Money Makes People Right-Wing and Inegalitarian

By Andrew J Oswald, Professor of Economics, Warwick University. Originally published at VoxEU

Rich people typically lean right politically. Are they motivated by deeply moral views or self-interest? This column argues that money makes you right-wing. It shows that lottery winners in the UK are more likely to switch their allegiance from left to right.

Why are you right-wing, left-wing, or in the middle? You probably believe that you made a genuine, calm, and ethical choice. But what were the deep causal forces upon those political preferences?

The scientific roots of people’s political views are poorly understood. One possibility (View 1) is that individuals’ attitudes to politics and redistribution are motivated by deeply moral views. Another possibility (View 2) – and this is perhaps some economists’ presumption — is that voting choices are made out of self-interest and then come to be embroidered in the mind with a form of moral rhetoric. Testing between these two alternative theories is important intellectually. It is also inherently difficult. That is because so many of our attitudes as humans could stem from early in life and are close to being, in the eyes of the researcher, a ‘person fixed-effect’.

In most data sets, rich people typically lean right. The fact that high income and right-wing views are positively correlated in a cross-section has been repeatedly documented in quantitative social science (recently, for example, by Brooks and Brady 1999 and Gelman et al. 2007 in US data, and by Evans and Tilley 2012 in British data). An analogous result is reported, using quite different kinds of methods, in Karabarbounis (2011). Economists such as Di Tella and MacCulloch (2005) have also studied political views and their implications, and other influences have been examined using causal evidence on political views (such as in Oswald and Powdthavee 2010 and Erikson and Stoker 2011).

Fine – so the rich favour the right not the left. The difficulty is to know how to interpret this famous correlation of political science. Is it actually cause-and-effect, and if so in what direction? It would be nice to run a real randomised experiment where a treatment group are showered with cash, but that would be too expensive for social-science funding agencies. Hence it is necessary to look elsewhere for inspiration.
New Evidence from the Lottery
Our new study, Powdthavee and Oswald (2014), tries to get to the bottom of the issue. By looking at lottery winners through time, it provides longitudinal evidence consistent with the second, and some might argue more jaundiced, view, namely the View 2 of human beings. We exploit a panel data set in which people’s political attitudes are recorded annually. Our work builds upon an interesting cross-sectional examination by Doherty et al. (2007), which we learned about late in our own research.

In our data set, many hundreds of individuals serendipitously receive significant lottery windfalls. We find that the larger is their lottery win, the greater is that person’s subsequent tendency, after controlling for other influences, to switch their political views from left to right. We also provide evidence that lottery winners are more sympathetic to the belief that ordinary people ‘already get a fair share of society’s wealth’.

We are able to observe people before and after a win. Access to longitudinal information gives us advantages denied to most previous researchers on this topic. One reason this is important is because it seems plausible that personality might determine both the number of lottery tickets bought and the political attitudes of the person, and this might thereby lead to a possible spurious association between winning and right-leaning views. We provide, among other kinds of evidence, a simple graphical demonstration that winners disproportionately lean to the right having previously not been right-wing supporters.

The formal study draws upon a nationally representative sample from the British population. In our regression equations we focus particularly upon a sub-sample of people (a fairly large proportion, given the lottery’s popularity in the UK) who have ever had a lottery win. Within this group, we are especially interested in the observed longitudinal changes in political allegiance of the bigger winners compared to the smaller winners. Our key information stems from 541 observations on lottery wins larger than £500 and up to approximately £200,000. Figure 1 gives a flavour of our results; fixed-effects equations are given in the formal paper and have more tightly defined error bars.

Figure 1. Evidence on switchers: The percentage of people who switched right (conservative), and previously did not vote conservative, after a lottery win

oswald fig1 12 feb

Notes: There are 48,177 observations of £0 win (or people who did not participate in the lottery); 5,675 observations of small win, i.e., £1-£499; and, in this particular sub-sample, 354 observations of medium-large wins, i.e. £500+. Four standard error bars (2 above and 2 below). These are raw, unadjusted means in the data set.

Source: BHPS Data, Waves 7-18.

The consequences of winning even a modest sum of money are fairly large – certainly a number of percentage points extra on your chances of favouring a Mrs Thatcher or a Ronald Regan. Thus money makes people right-wing and inegalitarian. Perhaps even you.

See original article for references.

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  1. Jason

    Maybe the left wingers are acting in self interest too. They would like to have a bigger slice of the pie and maybe see left wing politics as their way to get it. Having wealth makes you a target for socialist governments to fund their policies so it only makes sense that having money makes you right wing. Even the altruistic wealthy would rather be in control of redistributing their wealth rather than having a government do it.

      1. Anonymous

        There are many wealthy philanthropists in the world. Not that donating to charity is required for one to be altruistic.

