01/10/2014 05:40 pm ET | Updated Mar 09, 2014

Studies Find That Successful People Tend To Be Bad

On 29 July 2010, Britain's Economist headlined "Wealth, Poverty and Compassion: The Rich Are Different from You and Me; They Are More Selfish," and summarized a study, to be published in the November 2010 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, titled "Having Less, Giving More: The Influence of Social Class on Prosocial Behavior." The authors - Michael Kraus, Paul Piff, and three others - said in their "Abstract": "Across 4 studies, lower class individuals proved to be more generous ..., charitable ..., trusting ..., and helpful ..., compared with their upper class counterparts, ... because of a greater commitment to egalitarian values and feelings of compassion."

On 13 December 2010, Rich O'Hanlon of bannered "Study of the Day: Rich People Feel Less Empathy," and he reported that, "In mock job interviews, researchers ... asked more than 300 upper- and lower-class people to read the emotions of people in photos and of live strangers. Those [test-subjects] with a higher education-level, more money, and a self-defined social position, struggled to figure out whether or not someone was angry or happy." This study's main author, Michael Kraus, summarized: "We found that people from a lower-class background - in terms of occupation, status, education and income level - performed better in terms of emotional intelligence, the ability to read the emotions that others are feeling." The study's press release, issued by the journal Psychological Science, headlined "Upper-Class People Have Trouble Recognizing Others' Emotions." This study, published October 25th in Psychological Science, was titled "Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic Accuracy."

Finally, a piece of scientific research had been done, and was reported here, which tapped into the strong tendency successful people have to be rotten to their core: to be so little concerned about the feelings of less-fortunate individuals, so that they're unable to speculate accurately about what those people's feelings are. Read their faces? What faces? Does Smithfield Corporation look at, or care to read, the faces of the billions of pigs it raises and slaughters? That's not their style. Finally, in this study, the reality was beginning to be examined and exposed, that the more successful a person is, the worse the given individual is likely to be. The implications of this study are ideologically explosive.

Then, on 20 December 2011, The Greater Good Blog, at, bannered "Low-Income People Quicker to Show Compassion," and reported that, "Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that people in the lower socio-economic classes are more psychologically attuned to suffering, and quicker to express compassion than their more affluent counterparts. ... The results indicate that socio-economic status correlates with the level of empathy and compassion." The following day, the conservative online news-summary Drudge Report headlined "Study: Rich People Less Empathetic Than Poor," and summarized the findings. Reader comments following there were overwhelmingly hostile, such as the first one, which said, simply: "Boo-f**king-hoo." Readers at conservative news sites tend to hold compassionate people in contempt; compassion is despised by them as a weakness, even though George W. Bush and some other lying conservatives claim to espouse a "compassionate conservatism" (a contradiction in terms). The reality, to the contrary of that, was displayed there, at the Drudge Report. The study itself was issued online on 12 December 2011, and it was published in the journal Emotion. Its authors were Jennifer Stellar, Vida Manzo, Michael Kraus, and Dacher Keltner. Its title is "Class and Compassion: Socioeconomic Factors Predict Responses to Suffering."

