Culture Of Entitlement

Among the (many) things that irritate me is the widespread habit of attributing characteristics or behaviors to whole groups of people. I’m not just talking about obviously reprehensible–and racist–broad-brush assertions about African-Americans or Jews or Muslims, etc., but accusations about “businessmen” or “poor people” or the growing animus against “rich folks.”

With respect to rich people, there are obviously significant differences between, say, a Nick Hanauer and a Charles Koch.

Of course cultural differences do exist, and people who have been socialized into specific cultures will reflect those differences . What’s important is to recognize that not every member of Group A will exhibit characteristics that are statistically more prominent among members of Group A.

With that extended caveat, there is growing evidence that affluent people as a group are more likely to exhibit “entitled” behaviors. As an Irish journalist has reported,

DID YOU EVER get the feeling that people driving fancy, expensive cars are more aggressive on the road, more domineering or that they think they own the road?

Well, what if I told you that isn’t just a ‘feeling’ – there is a significant body of research to support the idea that people driving expensive cars are more inconsiderate on the road.

Researchers at the University of California in Berkeley monitored motorist behaviour at a pedestrian crossing in California.

It is illegal for cars in California to not stop for a pedestrian at a zebra crossing but half of the drivers in expensive cars broke that law and didn’t stop for their fellow citizens who were waiting to cross the road.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in that survey is that the very oldest and least expensive vehicles were classified as ‘beater cars’ – In Ireland we would call them ‘bangers’.

Every single one of the people driving a banger stopped at the pedestrian crossing.

It wasn’t simply driving behavior. The article referenced a number of other studies that seemed to confirm that–as a group–wealthier individuals were less considerate, less ethical, and more likely to “cheat, lie and steal.”

In another experiment researchers sat a jar of individually wrapped sweets in front of a group of people from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. The participants were explicitly told that the individually wrapped sweets were for children in a nearby laboratory but that they could take some if they wanted.

Were rich people more willing to take sweets meant for children? Of course they were. Rich people took twice as many sweets as the people from the lower income groups.

Other studies have found that rich people were more likely to cheat. In one study, people earning more than €130,000 a year were four times more likely to cheat than someone earning €14,000 a year. They are also less likely to be generous. Students of philanthropy can cite to numerous studies confirming that people on low incomes give proportionately more to charity than rich people do.

In the U.S., differences in social class are overwhelmingly a result of parental income and what the article identifies as a “multitude of structures from good addresses to parent’s social contacts, financial backing and private education.”

But very few of the fortunate recognize the factors that have benefitted them.

Far from being aware of the advantages they have had in life – they think that they succeed because they are the smartest, the hardest working or the most determined.

But why are they more likely to cheat, lie and to cut off pedestrians? And why are they less likely to give to charity?

It may be in part because they are cut off from the reality of poverty – living in an upper-class bubble. But primarily the researchers found that greed is actually viewed more favourably in upper-class communities.

“We reason that increased resources and independence from others cause people to prioritise self-interest over others’ welfare and perceive greed as positive and beneficial, which in turn gives rise to increased unethical behaviour,” the researchers concluded.

One of the great drivers of American innovation–and one of the significant protectors of civil liberties–has been a culture that respects individualism and rewards individual effort. Over the years, however, that culture has become corrupted. Not only has much of America lost sight of the “golden mean” between individualism and the common good, the culture has promoted a mythology that allows many beneficiaries of inequality to lie to themselves–to believe that their good fortune is solely the product of their obvious superiority.

We can see this phenomenon rather clearly in Donald Trump and his enablers.

Do all wealthy people wear these ethical blinders? Absolutely not. But these days, far too many do–and the mounting resentment they engender may well result in a blowback that will not discriminate between the good guys and the Trumpists.


