The social reasons typically given for opposing large wealth inequalities—concentrated money buys elections, distorts democracy, deprives government of income, promotes a dominant and selfish ideology, etc.—do not statistically bear out. The more we search for the ability of wealth to skew society toward a few dark interests, the more we see the limits of wealth in achieving real social change, good or bad.
What does seem clear, however, is that extremely concentrated wealth is bad for the people who possess it, sapping them of nobility, dignity, and charity. In one experiment, observers clearly found that drivers of luxury cars were more likely to ignore traffic laws, putting pedestrians and fellow drivers at an increased risk. The author of that study and the leader of several similar ones is UC Berkeley’s Dacher Keltner, who said:
“As you move up the class ladder, you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and to be tightfisted in giving to others. Straightforward economic analyses have trouble making sense of this pattern of results.”
Rather than demand politicians take from the rich to give to the poor, it may be more effective to give the wealthy constant and visible reminders of how extreme wealth makes them worse off as people who have a meaningful role to play in the life of their community.
As Richard Branson puts it, with great wealth and power come great responsibility. This is why Branson encourages public scrutiny of how the wealthiest members of society spend their money:
Read more at the New Republic
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