Money and Morals

The underlying consequences of the clash between social and market norms are multitudinous and frequently inimical to our humanity. Fundamentally, the sages of our pasts weren’t wrong when they said, “Money is the root of all evil.” Dan Ariely, an American professor of psychology and behavioral economics, claims that, “When social and market norms collide, trouble sets in.” (Ariely 68) This essay will make an attempt at proving that claim; naturally, it is not unusual that money is the chief topic of this essay. Ariely makes several claims, but doesn’t adequately describe the unpropitious effects of money. Money rules the “market world;” consequently, money and its contemporary adverse effects and affects will be analyzed in this essay. Everyone knows money propagates deceit and betrayal. It changes social relationships to a darker shade from its original bright and happy color. It generally provokes a darker human: one that cheats, lies, and destroys lives for the betterment of their future. It ravages our being, causing monetary values and materialistic items to define our purpose. Karl Marx once noted, “Money then appears as the enemy of man and social bonds that pretend to self-substantiate.” (Porto) Clearly, one can see how money degrades character; however, the reasons are unclear.

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Some say greed and the desire to fulfill one’s every wish are simply too overpowering a force to oppose, and specifically those things are the motivation to acquire more money. However, only a select few can seriously have the requisite spine to risk their personal lives and even companies to do that. Maybe greed isn’t the only factor. A study conducted by Harvard and Utah Students that proposes a different answer. The study was published in Behavioral Reasoning Theory, a book by J.D Westaby, who is a professor in Columbia University with a PhD in social-organizational psychology. The students collected a myriad of undergraduate students and presented videos, images, and texts that made them think of money, such as dollar bills and expensive jewelry. Then, they showed them other things that had nothing to do with money. Some students were exposed to monetary-related pictures more than others. Then, a comprehensive questionnaire was filled by all the students. The undergraduates exposed to the images related to money exhibited questionable ethics. They consistently chose answers that were cut-throat, immoral, and selfish.

Surprisingly, however, the students didn’t see their choices as immoral at all. They, “framed their choices as products of cost-benefit analysis.” (Porto). The study’s abstract says, “Students constantly exposed to [money] were more likely to steal numerous pages from a printer… and create stands to sell products in a school without permission.” (Westaby [Study 1] 60). The student’s reactions are symbolic of the unconstructive behavior money tend to propagate when gone out of control. Although their perusal of the images and texts related to money was rather short, the outcome was apparent. It discouraged positive social interaction and encouraged a grimmer human. When money rules our lives, and when we feel very wealthy, we tend to behave adversely. Think about it this way: Pretend you are playing a game of Monopoly; however, in this game, the combination of skill, luck, and intelligence has been rendered irrelevant. Why? The monopoly game is rigged, and you have the advantage. You’ve been given several more opportunities to move around the board. You have most of the money. You have most of the “cities” and numerous hotels. Every time you land on a “chance,” or “community chest,” you find yourself with more resources.

How might this unfair advantage influence the way you thought of yourself and, more importantly, how you regard the other player(s)? This experiment was, in fact, performed by psychologist Paul Piff. Piff is a social psychologist and post-doctoral scholar in the Psychology Dept. of UCBerkley. He published an article titled, “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior.” It proved through questionnaires, quizzes, in-lab manipulations, and several other techniques, that living high in the socioeconomic ladder increases the chances dramatically and exponentially of dehumanization. It drives affluent societies to immoralities, causing them to be more insular and acrimoniously unsympathetic. It can make them more likely, as Piff shows in one of his several experiments, to deliberately and knowingly take candy from a bowl of sweets designated specifically for children. Wealthy individuals, Paul Piff claims, “Are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes them more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.” (McElwee)* Piff was able to gather 100 participants, and set up 50 monopoly boards. Each monopoly game had two participants, and at the flip of a coin, it was decided who would be the richer player in the rigged game of monopoly. The luckier player had several advantages: they got twice the salary, earned four hundred (instead of two hundred) when they passed “Go,” and were allowed to role two die instead of one. Piff installed hidden cameras in the rooms the players were in, and reported several intriguing things.

