Home > musing, statistics > A neat solution to the high class jerk problem

A neat solution to the high class jerk problem

June 2, 2014

You might have heard about the recent study entitled Higher social class predicts increased unethical behaviorIn it, the authors figure out seven ways to measure the extent to which rich people are bigger assholes than poor people, a plan that works brilliantly every time.

What they term “unethical behavior” comes down to stuff like cutting off people and cars in an intersection, cheating in a game, and even stealing candy from a baby.

The authors also show that rich people are more likely to think of greed as good, and that attitude is sufficient to explain their feelings of entitlement. Another way of saying this it that, once you “account for greed feelings,” being rich doesn’t make you more likely to cheat.

I’d like to go one step further and ask, why do rich people think greed is good? A couple of things come to mind.

First, rich people rarely get arrested, and even when they are arrested, their experiences are very different and much less likely to end up with a serious sentence. Specifically, the fees are not onerous for the rich, and fancier lawyers do better jobs for the rich (by the way, in Finland, speeding tickets are on a sliding scale depending on the income of the perpetrator). It’s easy to think greed is good if you never get punished for cheating.

Second, rich people are examples of current or legacy winners in the current system, and that feeling that they have won leaks onto other feelings of entitlement. They have faith in the system to keep them from having to deal with consequences because so far so good.

Finally, some people deliberately judge that they can afford to be assholes. They are insulated from depending on other people because they have money. Who needs friends when you have resources?

Of course, not all rich people are greed-is-good obsessed assholes. But there are some that specialize in it. They call themselves Libertarians. Paypal founder Peter Thiel is one of their heroes.

Here’s some good news: some of those people intend to sail off on a floating country. Thiel is helping fund this concept. The only problem is, they all are so individualistic it’s hard for them to agree on ground rules and, you know, a process by which to decide things (don’t say government!).

This isn’t a new idea, but for some reason it makes me very happy. I mean, wouldn’t you love it if a good fraction of the people who cut you off in traffic got together and decided to leave town? I’m thinking of donating to that cause. Do they have a Kickstarter yet?

Categories: musing, statistics
  1. June 2, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Since greed isn’t illegal under any system of laws, the argument that rich people believe that greed is good because they don’t fear arrest is illogical.


    • June 2, 2014 at 7:43 am

      But cutting cars and people of at intersections is illegal.


      • June 2, 2014 at 8:55 am

        Bad manners, but not necessarily illegal


        • June 2, 2014 at 9:02 am

          Actually the paper describes exactly how illegal:

          1) “Observers stood near the intersection, coded the status of approaching vehicles, and recorded whether the driver cut off other vehicles by crossing the intersection before waiting their turn, a behavior that defies the California Vehicle Code.”

          2) “Observers stood near the intersection, coded the status of approaching vehicles, and recorded whether the driver cut off other vehicles by crossing the intersection before waiting their turn, a behavior that defies the California Vehicle Code.”

          On Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 8:55 AM, mathbabe wrote:



        • June 2, 2014 at 9:52 am

          The researchers assume that CVC 21800 (a) applies; in fact, given the description of the intersection under Methods, CVC 21800 (2) (c) applies, and the observed behavior may or may not be illegal.

          In any case, the hypothesis that rich people believe that greed is good because they do not fear the police depends on whether or not the drivers knowingly broke the law. Since the CVC is ambiguous in this situation, that can’t be taken for granted.

          There are other issues with the methodology in this study, including (a) the possible bias introduced by the uncontrolled selection of vehicles to observe; (b) the subjective assessments of vehicle behavior by the field workers; and (c) the extremely small sample size. The measured distribution of “cut-off” behavior is bimodal, and logistic regression isn’t likely to be the appropriate method to use in this case. Also, the support cited for the study’s use of vehicle as a proxy for social class is an opinion piece and not a research project.


