Money and Morality: Are the Rich Different? The Rich Buddha Weighs In

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David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

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  1. Avatar NewDealer
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    says:

    I remember seeing articles/studies that show the rich are more likely to be somewhat unethical but I don’t know how much weight I give to these studies.

    First of all it depends on what we mean by rich. Do we mean people with a lot of money or people with a lot of capital? I know a lot of very well-to-do people with high incomes from being lawyers, surgeons, and other professions. I see these people as being rich. A friend of mine considers these people to be “working class” because they need to work for their lifestyle and expenses. My friend admits that his definition is a controversial and narrow one.

    There is also the fact that in the United States, we have somewhat of a taboo of being rich and poor. Our definition of middle class is extremely wide and includes people who would be considered working class and rich in other countries.

    There have also been studies to show that rich and poor people give to different kinds of charities, are likely to use their support networks in different ways, etc. Part of this might or might not explain why the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. IIRC, if you are poor and your friend needs to get somewhere for a job interview, you take them for their job interview. Even if it costs you your own job. The logic behind the decision is that you might need to be the person who is taken on a job interview one day.

    Also, you run into the polling problem of people saying what they think they should say instead of what they really mean. If you ask a hypothetical about people becoming multi-millionaires and what they would do with the money, most people will say that they will still choose to live very humbly and help their relatives because it sounds better than saying “I’d go balls off the wall and indulge in a lot of conspicuous consumption.”Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP
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    says:

    So I watched the HuffPo video and looked at some of Piff’s papers.

    I have a theory on why we enjoy altruism so much. It’s an extension of the pleasure we derive from first receiving gifts, then giving them. Notice how much we look forward to Christmas or our birthdays, in hopes someone will be thoughtful enough to give us a gift we really want. Notice also how often disappointed we are when all the wrapping paper has been put into the trash bag. Though the usual people in our lives gave us something they thought we might want, how rare it is that we are given something delightful.

    We can always short-circuit this process, asking for something specific. Or, more thoughtful people will ask us what we want — but the pleasure is attenuated somehow when you open such a gift, knowing what’s inside. There’s something perfunctory about it.

    Happy is the man who gives a gift and knows he’s hit the bullseye. Money cannot buy such pleasures. It’s a self-affirming act.

    Why do we say Christmas is for children? Because they are so easily delighted. The best gift-giver I ever knew was a teaching nun, a woman with amazing insight into the minds of children. They weren’t expensive gifts. They were delightful gifts.

    You, David, have a beautiful boat. If you take a dozen children out onto the sparkling water, you aren’t being guilt-ed into it. In a very real sense, you’re being delighted into it. There is a certain greedy joy in watching the faces of delighted children. It is a gift you can give, a gift you understand. Tourists might pay you but where’s the pleasure in that?

    You are a man who’s invested a large part of your effort into erotic art. I’ve written a lot of erotica. I suppose nobody here’s a virgin and we’ve all had some perfunctory sex, perhaps some of us have paid or even been paid for it. But why don’t we pay for sex with those we love? Why is this such a payment an obnoxious concept? Because really good sex is at once both selfish and giving, beyond a mere grubby transaction. At its core lies delight and fulfilment, some unity with the Beloved.

    Altruism is satisfying because it’s gift-giving taken seriously. We give because someone else has genuine need, a need we understand and can comprehend.

    If the rich give less, exhibit less empathy, ride roughshod over others, bend the rules, make bad excuses for the vagaries of fate which led to their own success, there’s a reason. Want to know who your real friends are in life? Go broke. You’ll find out pretty quickly. The rich are isolated because everyone wants to be their good buddies. The rich don’t have real friends. Being on top of the pile means fighting to stay on top of that pile. The rich are not like you and me because we are not like them. We see only their riches. The rich are not admired. They’re resented and they know it. All they’re good for is writing a check. I used to think of myself as the Human VISA card.

    All my life, I’ve either been fed from the plate of charity as my parents were missionaries or filled that plate, in later life. There’s a flip side to the anomie you described. We weren’t rich people as missionaries. Yet compared to the African people, we were indescribably wealthy. Preparing for the last four years we were in Africa, my parents had bought me six pairs of shoes in graduated sizes in the states. There they sat in boxes in my closet. I never let other kids in there. Compared to even other missionary kids, we were wealthy.

    When I was just a little kid, my brother and I had a wagon. We’d play with kids from the village, one would get in and the others would push him. Somehow my little brother always ended up in the wagon with the Hausa kids pushing. He didn’t ask for it, that’s just the way they liked to play. Mom would come out and have one of the African kids get in the wagon and my brother didn’t mind. But the Hausa kids didn’t like to play with the wagon that way and soon enough, my brother was once again in the wagon. I have no explanation for it or lesson to draw from it. But this much I did know, they pretended my brother was my Dad, driving his Jeep.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    It was a literary conversation. Fitzgerald (“The Rich Boy”):

    Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

    Hemingway (“The Snows of Kilimanjaro”):

    The rich were dull and they drank too much, or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Julian and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, “The very rich are different from you and me.” And how some one had said to Julian, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Julian. He thought they were a special glamourous race and when he found they weren’t it wrecked him just as much as any other thing that wrecked him.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Mike Schilling
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      says:

      I get what both authors were saying but I agree with Fitzgerald more.

      Disclosure: I love Fitzgerald and have never been able to get into HemmingwayReport

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Fitzgerald had no strong core of belief. He’d always been popular and wanted to add rich to that because without money he wasn’t going to get Zelda. Then once he was rich, famous, and popular, he became completely aimless, and spent his time drinking too much, both alone and in groups. That’s what wrecked him.

        Hemingway had strong beliefs about what made people worthwhile, which he applied to his characters, his friends, and himself. That’s why becoming rich, famous, and popular didn’t wreck him (though growing old and the consequent dimming of his talent did), and having money was no part of his value system, which is why wealth in itself didn’t impress him.Report

  4. Avatar Rothko
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    says:

    After watching the Huffington Post Live discussion, you might consider the truths in William Hamilton’s acerbic New Yorker cartoon which shows his hallmark SUCCESSFUL BIGGIE engaging a young sweetie at a dinner party and captions him enlightening his innocent young guest:

    “Money is life’s report card.”

    Report

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