First of all, the richer player began to show off his dominance. He moved around the board louder. It was as if the piece he was controlling symbolized his footsteps: loud, confident, and obstreperous. Moreover, they smirked disapprovingly at ever “stupid,” move the poorer player made. In contrast, they richer player made jubilant sounds – that seemed to depress the poorer players – every time they made a move. As the game progressed, so did increase of the rich player’s hubris. There was a bowl of pretzels on the side, and the rich players began to eat from the pretzels, and gave dirty looks to the poorer players when they even approached the pretzels. One player even said something along the lines of, “Don’t eat my pretzels.” The rich players started to get ruder and ruder, making comments like, “You’re going to lose big time at this game,” or “Wow, you’re so poor. I’m still going to take all your money though. *chuckle*.” One player even said, “Are you sure you even know how to play this game?” At the end of the game, Paul Piff interviewed the players. He reports that the richer players, when asked why the won the game, replied with a very intriguing, yet not surprising, answer. They attributed their inevitable victory to their skills! They ignored the fact, or maybe even forgotten, that they were put into a much more privileged and advantaged situation. Even the means by which they were chosen to be rich was ruled by luck, not skill.

This game of monopoly can symbolize society. It gives us much insight into how humans essentially view advantages and opportunities they were given. As a person’s level of wealth increases, their feelings of entitlement and self-interest increase with it. Conversely, their empathy, compassion, and consideration decrease. Paul Piff says, “In surveys, wealthier individuals are more likely to moralize greed being good, and that the pursuit of self-interest is favorable and moral.” (TedxMarin)* To further understand why affluent people exhibit less altruistic behavior, another study was lead by Daniel M. Stancato. Daniel M. Stancato, like Paul Piff, is a social psychologist and post-doctoral scholar in the Psychology Dept. of UCBerkley. He co-authored, “Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior.” This study meticulously examined whether provoking an environment where greed is regarded positively increases the unethical tendencies of the less-privileged enough to meet their rich counterparts. In the experiment, when the benefits of greed were emphasized, Daniel hypothesized that blue-collar individuals would be as susceptible to unethical behavior as richer individuals. If these findings were true, it would attest a revelation, that is lower-class individuals tend to act more ethically is because they hold relatively unfavorable sentiments towards greed.

Conversely, rich white-collared individuals tend to act more adversely is because they hold relatively favorable sentiments towards greed. The study was, essentially, an economic game. Around 100 participants were gathered, and given “laboratory” credits. These credits, the participants were told, could be traded for real money. They were then presented with a questionnaire. The questionnaire prompted the participants to list the ways the participants viewed greed, and why. After about an hour, the participants were given the opportunity to give some of their laboratory credits to a needy stranger. The lower-class individuals (those who made $20,000 and less) gave a total of 45% more than the rich white-collared folk (those who made 150k+). Not surprisingly, the poorer individuals had negative sentiments towards greed, and the richer individuals felt more comfortable and accepted greed more easily. Later, the participants were given a different questionnaire that prompted them to list three negative outcomes of greed. They were then shown several videos of starving children. Then, they were again given the opportunity to give money to a needy stranger. The difference in lab credits given between the two groups was near negligible. This shows that, in an environment where greed is negatively promoted, one can give more. A while later, the same participants were given another questionnaire that prompted them to list three positive outcomes of greed.

