The ethics of the rich have come under the spotlight since the credit crisis, as the behavior and ethics of the entire financial system has been criticized by politicians and the public.
Now, a study by the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that the Occupy protestors may have a point.
Upper-class people are more likely to lie, cheat, endorse unethical workplace behavior – and even to cut others off when driving, according to the study.
Volunteers who took part in the study reported their social class using the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Socioeconomic Status and filled out surveys revealing their attitudes about behavior and greed.
Drivers from the upper-class are four times as likely as other drivers to cut off other vehicles at a busy four-way intersection, and three times more likely to cut off a pedestrian waiting to cross the road on a crosswalk, the study of 1,000 individuals found.
And the chances of them agreeing with the old Gordon Gekko maxim, that “greed is good” are much higher.
The study showed that the super-rich are more likely to literally take candy from a baby. Participants were in a laboratory with a jar of candy kept for visiting children, and were offered the jar – whereupon the upper-class members took twice as many.
They were also more likely to deceive job candidates who they were recruiting for a job which would shortly be eliminated.
“The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed,” said Paul Piff, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper, in a statement.
His study is part of a series at Berkeley looking into the relationship between social class and behavior, during the current economic uncertainty.
“These findings have very clear implications for how increased wealth and status in society shapes patterns of ethical behavior, and suggest that the different social values among the haves and the have-nots help drive these tendencies,” Piff said.
The aftermath of the credit crisis has included social unrest from New York to Athens, with the Occupy movement one of its most visible manifestations. Members of the '1 percent' have tried to rehabilitate their reputations since then.