  1. driving truck,i refer the ,well ill be off a little,but as awhole,the BMW class. ever have one just pull in front of your moving semi without regard,for distance,then have em look up in thier mirror and slam on their brakes because you tooo close to their precious ass. mmmm,they get close,and then deliberately try to cause a accident? o.k. were not saints either. but as the speed limits increase,and im sure by their needs for time,and class need for their return cost of driving that BMW to haul ass,and dont look back. passing when its really stupid,where theres no chance for me to even get out of the way,but as the law states,you stay between the lines and kiss their ass goodby! damn i hate paperwork. being i drive up north with a A train,two trailers,and a big horse truck,i run the interstate alot in the left lane. legal here in NoDak, we dont have slower traffic stay right signs either. its the law,as long as you dont block the left lane,driving alongside another vehicle. Poor BMW class cant take the issue,the will tailgate me where i cant see em.. and thier frontend gets pulverised by small rocks,and hopefully a big enough one to cost a windshield.arragant,assholes,and deliberate get out of my £{€~^~€|€| way!! its almost fun to watch them pass me,all 95 feet of me,on my left,when im changing lanes,but still in the lane i was in.ya know those trailers tend to whip from side to side as they climb up and over inbedded wheel tracks in the highway pavement,(wind is also a factor)and of course i have full control over this physically distorted highway,so,its fun to see em pass me when the trailers whip back alongside them at em,at 75mph,and they are within a few feet of being treated like a hockey puck..wakes thier stupid ass right up,along with a highway patrol i just called,about a drunk driver passing me in such a way. p.s. this is almost everyday,money will also get you killed. p.s. stay outta texas to seems the trump clan rich or poor drive like this….with a gun on thier seat..i have seen this many times,,… wishes.

  2. That blow back has been underway since 2016 when Sanders nearly won the Democrat nomination for president. Now he and Warren sing from the same songbook and push their rivals to support a socialist agenda. It is that socialist agenda that drives the rich crazy and deeper into their lies, corruption, and greed thus feeding a yet stronger blow back from those who also worked hard all of their lives but got little for the effort.
    Besides this economic blow back there has been a social blow back as well resulting in the fragmentation of families, divisions in religious circles, and an ongoing self isolation of the rich into exclusive neighborhoods and communities thus strengthening their bubble and ghettoizing the poor.
    It is all the perfect recipe for revolution.

  3. I have also witnessed racism and anti-LGBTQ behavior from those who believe the amount of money they possess or are worth separates them from all others. They are also known to grasp each dollar tightly in their clenched fists even when it come to helping family members on a temporary basis. Two years ago I sat at the bride’s family table at my granddaughter’s wedding reception; we were among 400 guests and we were ignored the entire afternoon by the wealthy, Catholic, Republican groom’s family and all attendees. Still no idea if it was a convention of Republicans, Catholics, Indiana University graduates or the American Dental Association (groom’s father a retired dentist) but it was not celebrating the wedding couple. The groom had been shocked to learn a few months earlier that his intended bride’s family included biracial and lesbian and gay members; our low to middle-income status was obvious. The reception ended a little early when one drunken male guest repeatedly danced with the wife of the best man who asked him to leave her alone. It became a physical altercation when the best man punched the offensive guest, knocking his head against the wall resulting in a serious head injury, much blood and unconsciousness with police and ambulance called. Shocking behavior for those of the upper crust! We of the bride’s family, learned of this later, we left early and no one noticed.

    “Do all wealthy people wear these ethical blinders? Absolutely not. But these days, far too many do–and the mounting resentment they engender may well result in a blowback that will not discriminate between the good guys and the Trumpists.”

    Are the Trumpists getting their moneys worth for their support as we near the 2020 election? I saw “Four More Years” being used at his last night’s official election campaign and it gave me cold chills remembering that was Nixon’s slogan.

  4. Disdain for the “other” isn’t limited to the rich’s disdain for the poor. Those of us from the vast middle swath of America often show a great deal of disdain for those on both coasts. We presume that they think they’re better than we are, which leads us to the suspicion that we are actually better than they. Doesn’t make sense does it?

  5. Theresa,

    Like you mentioned, I see the same increased self-isolation of the wealthy into their bubbles and I have been predicting a revolution for the past twenty years.

    If the wealth inequality continues with the next President and a GOP congress we will see unprecedented uprisings all over the country. People who have worked hard their entire lives only to be pushed from middle class down to poor are ready to blow and the younger generations see no economic hope for their future.