        I think your opinion of the wealthy is overly simple and overly broad. People of all levels of wealth are capable of being both selfish and selfless, and none are likely one or the other at all times.

    1. Natas

      Yea, wanting a living wage, healthcare, and retirement is the same as wealthy people wanting to keep more of their fortunes. We’re all just self-serving egoists in the end, aren’t we?

      And you realize that everybody pays taxes to “socialist governments,” right? I’m pretty sure it isn’t just rich people who pay taxes, though they generally pay at a lower rate than I do.

      1. huxley

        The homeless, the starving, the indigent, and the dispossessed are simply indulging their avarice, just like the obscenely wealthy.

        Propagandists would have you believe there’s no poverty in America because, you know, absolutely everybody has a color TV set. Which begs the question about where the homeless would plug it in.

        Never underestimate the rapacity of the rich. They regularly engineer the destruction of thousands and millions of lives simply to drop another coin on their already enormous and useless piles, for no purpose. On that level greed is a genocidal obsessive-compulsive disorder.

    2. jrs

      Maybe the left wingers just want a pie that doesnt’ suck so much? Redistribution with the existing system is a reformists game, not a left wingers anyway.

    3. kurringai

      “Having wealth makes you a target for socialist governments to fund their policies”

      The wealthy aren’t used to being accountable to many people beyond their direct hierarchy. The poor and middle class are always accountable to government (liberal, conservative and socialist) to a degree that the wealthy demand for us . Indeed, the wealthy control the government mechanism by which the rest of us are taxed, surveilled and controlled by law.

      They dread being accountable as we all are. You are exceptionalising them as if they were the victims of socialism. Representative government of all stripes yields to the wealthy. This is why we all gasp in amazement at the mildly socialist policies of FDR. They sort of bound the wealthy into the web of obligations we share as a matter of course.

      So, can’t cry with you there. Nothing so limp as a champion of victimisers playing the victim card.

    4. Calgacus

      Even the altruistic wealthy would rather be in control of redistributing their wealth rather than having a government do it. Focusing on redistribution misses the point. The wealthy as a class actively and continually sabotage production, economic growth, progress in science and technology and thought – the ability of the lesser people to support themselves. There are obvious and simple policies that would be a universal win-win, measured by success at achieving any aims which anybody dares to voice openly. The rich could keep their usually ill-gotten gains. Just prevent them from attacking and robbing everyone else, above all by the insane social phenomenon called unemployment.

  2. middle seaman

    American politics show some counter examples. Aspen is a rich town. Obama got 70%, a landslide, in Aspen in 2008 presidential. Wyoming is Republican, all counties in in the state, except one, are Republican. Jackson Hole is located in Teton County, Wyoming. “Teton is now the one reliably Democratic county in Wyoming, which is one of the most Republican states in the nation. The only Republican presidential candidate since 1992 to win Teton County was George W. Bush in 2000. In the 2008 election, Barack Obama carried Teton County by a 23.6% margin over John McCain.”

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Did you miss that:

      1. Democrats are not liberal?

      2. “Blue dog Democrats” are neoliberals?

      And how many of the people who have glitzy homes in Aspen vote there? A lot of the big money has multiple home and comes to Apsen to ski and maybe for a weekend or two at most off season.

      1. huxley

        What is a liberal? A conservative? A neoliberal? A neoconservative? A Democrat? A Republican? In our modern cynical age of dishonesty and corruption words have lost their meanings, there is no truth and everything is false. Now that the light has left us there is only darkness and the gift of understanding is long since disremembered.

        All I want is for people to not have to suffer needlessly, much less purposefully, to have some satisfaction and contentment in their lives, to have something for their toils, while the rich in their barbarity and despotism are untouched by such concerns to pursue cruelties which they call wealth.

        Fled is that music. I am, myself, nothing.

      2. jrs

        Dems are not liberal, but then again how liberal is the UK Labour party which is the basis of the above chart?

        1. President Costanza

          Depends on if you’re talking about the Labour Party of Blair (almost as right-wing as Thatcher) or the Labour Party of Ed Miliband (who admittedly isn’t consistently liberal).

      3. Crazy Horse

        Actually a lot of the billionaires who have second homes in Jackson Hole (that they rarely visit) vote there. Has to do with having no income tax.

        Jackson has its famous residents like the recently deceased multi-billionaire Harold Simmons who singlehandedly financed the Swift Boat fraud that killed Kerry’s presidential aspirations and was the primary money man behind Big Hair Perry, Texas’ caricature governor.

        Dick Cheney spends at most two weeks a year at his modest fourth or fifth home on the Teton Pines golf course, and even most of that time is spent fishing in Idaho. When he was self-selected to be President in charge of Vice, Waterboarding and false flag attacks his actual place of employment was in Texas with Haliburton, his primary residence was in Texas, and even his drivers license said Texas on it. Never mind that the Constitution explicitly prohibits the President and Vice President from coming from the same state.

        But after all, Constitutions and laws don’t apply to Oligarchs.

        By the way I’ve had a bellyful of the meaningless labels “neoliberal” and conservative. Lets just call them what they are– fascists and vampires.

    2. Massinissa

      What Yves said.

      Obama is hardly anyones idea of a socialist or anarchist, nor for that matter a ‘liberal’, whatever that word even MEANS these days. He simply isnt left wing, he is center right.

    3. diptherio

      During the primaries in ’08, wasn’t Edwards the progressive, Hillary the centrist and Obama the center-right option? What point are you making again?

      1. James Levy

        What many would argue is that these postures, shams, or “branding” on the part of those three people, and have nothing to do with what any of them would do once they got into the Oval Office.

    4. JohnnyGL

      middle seaman,

      I’m pretty sure there’s been studies that show when inequality increases, voters move left. Assuming you’re right about Aspen and Teton County being rich (looking at the residents, not the part-timers, as Yves suggests), there’s likely at least 10 working-class types needed to service every oligarch who takes up permanent residence. Now, the oligarch makes the per-capita income look big, but the overwhelming majority of the county are likely to be of pretty modest means. You can bet they resent the oligarchs who boss them around most days and to the extent that shows up in voting patterns, it’d give a bump toward the Democratic Party.

  3. Moneta

    When you have money and show it, you tend to attract those who want to have a piece of your wealth or iow, not so nice people. This will contribute to an increasing sense of distrust of others. This probably induces an increase sense of individualism and growing scorn for people in general. As this sentiment grows, so does your need for money because you end up believing that everything that is enjoyable in life needs to be bought.

    And since we live in a society that has no respect for the old, conservatism increases with age because we feel the need to make rules that protect us and our loot.

  4. craazyman

    That certainly what happened to me. I used to feel pangs of sentimental empathy when I saw poor overworked people. i’d watch the faces on the street and see the tortured angels of a neglected God. I’d vote, in every election, for whoever would tax the rich and give to the poor. I considered starting a political party, The Robin Hood Party, for the sole purpose of wealth redistribution.

    But I still dabbled in the stock market, just as a pass-time. Then I hit a 100 bagger! Oh my. I got a call from the senior client service representative at the firm, and then attended a party for blue ribbon clients. I met the CEO, a very nice man! And we began discussing “yachts.” I decided to buy one. We keep our yachts at the same marina and I’ve met many other successful people there too.

    Now I can see rich people are right-leaning because they have peace of mind and can think clearly about social problems in a way a struggling man cannot. The mind is overwhelmed by the fight for money and looses the capacity for organized analysis. The rich man can reflect, perhaps reclining on the deck of his 48 foot yacht on a summer evening, with an unclouded and untroubled mind. It’s natural that his conclusions are more accurate.

    I can now see my former life was burdened by an absurd sentimentality. I worked hard and was always tired, always angry, always stressed out. When that 100 bagger hit I emerged from a blindness into a light.

    You may wonder. Do I still tip the bagel girl? No, of course not. We wouldn’t want to dull the motivations of the working classes or how would our society accomplish all the work it needs to do? I can see now that my former charity only provoked laziness and a presumptuous expectation for unearned reward. It’s amazing how sensible the world becomes when the mind clears.

    1. wellclosed

      “It’s amazing how sensible the world becomes when the mind clears.” –Perfect! Wasn’t that from the 14th Earl of Gurney (Jack C)?

    2. Jim Haygood

      ‘The rich man can reflect, perhaps reclining on the deck of his 48 foot yacht.’

      Then the hedge fund manager with the 96-foot yacht in the next mooring slip refers to your boat as a ‘dinghy,’ and you’re back hunched in front of the dual screens, scanning for that next hundred-bagger so you can live in dignity again.

      As ol’ Kurt Vonnegut used to say, ‘So it goes.’

    3. Heretic

      I always look forward to your writing Craazy… Always (almost) some enjoyable comedic writing about serious matters.

    4. Heretic

      Too bad God doesn’t deal out karma on a weekly or monthly basis… That humanity could have active feedback from the Boss-Up-stairs, as to wether He was happy with your performance. He would give people some warning for bad activity prior to decisive punishment I.e (the person in focus would hear random peals of thunder, followed by lightning Strike if behaviour was really unacceptable for more than 6 months. ) He would also reward for exceptional good behaviour as well (like the 100 bagger on the stock market). By doing this, He could much more actively shape human behaviour and perhaps have a world where people acted with more kindness and less violence. And God would have many more followers, perhaps close to 100% of humanity. The downside is that all would fear Him, and perhaps only very few would love & seek to understand him, and the issue of Humanity’s free will, would be a non-issue.


    5. Brooklin Bridge

      Given the amount that seems to be the test boundary, I decided to try your experiment on the yacht by tying a string to a stick and launching it where a fireman was flushing out a hydrant. Perhaps if I squint…

    6. Andrea

      ha ha, + +.

      Somehow post reminded me of Tom Wolfe’s two blockbuster novels, “A Man in Full” – heh – and “Back to Blood”, as I just finished reading that one yesterday. In the train, snow.

      Wolfe does not address the Gvmt. aspect directly, he just paints an acid, mocking, fantastical picture, and leaves it there.

    7. Crazy Horse

      You really are Crazy if you think a rich man would be caught dead on a 48′ toy boat. He would die of shame first . When Paul Allen visits the Virgin Islands in his 400 footer he has to anchor two miles off the beach and fly ashore in his helicopter because his yacht is too big to get any closer.

      And sailboaters are always measuring the length of their poles to determine who really is on top.

  5. ArkansasAngie

    Fiscal conservative and social liberal is not acceptable to either Democrats or Republicans because it at least partially deflects the wedge issues they use to divide us.

  6. j gibbs

    Anyone who becomes wealthy quickly realizes that his success is largely a consequence of luck, and that only his money makes him different, releases him from the grip of necessity which dominates the life of everyone else. It is a small step to becoming terrified of losing this advantage. One has to fight this terror very hard and most people fail.

    The big money plutocrats understand how to attract allies among those who are merely little rich. The brain washing never stops, particularly on that mor nic CNBC. and FOX. Those demanding economic justice are betrayed as envious levelers, Jacobins who will strip everyone naked to achieve an equality of the miserable. Propaganda works; that’s why they employ it.

    1. Moneta

      My experience is quite different. Of all the rich people I know, those with fast money tend to be prima donnas, view themselves as superior or attribute it to skill and those who took years to acquire it are usually more humble and often talk about their luck.

      1. j gibbs

        I didn’t mean to isolate those who become wealthy quickly, I meant to say anyone who becomes wealthy in any fashion quickly realizes…. I suppose there should have been a comma in there somewhere, but I am still not certain where it ought to go. BTW, I agree with your comment about the fast money crowd.

  7. harry

    Self-interest my dears. Nothing but self-interest.

    I struggle with the conscious knowledge thats whats in my self-interest is not moral. I reconcile this by thinking that a) It doesnt matter what I think cos Americans are hopelessly dumb and will never vote to tax incomes appropriately. b) I wont mind being made a lot poorer as much if I can watch the Koch Brothers pimp walk to court.

    But whether taxation should be progressive is a moral question and apparently people in the US are no longer convinced that the rich should pay proportionately more taxes. Bless them for their kind natures while they live in squalor. and their standard of living declines. I guess I find their particular interpretation of Christianity utterly baffling. I guess they think that Jesus loved money-changers and loved “hanging” with them.

  8. armchair

    It would be interesting to compare the results of lottery winners in jurisdictions that tax the winnings versus those that don’t. I don’t know if it’s still true, but in Canada they used to let lottery winners take the whole pot with no tax hit. I’d wager that Canadian lottery winners have less of a tendency to swing right, assuming it is still true that their winnings aren’t taxed. Accountants and tax attorneys in the U.S. are always ready to talk about the nasty IRS that is going to take away what you have earned or won. There are entire industries where the anger of rich clients must be directed away from the tax accountant who is breaking the news, and what better place than to the greedy government? I’d venture a guess that a newly wealthy lottery winner is very susceptible to getting angry when they turn over a large chunk of their earning to the tax man, and their new friend, the tax accountant, tells them its all because of the greedy government.

    1. PaulW

      Also, in the past, a portion of those lottery winnings would go into the bank and earn interest which would then be taxed. But today, with ZIRP, they don’t even pay tax on their savings because it is not earning enough to be taxed.

      1. armchair

        And then when the parvenu loses money in the stock market, because they couldn’t park it a bank, their anger can be redirected at all the low lifes who took out mortgages they couldn’t afford.

    2. nowhere

      Lottery winnings are still untaxed in Canada.

      Funny, lotteries themselves are basically extremely non-progressive taxes and governments all over have become dependent upon them.

  9. PaulW

    Now for the flip side: people with little money are left wing so the nanny state can look after them or to see politicians empowered because it creates the illusion of that power usurping the power of money. The lottery analogy is curious. After all, how many of us know anyone who has had a life changing lottery win? On the other hand, people losing their jobs, losing their homes through financial repression, losing their livelihood through irresponsible behavior far outnumber lottery winners and many of those “victims” likely become left wing. People also encounter health problems more often than they win lotteries and that does create a new found appreciation for the greatest of left wing programs – universal health care.

    On a quantity over quality basis, shouldn’t this piece be about attacking the left for their self interest? What’s more important, how the 1% think or how the 99% think? Or better yet, how about a balanced piece covering both sides?

    1. Natas

      Since, according to the information I’ve seen recently, the 1% own a massively disproportionate and growing percentage of the world’s wealth, the way they think is very important, particularly since it drives a majority of our social and economic policy. And yea, why aren’t there more positive, balanced stories about the wealthy? I never hear about how important and smart rich people are. I heard, however, that there was a fabulous series on PBS about pension reform, so perhaps things are looking up for the under-represented 1%.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      The lottery analogy is indeed curious, because life is not a zero-sum game, or at least should not be.

      As a matter of fact, we are capable of realizing no one person is an island and that what we produce as a society, we produce with teamwork, and sharing that result is the most natural thing in the world.

    3. reslez

      Right, because the self interest of bilionaires is on the same level as the self interest of people hoping to not starve to death, have a roof over their heads in freezing cold, and raise their kids with a scintilla of dignity. Those greedy left wingers!

      1. reslez

        Oh, and “balanced coverage” of 1% vs 99% views? Wouldn’t that mean the 1% get a single sentence and the 99% get 99? Funny how that’s not what I think you meant.

    4. Vatch

      People with a lot of money are right wing so the nanny state can look after them: Bailouts of giant banks, no-bid contracts for well connected insiders, arcane portions of the tax laws that only benefit people who have very high incomes, probation for rich criminals instead of the jail time that others would receive, etc. The biggest beneficiaries of the “nanny state” are the ones who own the government: the ultra rich.

      1. PaulW

        I agree. Banks, the military etc… benefit most from government welfare. Still it is remarkable how so many see red at the mere mention of “nanny state”.

  10. BITFU

    I wonder what the chances are of Naked Cap publishing a “serious” study–like this one–entitled

    “Failure at Lotto make People more Left-wing and Receptive Towards Government Hand-outs”

    Cuz it’s the same damn thing.

    “Andy Oswald here and I have just performed a study at East-Central Warwick Community College about Lotto Losers. And it’s a doozy. Oh, and did I mention that it’s a Longitudinal Study? That’s right. L-O-N-G-I-T-U-D-I-N-A-L”

    C’mon, man. This study is an embarrassment.

    I suffered my way through this silly exercise dressed in academic pretense to find that your Lottery-Win Thresh-hold was essentially $800. [ ]

    –BTW: How many times did you use the word “longitudinal”? 14 times; and it’s a good thing too because it really enhanced your credibility.—

    But enough with all that, let’s get down to your The Line in the Sand…between the “Haves” and “Have Nots”.

    $800 dollars!

    Are you kidding me?

    You based this entire stupid study on Lotto winners who lucked into the Life-Altering Windfall of $800?!

    Imagine for a moment that you’re talking to a friend who just “came into $800”.

    “Hey I know who’s buying dinner and drinks tonight! Big Bob the Lotto Genius. No, but seriously Bob, congrats on the $800.”

    “Thanks, Andy. Hey do you know of a good Estate Lawyer? I gotta start making plans for my lineage.”

    Absolutely hilarious.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      You make an interesting point.

      And it seems, this particular experiment shows humans at their worst.

      Is life like that? Can we aspire to rise above it?

      Is life a zero-sum game like the Lotto?

      Can we agree before ‘the game’ that we are going in as a team and will share the result as a team?

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      Assuming longitude relates to measurements taken over time, how does one measure the longitude of an 800 dollar windfall, or what some might call, “poof”, over time? Does the subject have a spike in conservatism that relates to his/her waking up on the kitchen floor with an empty bottle of Armagnac that had gold specks in it, and then this change in orientation slowly subsides over time so he/she goes back to being a good compassionate community oriented liberal? Or is it like a dog tasting sheep’s blood; one hit and that’s it? Roving forever.

    3. jrs

      Yea it is a pretty bad study. It’s $800 (it won’t even meet an Obamacare deductable). Now the high winners on the chart are $800 and above and so above might be a lot of money or it might be $900 and the breakdown isn’t clear in the write up. Voted Conservative and not Labor, isn’t that about like voted Democratic and not Republican?

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        You apparently aren’t up on the work of social psychologists. People’s views are extremely malleable. A gift as small as a can of Coke increased receptivity to a sale pitch markedly.

        $800 is a lot bigger than a can of Coke.

  11. PaulW

    Are people motivated by morality or is their morality shaped by their circumstances? it’s be nice to think it’s a combination of both. I think the better off a society is people have the luxury to think beyond their own self interest. And if society falls back….

    A more important question is why so many people are not able to look out for their own best interest? My entire lifetime I’ve witnessed the majority of Canadians vote for their ruling elite – Liberals, PCs and “call me Conservative” Reformers – even though hardly any of them belong to this elite, nor its extended circle of friends. All this sheepish behavior has done is destroy our democracy. Thus they make short term choices which are wrong for themselves – vote for the rich and think they won’t rule exclusively for the rich – and these choices have even more serious long term consequences. Health care is a perfect example of this. Nothing matters more to Canadians than their universal health care. It matters so much the ruling class has not dared to get rid of it. Instead they chip away, like a 20 year doctor shortage or any economic scare serves to trim funding. Even though people see this they continue to elect the same people to power over and over again. Whether it be fear, apathy or ignorance, they are not capable of voting in their own best interest.

    In America how many continue to vote for the lesser of two evils – thus justifying your pseudo-democracy? Gerard Celente is right. Those who vote for a lesser of two evils deserve to be ruled by evil. We’ve got that routine down pat in Canada. But why are people so willing to act against their own best interest?

    1. Banger

      Why o people vote against their self-interest? In my experience of a variety of societies, social cohesion and social mythology usually trumps self-interest as we commonly understand it. In the U.S., because of its variety of immigrants, social mythology goes to some lowest-common denominator. Wealth trumps all other moral considerations and is the ultimate arbiter of all value. This doesn’t fit well with most people but what else is there?

      If you are poor or just making it you have to measure yourself against the contemporary moral standard–you are poor because you are bad or, more likely, because you made poor decisions but there you are. Some have religious values–but when measured against the ultimate value (trumping God) religion offers comfort only–not status nor essential self-respect.

      In many areas, particularly rural areas of the country, being able to suffer and endure become positive social values–people pride themselves on being mistreated by the rich as well as their own boorish behavior–their only real way to thumb their noses at the culture of big cities and their burbs.

      1. James Levy

        Banger, I’d buy your argument but for the fact that it does not remotely apply to the rich the way it does to the poor. The rich look out for their economic interests–period. If it were only cultural, then as the culture shifts, so would attitudes and values. Therefore, the more open and egalitarian surge of the 60s and 70s should have made the rich less inclined to vigorously pursue their economic interests, but we see the exact opposite. As society became more open and inclusive, the rich launched the biggest plutocratic offensive since the “American System” of the 1920s. So I think when it comes to economic interests, the rich have a far better idea of what they want, how they are going to get it, and the means, motive, and opportunity to seize it. By comparison, the poor and the working class are atomized, confused, and hoodwinked.

        1. j gibbs

          The interesting attitude is that of people in the high middle. They have decent jobs and salaries, a bit of comfort and security so long as nothing serious changes. These people are violently conservative on balance. They assume that any government initiative is going to be undertaken at their expense- the rich don’t really pay taxes. You have a 7000 page Income Tax Code the purpose of which is to provide the rich with loopholes. Thus, any increase in tax rates is going to hammer those receiving higher than average salaries. This is the way things have worked as long as taxes have been imposed on incomes, and it is probably the reason taxes are imposed upon incomes. Wealth taxes would be much harder to avoid by the rich, so we simply don’t have them. We used to have an estate tax but it has been largely gutted and is relatively easy to avoid for the truly rich.

        2. PaulW

          But do the rich look out for their own best interest? If the rich are a parasitic class then the parasite is in the process of killing its host. Are they really that economically enlightened that they continue to pursue immediate gains while risking to bring down the entire system? A system which has given them the best world they could want. It’s as if the French Revolution never happened and future developments will come as a complete surprise.

          1. James Levy

            Two things: 1) yes, they really are that short-sited, and 2) it is almost inconceivable to most elite Americans that their reign will ever end, that they will not do something oh so clever and devious and keep the game going indefinitely. Hey, Churchill was no dummy and when he said in 1940 “if the British Empire should last a thousand years, they will say, this was our finest hour” he really meant it. The British empire would be gone in 25 years.

    2. Lexington

      Even though people see this they continue to elect the same people to power over and over again. Whether it be fear, apathy or ignorance, they are not capable of voting in their own best interest.

      I think the problem is that you are implicitly defining “best interest” narrowly as “economic interest”, when in fact people are attracted to political leaders for any number of other reasons. To take one example, right wing voters tend to be attracted to what they perceive as the Strong Leader. You may recall that after 9/11 many Americans desperately tried to build George W. Bush up into the second coming of Winston Churchill, the inherent and obvious unsuitability of the material notwithstanding. Although there is mostly just embarrassed silence about these years now (America’s inability to honestly confront the legacy of the Bush years is another symptom of its moral unraveling), I distinctly recall how transparent publicity stunts like landing on an aircraft carrier or making a surprise stopover in Baghdad to serve plastic turkey to the troops could once elicit rapturous outpourings of jingoistic triumphalism that would have made Leni Riefenstahl blush.

      1. susan the other

        People get cautious when they realize that money is an ephemeral thing at best. You don’t often win the lotto so it’s more sobering than losing the lotto. What to do with all that undefined “money.” It must be like an existential crisis – looking for a reason to be is not easy. Add to that the utterly confusing mandate we give “money.” It has to be both a store of value and a medium of exchange. It’s like having your cake and eating it too. It poses such a quandary. So lotto winners all go hire money managers. Ha. Money should be nothing more than currency so that the lotto winners aren’t so conflicted. They get all conservative because they know they’ll never win another one and so they try to conserve their store of value, make it make more money… whatever.

        1. susan the other

          I mean, making money be a store of value and a medium of exchange is just as illogical as using gold for a currency. Taken to the absurd example – it like Bitcoin.

      2. Banger

        I don’t think Americans thought of Bush as Winston Churchill but they wanted a strong leader since they believed they were under attack and “at war.” The media built him up so we’d feel the government was on our side protecting us. Of course the whole thing was a scam to steal money from the Treasury and move law enforcement from watching the Wall Street criminals to chasing phantoms.

        1. Lexington

          I stand by my characterization.

          As I recall Bush was routinely lauded for his “steely resolve” in standing up to the “Islamofascists”. I don’t think the nomenclature was coincidental.

  12. TarheelDem

    Money is associated with an individual’s social networks and their images of how moneyed individuals are supposed to act, which in part is established through the culture of those social networks. In the corporate culture, individuals are initiated into a right-wing and inegalitarian culture of “objectivity” and “toughness” (meaning right-wing objectivism and inegalitarianism) through the kiss-up-kick-down transactional ethic. Those who don’t comply aren’t promoted. Similar tests are made of entrepreneurs looking for financial support of their start-ups. Left-wing and egalitarian entrepreneurs aren’t trusted; either they will squander the funds provided or they will turn out to be hypocrites and take the money and run. Only the established wealthy can afford the luxury of a left-wing and egalitarian patina: thus George Soros and on some days Warren Buffett. And the members of their club tolerate their eccentricities.

    Folks who become rich through windfalls typically have to argue their worthiness to themselves and others, even though the windfall came through plain old dumb luck. There are social expectations that they perceive come with money and being right wing and inegalitarian are considered the privileges of having money. And they decide to enjoy that privilege as much as they can. And those who do not are looked at as just a little weird. Or even newsworthy and notable. Or set up as suckers.

  13. MB

    No doubt when taxes arrive to a lottery winner, it’s shocking and dismaying. After all, you have just lost almost half of what you won, so you’d better win big.

    When you’re broke, you pay little taxes and (formerly) got services. When you’re wealthy, you pay more taxes and receive *some* services (retirement) but that are very small in importance.

    It could be argued that the wealthy, particularly the clever wealthy in the upper echelons, find out tax “strategies” to avoid taxes (particularly offshoring tax avoidance and state incorporation engineering), and business deductions, etc. Lower level and inexperienced lottery winners don’t know how and are generally not even aware of how to do that. Also, up to 200K UK pounds/dollars is barely enough to make that effort. It doesn’t buy much in terms of a house these days.

    I think humans have a tendency to behave: what’s yours is ours and what’s mine is mine. That often works that way in divorce..there is a form of distortion that is part and parcel to human bias and feelings. If “fairness” were to be universally fair, i.e. what Ross Perot once suggested – a flat tax (10%? plus or minus) on individuals and businesses – universal, inescapable and unhide able, then perhaps the feelings of inequality and political engineering may not feel so lopsided. Depending on how the revenue met the needs of the budget, then qualifying for additional services could be applied to thresholds, such as subsidized childcare, medical, etc. depending on medical and poverty need.

    1. Massinissa

      A flat tax may APPEAR fair, but it can be debated whether or not it is.

      Anyway, im doubtful it would have any impact on the truly wealthy accumulating god alone knows how much more wealth than the rest.

    2. reslez

      The wealthy receive vast amounts of services far out of proportion to their actual worth to society. They receive trade preferences and wars that protect and increase the value of their assets. They receive police and military protection to preserve their piles of loot. They receive all the largesse Congress can bestow on its favored industries in trade, industry and agriculture. To point out the wealthy rarely deign to accept the social services flung at the poor is a half blind way of looking at things.

  14. steelhead23

    I think this is a psychological phenomenon and involves one’s perception of threats. For laboring workers, the threat is that the owner’s quest for profits would diminish their rewards for their labor. We gather together to create power to deal with the owners. For the wealthy, the threat is that society (labor) would demand more of their wealth and power and they gather together to protect themselves from labor. Pretty sophomoric psychology, but that’s how I see it.

    1. Massinissa

      Of course, it just so happens that objectively, the threat from above is much higher, because the capitalists have FAR more leverage than the workers in most circumstances in the capitalist system…

      But its hard to be objective when youre inside the box: You sort of need to be from the outside looking in to be objective, which both workers and capitalists are unable to do based upon their circumstances.

      Reality really f*cking sucks…

  15. huxley

    So far as the voracious rich are concerned, people have no reason for being other than to live pointless lives and die miserable deaths to up their meaningless futile fortunes. A society that enables and allows such rapacity murders itself out of sheer sadism.

    Why stop at a $4/hour minimum wage? Why not $4 per day, per week, per year? Pay them nothing and employers could hire them all. Everybody wins!

    Alfried Krupp, the Nazi arms manufacturer, imported slave labor by the trainload and merely worked them to death, which cost him nothing but shipping charges and the tab for dumping the bodies – no payroll, no bathroom breaks, no food, no water, nothing. And he got away with it.

    1. huxley

      1. The rich are entitled to everything you earn.

      2. You are not entitled to anything you earn.

      3. You are not entitled to so much as subsistence, no matter how much you earn.

      4. If you do manage to retain some of what you earn, the rich have mechanisms in place to extract it out of you after the fact because they are entitled to it, and not you.

      5. If you are not rich you are fully required to have a job but no one is at all required to allow you to have one.

      6. The rich are not required to have a job and are not required to earn anything. That’s what you’re for. That’s all you’re for.

      7. You are required to work for the benefit of somebody else, and your own benefit is irrelevant.

      8. If you are somehow able to work for your own benefit to some extent, it is only because the rich are not yet fully able to prevent it and have not yet perfected their extraction mechanisms.

      9. Any benefit which accrues to you represents an opportunity for the rich to improve cost reduction and cost recovery.

      10. Technically you are a person. Functionally you are an ATM.

      The rich would not have it any other way. So they won’t.

  16. Jackrabbit

    Very poor study.

    Many objections could be raised. For example, those playing the lottery are generally poorer. These people probably watch more tv than average where they see stereotypical depictions of the wealthy. When they feel wealthier, they may (thoughtlessly) mimic those attitudes.

    What about Russell Brand? He is now worth millions – and he did that based on his efforts, not simple luck. Yet he has an anti-establishment attitude that many right-leaning wealthy people would abhor.

    1. huxley

      Epic fail.

      Brand had the luck to live in a society where he could make a lot of money doing what he does and getting lucky enough to be sponsored to do it. Others doing comparable work are not so lucky. Thousands of exquisitely talented people, if not millions, have not been so lucky. And if Brand had been unlucky enough to have been born a hundred years ago he’d be out on the tiles.

      Most comedians do not quit their day jobs. Most of the finest actors never become stars. Not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up. Or a rich rock star. Or a hedge fundie. Or a wealthy TV evangelist. In point of fact, relatively speaking, hardly anybody does.

      Try again.

  17. kimsarah

    “Are they motivated by deeply moral views or self-interest?”
    In general, I’d say self-interest. The only deeply moral views some hold are those that prop up the means to feed their selfish and greedy ends. In general.
    I’m still trying to figure out why some are not only wealthy, right-wing and greedy, but have a sadistic streak as well and take joy in kicking and punishing people.

  18. Newtownian

    Fantastic Yves – two comments:

    1. Many years ago when I was a poor student doing a 1/2 unit introductory Psychology course they told us about a survey of workers who got promoted to foreman and all of a sudden changed to conservatives – same pattern. Adaptation I guess you could call it.

    2. Down here is Oz as you know the baby boom is now moving into spending and reinvesting their superannuation which typically totals in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not much if it has to last a couple of decades but it looks like a windfall just like the lottery. In the interests of self preservation the driver is definitely to become a greedy capitalist bastard. Like Craazyman I’m in those throws now of trying to find a middle path along the razorwire fence. Its quite disturbing but I’m sure selfishness will triumph, frighteningly even though I cant take it with me. These researchers might want to do a survey of what happens to people as they move to having to hoard what moneys they have for retirement and see how those attitudes change.

  19. Apneaman

    Socialism for the rich and dog eat dog Capitalism for the rest. Where is my bail out? Where are my subsidizes? I’ll be at retirement age in 20 years. Think I’ll see a dime of of what I have been paying into since I was 17? All the boomers care about is that the 2-3 generations behind them keep breeding and paying taxes….at least until they die.

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