2/18/09

Bloomberg: Why Rich People are Nasty Rotten SOBs

We've posted quite a bit recently about several ultra-wealthy personalities who by-and-large have been described as having rude, nasty personalities.

A writer over at Bloomberg has given this general coincidence of wealth and rudeness some thought and come to the conclusion that it is not an accident.
Want to Be Rich? It’s About Being Rude to People: Matthew Lynn
...If you want to make a lot of money, just try being rude to people.

Hold on, that doesn’t make sense, you may say. Surely the way to get on in life is to be as polite as possible. A soft cloud of charm can carry even the lamest executive all the way to the boardroom. Tell everyone you meet they are fantastic, listen to their ridiculous suggestions, buy them a drink as they launch into a tedious anecdote, and they will think you are great. The way to the top is to be courteous, you say.

No less an authority than Dale Carnegie in his self-help classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” makes the point emphatically. Rule No. 1 for making people like you: Become genuinely interested in them. Rule No. 2: Smile.

Rich and Rude

New research has turned that wisdom upside down. The richer people are, the ruder they are, according to Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Keltner and co-researcher Michael Kraus videotaped 100 undergraduate students who didn’t know each other, and studied their body language during one-minute gaps in conversation.

The results were clear: Students from a higher socio- economic background were more likely to be rude during the silence. They would doodle, fidget or start grooming themselves. Less-privileged students made far more effort to engage with the other person, making “I’m interested” signals such as laughing or raising eyebrows.

In short, the richer people were a lot ruder, while the poor were a lot more polite.

The psychologists viewed the results as basic animal behavior. The higher up the food chain you are, the fitter and stronger you are. The wealthier animals are signaling that they don’t need anyone. The poorer animals are ingratiating themselves because they need help.

No Reliance

“It is the experience of wealth that leads individuals to become disengaged,” Keltner says.

There is much truth to that. The richer you are, the less reliant you are on other people. It doesn’t matter much what others think of you, since you are unlikely to be asking them for a favor any time soon.

And yet while the rich may be rude because they are wealthy, it is just as likely to be the other way around. Just as plausibly, they are wealthy because they are rude.

Carnegie and other self-help writers have missed the point the last few decades. Getting ahead in life isn’t about making people like you. It is about getting them to serve your interests.

Success depends, more than anything, on an inner ruthlessness. As anyone who has spent much time with chief executives will know, they are mostly an unpleasant bunch.

They bully, cajole, threaten and fume. There are very few examples of them flattering or charming their way to the top. They are more likely to be shouting and raging at people, demanding the impossible, and casting old friends and colleagues aside the moment they become an inconvenience. The accumulation of wealth requires an ability to crush rivals, stamp on employees, and sweep aside all opposition. Charm doesn’t come into it.

As your bank or hedge fund slides toward insolvency, just carry on barking at your secretary, snubbing waitresses, and blanking old friends who nod at you in the elevator. Everyone will assume you are still loaded -- and will hold off pulling the plug on you for a few more days at least.

2 comments:

quill said...

You've quoted Matthew Lynn without comment and without saying he is wrong, so I will take it you think similarly.

So it is not the cream that rises to the top - it is the rubbish - those with no moral compass.

You have a pretty hard view of 'the last few decades'.

Not that I am say ing you are wrong - rather that I wouldn't know how to categorize the last few decades for several hundred million people.

Of course I am being just a little sardonic, because surely it is hard to claim to have looked into the hearts and seen the behaviour of millions of people - many of whom are at the top of their particular goldfish bowl.

I suspect your working life has brought you into contact with many nasty people and made you a little jaundiced.

But what is clear is that you don't like - and good for you - nasty behavior. It's clear that is sickens and saddens you.

But is the corollary of what you say, simply that when all is said and done, people who are nice are only nice because they are reliant on other people?

Is that the end? Is that all we learn?

tzvee said...

i was tempted to add the tag "humor" to the post because it is wry to try in a few paragraphs to account for the personality of the upper class. we can justify some rudeness as a necessity - to guard against those who want to separate you from your money or disrupt your focus, etc. and the lynn's caricature doesn't differentiate contexts. you might expect the rude rich to turn polite in their clubs or churches or synagogues where that is expected. not always the case. anyhow it must have been a slow news day over at bloomberg...