Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 8:45 pm

A statement, a challenge, a prophecy

Even with the most basic scientific caveat — it’s just one study — this probably seems intuitive to a lot of people:

The rich really are different from the rest of us, scientists have found — they are more apt to commit unethical acts because they are more motivated by greed.

People driving expensive cars were more likely than other motorists to cut off drivers and pedestrians at a four-way-stop intersection in the San Francisco Bay Area, UC Berkeley researchers observed. Those findings led to a series of experiments that revealed that people of higher socioeconomic status were also more likely to cheat to win a prize, take candy from children and say they would pocket extra change handed to them in error rather than give it back.

Because rich people have more financial resources, they’re less dependent on social bonds for survival, the Berkeley researchers reported Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As a result, their self-interest reigns and they have fewer qualms about breaking the rules.

“If you occupy a more insular world, you’re less likely to be sensitive to the needs of others,” said study lead author Paul Piff, who is studying for a doctorate in psychology.

But before those in the so-called 99% start feeling ethically superior, consider this: Piff and his colleagues also discovered that anyone’s ethical standards could be prone to slip if they suddenly won the lottery and joined the top 1%.

“There is a strong notion that when people don’t have much, they’re really looking out for themselves and they might act unethically,” said Scott Wiltermuth, who researches social status at USC’s Marshall School of Business and wasn’t involved in the study. “But actually, it’s the upper-class people that are less likely to see that people around them need help — and therefore act unethically.”

Some of the comments unintentionally reinforce the researchers’ arguments, too, such as this one time-stamped 8:41 a.m. today:

Unlike the illegal Mexicans who sell oranges on street corners rich people actually have somewhere to go. There’s a sense of urgency in their lives, a plan, some sort of schedule. I find that the people with the slowest brains are generally the slowest drivers and walkers. Doing the California roll at a stop sign usually happens when the less motivated, lazier drivers can’t decide what to do.

Wow. Just … wow. The possibility that the California roller’s GPS might have just gone on the fritz doesn’t even occur to this commenter. [/irony]

This finding, if it holds up, has implications for the growing wealth and income inequality in the U.S., where the top 0.1% and .01% are putting distance between themselves and the rest of us at an accelerating rate. Even people who don’t believe that inequality is, in and of itself, bad suggest that growing inequality may mean that the rules are being enforced differently depending on how much money you make or political power you hold — an impression reinforced by the vast number of war criminals and fraud-committing economy-destroyers who haven’t seen so much as a subpoena, let alone the inside of a cell.

But these findings — again, subject to confirmation — suggest something even more insidious: Great wealth isn’t just a symptom, it may also be a cause. This research suggests that having more makes one want more still while blinding one to the needs of others. And that, in turn, undermines one of the greatest stories we Americans tell ourselves about ourselves: that all of us are created equal.

Although I thought the 2008 election presented Barack Obama with a Rooseveltian opportunity, I was not under the illusion that he would be another Roosevelt. I contented myself with the reality that he merely was not another George W. Bush or John McCain. That has helped, but it hasn’t been enough — and lately, at long last, Obama himself seems to be realizing it. Consider this speech he gave today to the United Auto Workers, one in which he gave the four remaining GOP presidential candidates a righteous hiding:

“You want to talk about values?” he asked. “Hard work — that’s a value. Looking out for one another — that’s a value. The idea that we’re all in it together — that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper — that is a value.”

He continued: “But they’re still talking about you as if you’re some greedy special interest that needs to be beaten. Since when are hardworking men and women special interests? Since when is the idea that we look out for each other a bad thing?”

Memo to the wingnuts: There are many worse things in the world than the United Auto Workers, and in the past 30 years we’ve been confronted with them damn near daily. Jesus, in that book the Dominionists among you claim to love so much but instead have turned into just one more idol, said we’re to look after one another. He meant everyone, everywhere. I’d be happy if, in the actuarially remaining lifespan I have, we just started doing it consistently here in the U.S.A.

America: It was a really good idea. And it can be once again.

Friday, January 20, 2012 8:34 pm

Happy new year!

Sorry I haven’t been around. I’ve been busy.

For one thing, I took a real vacation earlier this month, which I desperately needed.

For another, I’m back in school. Fun, but major timesuck.

So, what’s been going on?

Well, we’re now down to four presidential candidates on my side. Mitt Romney, lying sack (outsourced to Steve Benen). Newt “Swing” Gingrich, flaming hypocrite. Rick Santorum, who wants government small enough to fit into your uterus. And Racist Ron Paul, the “libertarian” who ain’t, exactly.

Really, GOP? Really?

The Times Almighty wonders out loud whether it ought to point out when lying presidential candidates are, you know, lying. And NBC’s White House correspondent, Chuck Todd, worries that the biggest problem in the presidential campaign might be … wait for it … Stephen Colbert.

I may go back into seclusion.

Friday, December 23, 2011 7:54 pm

Why SteveM at Balloon Juice, whom you’ve probably never heard of, is a better political analyst than Tom Friedman

Because he says stuff like this:

In all likelihood, we’ve got 2000 all over again. Romney now, like Bush then, hasn’t always spoken like a flaming wingnut throughout his political career (and didn’t fully behave like one in the governor’s office)—which means that Romney now, like Bush then, is going to be called a “moderate” during the general election campaign no matter what he says in his speeches. Romney’s Massachusetts past, like Bush’s cooperation with Texas Democrats and prattle about “compassionate conservatism,” is going to give him carte blanche to say anything without the mainstream press grasping the fact that if he’s talking wingnut, it means he intends to govern as a wingnut.

Some beat reporter from 2000—I think it was Adam Clymer—said after Bush took office that his right-wing leanings were obvious all through the campaign if you just bothered to read his policy proposals and listen to him on the stump. This stuff was hiding in plain sight. Everyone just ignored it. And they’re probably going to ignore it again.

I cannot and will not predict at this point who will get the GOP nomination. But I’m confident that if Romney is the nominee, this is exactly how it will go down: The mainstream media will ignore what’s in plain sight.

UPDATE: Also at BJ, John Cole deftly eviscerates Rich Lowry and National Review Online, and by extension the entire GOP establishment, which apparently are freaking right the fark out at the prospect that racist anti-Semite Chomskyite goldbug Ron Paul might actually get somewhere in the Iowa GOP caucus:

Basically, Rich Lowry wants you to believe that Ron Paul is too racist to be President, but just racist enough to be a Republican in the House for several decades.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 8:13 pm

Linin’ ’em up

A couple of weeks ago I said that auditing the Federal Reserve was a great idea even if it was Ron Paul who introduced the bill that would make it happen. I am delighted to note that that bill, HR 1207, has, as of today, 282 co-sponsors, more than enough to pass if the bill makes it to the floor. I’m less delighted that only one of Greensboro’s three reps, Howard Coble, is among the co-sponsors, although I don’t know whether that means Brad Miller and Mel Watt oppose the bill or just figured that with a majority assured they would turn their attention to other things.

The companion Senate bill, S 604 from Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, has 23 co-sponsors, ranging in political ideology from Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to Sam Brownback, R-Kansas. (That’s quite a range, actually.) Among them is North Carolina’s Richard Burr but not our other senator, Kay Hagan. I do not know why that is.

But here’s what I suspect.

I suspect that the Fed has been doing things with our tax dollars, largely for the benefit of a few very large financial institutions, that will infuriate people once word becomes public. I further suspect that the wave of outrage that will follow will be something any incumbent and quite a few challengers would want to surf, rather than be swamped by. That wave is coming, and the time to get your board lined up and get up on your feet is drawing to a close.

There’s additional good news on this front: The Bloomberg news organization sued the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last year under the Freedom of Information Act for records on how tax money was spent. On Monday, a federal judge granted Bloomberg’s motion for summary judgment, meaning that both the facts and the law are so clearly on Bloomberg’s side that there’s no need for a trial. The bank has five business days to provide certain records and until Sept. 14 to let the court know how it intends to provide others. Should bank allies manage to kill or stall the Paul or Sanders bills, people could just file more FOIA lawsuits. So one way or another, this stuff’s coming out.

Congresscritters and would-be congresscritters of all stripes, take note.

UPDATE: Arguably another excellent reason to support auditing the Fed: Tim Geithner thinks it would be a bad idea.

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