28th February 2012
During an address to 8000 youths at Diamond Island yesterday, the Prime Minister complained that the spoiled children and wives of some rich and powerful officials were want to exploit their fathers’ and husbands’ positions, the Kampuchea Thmey Daily reports. The premier urged these officials to educate their children to walk the right path and not to fall into the mindset that, as the saying goes, “If a husbands has a third rank, their wives claim four and their children behave as if they had five.” They needed to change their attitude, whereby some of these wives and children felt they had a right to appropriate their husbands’ status. The PM noted that this problem wasn’t only restricted to Cambodia, but nevertheless it was essential to remedy these bad attitudes.
Recent research has thrown some light on why the rich are not like the rest of us.
According to seven experiments that weighed the ethics of hundreds of people, the “upper class” (as defined by the study) were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiations, cheat to increase their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behaviour at work, researchers reported today in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences.
Thinkers have often speculated over the possibility that people with fewer resources and dimmer prospects might be expected to do whatever is necessary to get ahead, while wealthy types may be more focused on themselves, because money, independence, and freedom can insulate people from the plight of others.
Psychologist Paul Piff of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues devised a series of tests to see whether dishonesty varies with social class. Working with groups of 100 to 200 Berkeley undergraduates or adults recruited online, subjects were asked to complete a standard gauge of their social status, placing an X on one of 10 rungs of a ladder representing their income, education, and how much respect their jobs might command compared with other Americans.
Privilege apparently promotes dishonesty, the findings suggest. For example, one experiment invited 195 adults recruited using Craigslist to play a game in which a computer “rolled dice” for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate. The numbers each participant rolled were the same; anyone self reporting a total higher than 12 was lying about their score. Those in wealthier classes were found to be more likely to fib, Piff said.
“A $50 prize is a measly sum to people who make $250,000 a year,” he said in a telephone interview. “So why are they more inclined to cheat? For a person with lower socio-economic status, that $50 would get you more, and the risks are small.”
Poorer participants may be less likely to cheat because they must rely more on their community to get by, and thus are more likely adhere to community standards, Piff said. By comparison, “upper-class individuals are more self-focused, they privilege themselves over others, and they engage in self-interested patterns of behaviour,” Piff said.
When participants were manipulated into thinking of themselves as belonging to a higher class than they did, the poorer ones, too, began to behave unethically. In one test, subjects were asked to compare themselves with people at the top or the bottom of the social scale (Donald Trump or a homeless person, for example) and were then permitted to take candies from a jar ostensibly meant for a group of children in a nearby lab. Subjects whose role-playing raised their status in their own eyes took twice as many candies.
Another test asked 108 adults found through Amazon.com’s work-recruiting website Mechanical Turk to assume the role of an employer negotiating a salary with someone seeking long-term employment. They were told several things about the job, including that it would shortly be eliminated. Upper-class individuals were more likely not to mention to the job-seeker the impermanence of the position, the research found.
Participants were asked In another test to list several benefits of greed, with the example that greed can help further one’s professional goals, then asked to come up with three additional benefits. Again, lower-class subjects whose attitudes toward greed had been nudged in this way became just as likely as their wealthier counterparts to sympathise with dishonest behaviour (taking home office supplies, laying off employees while increasing their own bonuses, overcharging customers to drive up profits).
The researchers took their hypothesis to the streets in a final experiment. At a busy intersection in the San Francisco Bay area, the team stationed “pedestrians” at pedestrian crossings, with instructions to approach the crossing at a point when oncoming drivers would have a chance to stop. Observers coded the status of the cars’ drivers based on the vehicles’ age, make, and appearance. Drivers of shiny, expensive cars were three times more likely than those of old clunkers to plough through a crossing, failing to yield to pedestrians as required by California state law. High-status motorists were also four times more likely than those with cheaper, older cars to cut off other drivers at a four-way stop.
In an interesting twist, about one-third of Prius drivers broke pedestrian crossing laws, putting the hybrid among the highest “unethical driving” car brands. “This is a good demonstration of the ‘moral licensing’ phenomenon, in which hybrid-car drivers who believe they’re saving the Earth may feel entitled to behave unethically in other ways,” Piff says.
Piff says the study may shed light on the hotly debated topic of income inequality. “Our findings suggest that if the pursuit of self-interest goes unchecked, it may result in a vicious cycle: self-interest leads people to behave unethically, which raises their status, which leads to more unethical behaviour and inequality.”
The study builds on previous research that has shown wealthy people are worse at recognising how others feel and are more likely to be disengaged during social interactions than others, the authors wrote in the paper. That seems to be the case even in primates, said Piff.
Meanwhile, according the Cambodian National Institute of Statistics, inflation in January of this year increased by 5.8% compared to the same period last year, with food and gasoline continuing to rise, the opposition-aligned Moneaksekar Khmer reports. Data from the Institute showed that the price of beverages rose by 7.7%, rice 7%, pork 20.3%, beef 17.5% this year, while fish and seafood increased by 7.1%.
The escalating price of petrol and foods badly affected the livelihood of the average Cambodian, particularly civil servants, teachers, soldiers, policemen and garment workers that had low incomes and therefore couldn’t cope with this leap in the cost of living, the paper commented.
Desperation may yet also produce evidence of ‘bad behaviour’ but in this case it will, at least, be understandable.