Thursday, January 22, 2015

The wealth effect

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What is the effect of wealth on happiness and living the abundant life?

Wealth can corrode one's spirit and morality.

A recent study suggests that wealth makes a person more dishonest and selfish (cf. Michael Lewis, "What wealth does to your soul," The New Republic, January 2, 2015). This how University of California Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner explained the result:

If I have $100,000 in my bank account, winning $50 alters my personal wealth in trivial fashion. It just isn't that big of a deal. If I have $84 in my bank account, winning $50 not only changes my personal wealth significantly, it matters in terms of the quality of my life — the extra $50 changes what bill I might be able to pay, what I might put in my refrigerator at the end of the month, the kind of date I would go out on, or whether or not I could buy a beer for a friend. The value of winning $50 is greater for the poor, and, by implication, the incentive for lying in our study greater. Yet it was our wealthy participants who were far more likely to lie for the chance of winning fifty bucks.

Wealth can erode communal trust and civic participation.

Another study shows that wealth makes Americans more likely to vote and to trust the government (Jana Kasperkevic, "Poor Americans are less likely to vote and more likely to distrust government, study shows, " The Guardian, January 9, 2015). Those conclusions make intuitive sense. People who vote are logically more likely to trust a government that they helped to elect or that is part of a political system in which they are personally invested. Conversely, one might reasonably expect governments to be most responsive to those citizens who are most engaged with the political process, i.e., voters and campaign contributors.

Greater wealth and income, beyond a certain level, do assure greater happiness or more abundant living.

Previous Ethical Musings posts have noted that beyond a certain income level, increasing one's income does not proportionately increase happiness. In other words, earning more money to increase one's wealth (or becoming wealthy in what is known as the "old-fashioned way" by inheriting it) is no guarantee of happiness or an abundant life, especially as one's annual income moves above $80,000.

The world's great religious traditions are correct to insist that wealth is at best a tool and never a goal to be sought for its own sake.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What you say is all true. In the military the poorer enlisted gave more on fund drives than officers. My brother, another retired Lt Col, is an example of wealthy people being more likely to want more money. He has acquired a big sum over the years and can't even spend his retirement benefits. He will argue over 50 cents or less and insists on using coupons to get even bigger discounts. It's like a game to him to see how cheap he can be, even making store owners frustrated with his activities and finally giving in to him. Also my sister, who works in the travel industry, can vouch for rich people gripping about a 5 dollar raise in prices of events she books for them.
So is there an answer to this scenario of the wealthy valuing money more than the poor. Yes the poor need it more but the wealthy have the desire and need for winning at everything.