewards the showy display - everyone shakes Buffet’s hand when he donates billions (and I’m glad he did), but my wife doesn’t even notice when I do the dishes out of turn because I know she is working a lot right now…


Yup. Just one big feedback loop.


If you follow the links down the rabbit hole to the actual studies in question, the studies themselves are ok reads (subscriptions required in a few cases). But then you run up against the study of the studies here and that study calls all the other ones bunk.

I mean, we’re gonna hang the 1% anyway, (check swear jar (aka bank account), donate to charity, am I under that imaginary line? donate more just to be safe) lets just not pretend we’re justified based on shoddy work. Let’s do it because there are billionaires who are the leaders of our countries (I’m looking at you US, Russia, China, and so forth) who are grifting the rest of us into seeing each other as the enemy, and not them.

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It has long been my opinion that this behavior of the robber barons, is just them getting on in years and trying to buy their soul back. Just the modern equivalent of the medieval habit of bequeathing a church on your deathbed.


You’d think I’d be richer.


Ah ha ha!
A shiny shiny 2019 black Audi SUV cut me off on my drive home.

I was in my 2005 Honda doing the speed limit on a one-lane construction-in-progress highway. Dude passed me on the left amid the traffic cones. In Texas, that’s several kinds of illegal. I stared at the car as it passed me and the passenger (a woman) wrinkled her nose at me like she could smell me through her closed window. Lovely.