"Evidence that the Meritocracy is Made Up of Poor People"
2014-05-19 by Paul Buchheit for "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/19-1]:
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press).
Many wealthy Americans believe that dysfunctional behavior causes poverty. Their own success, they would insist, derives from good character and a strict work ethic. But they would be missing some of the facts. Ample evidence exists to show a correlation between wealth and unethical behavior, and between wealth and a lack of empathy for others, and between wealth and unproductiveness.
The poor, along with a middle class that is sinking toward them, make up the American meritocracy. Here is some of the evidence.
1. The Poor Don't Cheat As Much -
An analysis of seven different psychological studies found that "upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals." A series of experiments showed that upper-class individuals were more likely to break traffic laws, take valued goods from others, lie in a negotiation, and cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize.
And this doesn't even begin to examine the many, many significant cases of fraudulent behavior in the banking industry [http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/the-meritocracy-myth-how-the-super-rich-really-make-their-money/18605-the-meritocracy-myth-how-the-super-rich-really-make-their-money].
Or private equity firms that cheat their investors over 50 percent of the time [http://www.sec.gov/News/Speech/Detail/Speech/1370541735361#.U3eOmHbyTwM].
Or the many unscrupulous corporate tax avoidance strategies [http://www.nationofchange.org/four-contemptible-examples-corporate-tax-avoidance-1373297031].
2. The Poor Care More About Other People -
Numerous reputable sources have concluded that lower class individuals tend to be more generous and trusting and helpful, compared to the upper class [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20649364]. As people gain in wealth, they depend less on others [http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/social-class-as-culture.html], and thus they have less reason to understand the feelings and needs of the less fortunate [http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-wealth-reduces-compassion]. The poor are better at interpersonal relationships because they need other people [http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/05/rich-people-just-care-less/].
In addition, careful studies have determined that money pushes people further to the right, making them less egalitarian [http://www.voxeu.org/article/money-makes-people-right-wing-and-inegalitarian], and less willing, as a practical consequence, to provide broad educational opportunities to all members of society [http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/~jnd260/cab/CAB2012%20-%20Page1.pdf].
One neuro-imaging analysis [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3825032/] even suggested that the super-wealthy view photos of impoverished people as things rather than as human beings. They react to the poor not with sympathy, but with contempt [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/28/opinion/kristof-where-is-the-love.html].
3. The Rich Focus on Me, Me, Me -
The authors of a recent psychological study argue that rich people are different because they have the freedom to focus on self. In support of this, a number of studies [http://psp.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/08/19/0146167213501699.full#aff-1] have demonstrated that higher social class is associated with increased narcissism, even to the point of looking at themselves more frequently in a mirror [http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-27/wealthier-people-more-likely-than-poorer-to-lie-or-cheat-researchers-find.html]. The rich feel entitled. They attribute success to their 'superior' traits, while people from lower economic backgrounds attribute success to societal values, such as educational opportunities [http://billmoyers.com/2014/01/13/why-the-wealthy-favor-harsh-punishment-for-criminals-and-errant-schoolchildren/].
4. The Poor Give a Greater Percentage of Their Money to Others -
Research has shown that low-income Americans spend a much higher percentage of their income on charitable giving [http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/04/why-the-rich-dont-give/309254/]. Results from three studies average out to 4.5% from low-income people, 2.7% from those with high incomes. With respect to helping people in need, the rich give even less. As Robert Reich notes, about two-thirds of 'charitable' donations from the rich go to their foundations and alma maters, and to "culture palaces" – operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters [http://www.philanthropy.iupui.edu/files/research/giving_focused_on_meeting_needs_of_the_poor_july_2007.pdf].
Charles Koch said, "I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington." The well-being of high society, perhaps.
5. Entrepreneurs are in the (Sinking) Middle Class -
The meritorious behavior of job creation comes from the middle class, which is quickly sliding toward lower-income status [http://www.eoionline.org/blog/how-the-great-recession-cratered-americas-middle-class/]. The very rich generally don't risk their money in job-creating startup businesses. Over 90% of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), the stock market, and real estate [http://articles.marketwatch.com/2011-06-24/commentary/30753798_1_hedge-fund-assets-total-wealth].
With the demise of the middle class, entrepreneurship is decreasing. According to a Brookings Institute report [http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2014/05/declining%20business%20dynamism%20litan/declining_business_dynamism_hathaway_litan], the "firm entry rate," a measure of new firms and thus of entrepreneurial startup activity, fell by nearly half in the thirty-plus years between 1978 and 2011. America's average entrepreneur is 26 years old, but most of our 26-year-olds are burdened by student loan debt [http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/23681-did-reagan-kill-entrepreneurialism].
Meriting Our Respect and Appreciation -
Lower-income Americans serve our food, care for our sick, and clean up after us, with minimal benefits and few complaints. More and more middle-income workers are falling into this struggling group, as 9 out of 10 of the fastest-growing occupations are considered low-wage, generally not requiring a college degree.
These people merit our admiration for persevering in a society where a privileged few are taking almost everything.