        • June 2, 2014 at 10:01 am

          All true! I would also point out that even if the researchers were accurate, it doesn’t mean people are really rich just because they have nice cars, and moreover some of the studies relied on people’s claims of money, so maybe they only prove that people who claim to be rich are also greedy.

          Even so, I think this study does say something, and what it says to me is that I want to give money to that kickstarter!


        • June 2, 2014 at 11:48 am

          I agree, and thought the study was interesting.

          Moreover, I agree with two separate propositions (a) rich people do not fear the police, and (b) some rich people are greedy, but do not think (a) causes (b) or vice versa.

          Also, most Libertarians are not rich, and most rich people are not Libertarians.


    • June 2, 2014 at 8:08 am

      Actions which are an outcome of greed including most forms of white collar crime are certainly illegal under most systems of laws. Ask Bernie Madoff or Han Liu about the legality of greed under their respective very different legal systems.


      • June 2, 2014 at 8:57 am

        Some actions attributable to greed are illegal, and some are not.


  2. mb
    June 2, 2014 at 8:36 am

    conformation bias is high here. I liked to see it replicated, these types of experiments rarely (if ever) pass a replication step.


  3. Bobito
    June 2, 2014 at 9:38 am

    I loved this paper because it confirmed my bias that people that drive BMWs are assholes.


    • Rehsab Thgir
      June 2, 2014 at 10:06 am

      Bias or valid pattern recognition? You don’t always need a peer-reviewed paper to tell you water is wet.


  4. Gordon
    June 2, 2014 at 10:26 am

    You’re framing your own question the wrong way around: rather than rich people thinking that “greed is good”, it’s more likely that thinking that “greed is good” will result in you getting rich, no?


    • Rehsab Thgir
      June 2, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      If that’s the case, I know a lot of poor and middle class people that need to hurry up and get rich already. I’m sure they are just temporarily embarrassed.


  5. Min
    June 2, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Culture is important with regard to this. Consider the potlatch ceremony among northwestern native American tribes. The point was to give away or to destroy one’s wealth, not to hang on to it. (OC, social status remained or improved. :)) Or consider traditional Hindu culture, which had great inequality, but where the highest value, after fulfilling one’s duty, was renunciation. Greed was not a value for Brahmins, the priestly caste, nor for Kshatrias, the warrior caste. Warriors were in fact expected to gamble, which is not a way of retaining wealth. Japanese samurai may have been wealthy, though not all were, but duty and loyalty were their highest virtues.

    Today people are taught that greed is good. Obviously that was not generally so in the middle ages in Europe, when greed was regarded as a sin, even though rich families may have practiced it. It was not so in the US within living memory. Look at TV shows and movies from the 50s and 60s. In those times the watchword was “enlightened self interest”, a recognition that a narrow focus on one’s self at the expense of others was counterproductive and ultimately self defeating. When Gordon Gekko said that greed is good in “Wall Street”, Stone intended that to be an example of a false belief of the villain of the piece. Instead, quite a number of people thought that Gekko was right. US culture was changing. Now college students are taught that it is rational (hence, good) to maximize their personal utility. A surprising number of Harvard MBAs believe that it is their duty to violate ethics, even laws, on behalf of their clients. Unethical business practices are hardly new, but that attitude reflects a significant cultural change.


  6. June 2, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Floating country?
    Why not try to take over a (low population) state?

    Fortunately (or not, ymmv), they’re getting outnumbered by liberal MA residents migrating north. Scott Brown ain’t the only one.


  7. eightnine2718281828mu5
    June 2, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    If raising taxes on rich assholes makes them leave the country, that’s a feature, not a bug.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. June 2, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Have you considered the possibility that they have no intention of leaving at all, and the whole thing is a con to convince you to give them money?


  9. Savonarola
    June 3, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    I was behind a car in traffic with a bumper sticker that said “Go Galt” in traffic the other day. I thought “YES. Please. How about now? Turn off onto a side road and just GO.”


  1. June 3, 2014 at 6:55 am
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: