About how Wealth influences Morals?


During last week’s session, we were analyzing how Markets lead to Moral Behavior. While analyzing further interpretations to the postulated idea, a series of cause-effect relationships were stablished, depicting the direct or indirect effect that each element observed has on each other.

The idea that Wealth impacts on Morals only in a positive way due to the free time it provides to introspect leave me a little bit unsatisfied, maybe as a result of an unjustified prejudice in which my mental representation of a rich person tends to be strictly related to a greedy and selfish behavior, leaving the altruistic cases such as Carlos Slim or Bill Gates as an exception to the rule.

So I dedicated myself to the quixotic crusade of grounding prejudice with scientific evidence, and for my surprise there’s a lot of literature grounding that Wealth has a negative impact on morals. As an introduction, i’ve found a very interesting article published by Eduardo Porter in The New York Times

“From Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, to Bernard L. Madoff to the standard member of Congress fighting tirelessly to further the interests of campaign donors, human history is full of examples of money’s ability to weaken even the firmest ethical backbone.”

The article follows the results of an experiment realized by researchers in organizational behavior from Harvard University and the University of Utah, Seeing green: Mere exposure to money triggers a business decision frame and unethical outcomes in which it is tested that individuals, while being exposed to money develop a “business decision frame and unethical outcomes”. The experiment results appeal to the idea of money weakening our social bonds.

Following the same argumental line, I’ve found that a group of psychologist from Berkeley, Northwest and University of California, ran experiments that depicted at wether social class influences empathy. The study, Class and Compassion: Socioeconomic Factors Predict Responses to Suffering throws as conclusion that “less affluent individuals are more likely to report feeling compassion towards others on a regular basis.” remarking a correlation between lack of empathy and wealth. The interpretation of this result is that wealth and abundance give us a sense of freedom and independence from others.

“The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings”

Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior, another article published in the PNAS site (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) describes with more detail the series of experiments realized, and surprisingly it depicts similar results in each one of them.

Abstract: “Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.”

So, it seems to be determinant that, as ancient greek philosophers said, wealth (Or the seek of it) can be the root of immorality as it wakens the desires of material gain at expense of ethical standards.

I highly recommend to read the articles linked in this participation and to begin to question ourselves if in our daily life we find this correlation within us, our relatives and friends.

I’ll wait anxiously for your comments and questions.

Víctor M. Malváez



If I could respond with an angry emoji, I would.