Afterwards, they were shown several clips of very rich people and the lives they lead. They showed them mansions, jewelry, expensive cars, and several other materialistic items that emphasized on money. They were then, again, given an opportunity to give away some of their lab credits. This time, however, very few people gave away anything, and those who gave, gave very little. This study shows that money can seriously make individuals less generous, compassionate, and altruistic. The first part of the experiment introduced an atmosphere where greed was looked at neutrally; one was supposed to fill out their general attitude towards having a covet nature. When the individual was left to their own devices, their actions reflected upon their true nature; consequently, the poorer folk, who fully understood the egregious consequences greed has on society, gave more. The richer folk, who practically lived in an environment where taking advantage of every possession is vital to success, were a lot less giving. However, a new environment was introduced. By prompting the participants to list three negative outcomes of greed, the participants were influenced. They were manipulated into adopting a new paradigm – a paradigm where greed was bad. Consequently, their actions were reflected that new way of thinking, and caused several people to give more. This is important because the previous mentality (for the rich individuals) existed solely because they were in an environment that promoted the hoarding of resources, like money, and that blocked feelings of empathy and generosity. Again, when money rules your life, including your social (life/norms), there is a distinct negative effect on the personality.

Its intrusion is very dangerous, and it is essential to keep a balance, because if one immerses their entire lives in the market (life/norm), they will give up an extremely vital part of their humanity. It is important to keep in mind I am not bashing wealthy individuals. It is a fact that several of them secede from moral values more than I would like, but it is not because they have innate egregious qualities. Another study shown, by Dacher Keltner, who has the same credentials as Paul Piff and Daniel M. Stancato, suggests otherwise. Keltner showed rich and poor individuals a 45 second video calling out for support to starving African children. One hour later, Keltner had the individuals try to help other individuals in distress, and the wealthier people exerted just as much energy as the poorer, suggesting that these differences are not categorical, but are extremely malleable to slight changes. Little nudges of compassion and empathy are all one needs. Bill Gates once said, “Humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.” Bill Gates has given nearly all his money to the Bill Gates Foundation, which helps support starving children all over the world. I believe money can buy you happiness; just not when its primary purpose is: you. Self-commitment, community, family, friends; investing in others is investing in yourself, and reducing inequities will doubtless increase social mobility, economic growth, trust, and community life.

The rat race we involve ourselves in allows negativity to ferment, and only the morally transcendent individuals who have discovered a much more fulfilling calling – the desire to address the needs and satiate the interests of others – have realized that even if you win the rat race, you’re only just a rat. Do you want to be a rat? If you still find my claim ambiguous, let me make it clearer. It is one of the most time-honored maxims in philosophy, clear even in Chaucer’s time. His Pardoner’s Tale is built on ‘Radix Malorum est Cupiditas’: Money is the Root of All Evil. Now, as illustrated in my essay, social science supports that.

* I realize you marked things on my paper like, “I don’t understand where this source comes in. Are you quoting Ariely’s article or not?” No, I am not quoting his article; I am quoting him. Aside from being a writer, Ariely is an extremely famous speaker. Those sources are where I got the quotes from. Specifically, McElwee is an author of an article on a blog, and TedxMarin is just a Ted Talk that took place in Marin. They are in my, “Works Cited,” page in more detail. If I did anything incorrectly, I am very sorry. That was how I learned to make citations through my entire highschool and college life…

Works Cited
Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancato, Stéphane Côté, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Dacher Keltner “Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior” New York: Farrar. 2008. Print. Porto, Eduardo. “How Money Affects Morality.” New York Times, 13 Jun 2013. Web. 13 Feb 2014. Westaby, J.D. Behavioral reasoning theory: Identifying new linkages underlying intentions and behavior. Ney York: Harper Collins, 2008. Print. Cristina Becchio, , Joshua Skewes, et al, et al, Andreas Roepstorff, and Uta Frith. “How the Brain Responds to the Destruction of Money.” Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics. N.p.. Web. 14 Feb 2014. Piff, Pauf. “Does money make you mean?” Ted Talks. Marin County, California. Oct 2013. Lecture. Loeb, Paul Rogat . Soul Of A Citizen, Living With Conviction In Challenging Times. Los Angeles: St. Martin, 2009. Print. Ariely, D. . Predictably irrational, the hidden forces that shape our decisions. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. Print. McElwee, Sean

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