A perfect case-example of this lack of empathy amongst the aristocracy was provided on 17 December 2010, when Lee Fang of headlined "'U.S.' Chamber of Commerce Lobbied To Help Kill Bill To Provide Health Care To 9/11 First Responders," and he provided the first investigative report on why Republicans had killed the bill to help 9/11 first-responders who were now dying from asbestosis (the World Trade Towers had been loaded with asbestos). He found that, "The 'U.S.' ... Chamber fought to help kill the 9/11 compensation bill because it was funded by ending a special tax loophole exploited by foreign corporations doing business in the United States. ... In September, the Chamber sent a letter officially opposing the 9/11 first responders bill ... [and] warned that ending the tax loophole would 'damage U.S. relationships with major trading partners.' ... In typical fashion, the Chamber has not revealed which of its foreign members had asked them to kill the 9/11 bill." Furthermore, "Yesterday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) sent out a statement that mirrored the Chamber's opposition to ending the foreign corporate tax loophole." However, Sen. Collins didn't actually cite the Chamber, nor its reason, nor even the tax loophole at all. Instead, she did the same thing that all Republicans in Congress were doing: she argued for the position the Chamber was lobbying for, but without even mentioning the Chamber, or using its argument. Instead, she said: "I support the 9/11 health bill on the merits" (as if that were ever a concern of Republican political figures) but that she was concerned "about the need for legitimate ways of offsetting the cost" (as if ending this tax-loophole weren't a 'legitimate' way). Then, she said, "If the Majority Leader were to bring the bill to the floor with appropriate offsets, I would support the legislation." (By 'appropriate offsets,' she referred to cutting programs for the poor and middle class, rather than cutting this foreign corporate tax-break.) Like with aid to the long-term unemployed, Republicans demanded that this measure be offset by budget-cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, without identifying where that elsewhere would be. (Republicans knew better than to be explicit about their serving only the top 1%.) She favored cutting estate taxes, and other tax-cutting for the super-rich, by adding those tax-expenditures onto the federal debt, but not adding to the federal debt programs for the needy or poor, not even this life-or-death program for 9/11 heroes who were dying from their asbestos-exposure. She demanded that tax-breaks for foreign companies must continue, though her public statements didn't mention that concern, which actually drove her opposition to the 9/11 healthcare bill. In other words: the Republican position on the 9/11 health bill was just another aristocratic con for the faithful.

On 26 January 2012, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS, which is the world's most prestigious scientific journal, published "Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior," by Paul K. Piff, Dacher Keltner, and three others; and they reported that, "Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals." They found that, "Upper-class individuals' unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed." ABC News headlined "Are Rich People Unethical?" and interviewed Dr. Piff, who said, "What it comes down to, really, is that money creates more of a self-focus, which may account for larger feelings of entitlement." They feel they've got a right to loot. Paul Krugman's 26 September 2013 New York Times column was about "Plutocrats Feeling Persecuted," and discussed Robert Benmosche, the CEO of bailed-out AIG, "in an interview with The Wall Street Journal: He compared the uproar over bonuses to lynchings in the South"; and Krugman also discussed "a comparable outburst from Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman of the Blackstone Group, ... speaking about proposals to close the carried-interest loophole - ... 'It's a war; it's like when Hitler invaded Poland.'"

Then, most recently of all, there is this, so pithy and important that almost the entire Abstract will be quoted here: the study, "Social Class Rank, Essentialism, and Punitive Judgment," by Michael W. Kraus and Dacher Keltner, was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27 May 2013, with this in its Abstract:

"We tested the hypotheses that upper-class rank individuals would be more likely to endorse essentialist lay theories of social class categories (i.e., that social class is founded in genetically based, biological differences [like 'racism']) than would lower-class rank individuals, and that these beliefs would decrease support for restorative justice - which seeks to rehabilitate offenders, rather than [merely] punish. ... Across studies, higher social class rank was associated with increased essentialism of social class categories ... and decreased support for restorative justice. ... Moreover, ... essentialist beliefs decreased preferences for restorative justice, ... and the association between social class rank and class-based essentialist theories was explained by the tendency to endorse beliefs in a just world [Adam Smith's famous 'invisible hand' of God]. ... Implications for how class-based essentialist beliefs potentially constrain social opportunity and mobility are discussed."

This article itself noted: "These findings suggest that highly ranked members of society - such as individuals who perceive themselves as high in social class rank vis-a-vis others - may be inclined to endorse essentialist beliefs in part to justify or legitimize their elevated social position." Evidence was found that the most successful people ("highly ranked members of society") hold "essentialist belief" partly in order to explain to themselves their success as coming from their superiority, instead of from their ruthlessness or other bad traits that they embody.

To the extent that a person wants his child to succeed (in the ordinary sense of that term), to rise or stay at the top in social standing, the parent will teach his child not to care about the welfare of others but only of himself, and to do anything or crush anyone in order to win what he wants. The child will be taught that he is entitled to do this because of his inborn superiority, his lineage -- not because of anything he does or has done. On the other side, to the extent that a parent encourages a child to care about the welfare of others, or not feel entitled by birth, that parent will reduce the likelihood his child will attain or retain high social standing.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They're Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST'S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.