    The GOP controlled Senate continues to push their wealthy donor wishes onto the country. Yes, many of the Dems also answer to their wealthy donors. They keep giving themselves tax breaks and taxpayer subsidies that increase their profits, low taxes on capital gains, etc, etc. It all keeps pushing the money straight to the top and increases the number of slaves they can use and abuse that must work for below the cost of living. All this while owning the media and making sure that those who can still maintain a decent living are fed the lies that people who need government assistance to live are just lazy.

  6. This entitlement fed arrogance and hubris exhibited by the rich is nothing new. The European royalty has made a lifestyle out of that for centuries. Why does anyone not realize that those behaviors gave us “The Communist Manifesto” and “Das Kapital” as primers for resisting those classes of people who give not a single crap about anybody but themselves. They never have had to.

    Trump is the epitome of that hubristic behavior and attitude. So much for a government of, by and for the people….

  7. I have notice the expensive car thing
    The driving style is very offensive – aggressive –
    The Carmel plates are the worst

  8. If not responsible to claim self indulged entitlement, we are accountable.

  9. It all comes down to the issue of who are regarded as “connected” versus those who are not. Our celebrity-driven culture churns out idols and those who idolize. The rich and the celebrated get a pass because too many of us WANT to believe they are special and that we are blessed to be associated with them. All of us have said at one time that “he (she) puts on pants one leg at a time, just like everybody else,” but how many actually believe it? Why, for instance, was it so easy to believe that Robert Mueller alone had the special grace to deliver us from the scourge of Trump, only to have have our hopes dashed when his report turned out to be less than we expected? It’s time we learned to do things for ourselves, including the challenge of restoring our democracy.

  10. What? Rich people are jerks?

    Do college kids in the Midwest get to read “Pedagogy of the Oppressed?”

    Paulo Freire:

    “True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life,” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands–whether of individuals or entire peoples–need be extended less and less in supplication so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.”

  11. Maybe this has all changed, but I attended an elite college in the 1950’s and, although poor, found the rich kids motivated and hard working or entitled and lazy in roughly the same percentages as the rest of us. One friend’s father was president of the American Stock Exchange (remember that?), another the owner of a chain of department stores. Both were stellar people and showed no evidence of entitlement syndrome. The latter seemed quite embarrassed when his car broke down and his parents lent him a showy Lincoln Mark II.

    My first father in law, however, hated the government and complained he could not afford to own a Cadillac so was forced to drive one that his furniture company owned (and no one else ever drove). Were he still with us, the rank of Trumpsters would definitely increase by one.

    This is all anecdotal of course, and proves nothing except what Sheila implied – not all rich people are odious. It may be, however, that all are essentially so greedy that it eventually makes them stupid. If a rich man wants his wealth to grow, there is little he could do that would be more effective than giving his workers big raises which would immediately be spent, thereby improving the economy and thus the owner’s income. However, it’s rare to find a rich person, especially a factory owner, who doesn’t believe the opposite. Do they ingest only Cool Aide?

  12. We all like to claim that our favorite thing is freedom but the truth is, at least for many of us, what we like even more is power. That’s why rich folks can’t stop making more money now regardless of the impact on any others ever. Power is never enough and wealth is their way to accrue it.

    Like many of you my wife and I have been to Nuremberg and have seen the place of Hitler’s largest “rallies”. We have also been to Orlando but before it became the sight of Trump’s largest “rallies”. In both cases the message was exactly the same. Beware because times are changing and “others” want to displace your entitlement, but only I can lead you from this valley of death. Give me power and I will share it with those of you who help me to gain it.

    That propaganda is such a powerful drug that those addicted don’t notice that the share thing never happens. The power the great and beneficent leader accrues remains his alone and those who help him gain it get more, not less, of what he tells them to be afraid of and angry about.

  13. Until there is more equality of opportunity for the rich to get caught, they will believe they have “special” rights of behavior. There is considerable good research that shows that likelihood of getting caught is a vastly larger deterrent to crime than harsh penalties.

  14. Neither all the rich nor all the poor can be painted with the same brush as in all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. Individual reactions to the acquisition or non-acquisition of assets (money, property, accounts receivable etc.) vary with individuals and thus grouping of individuals to traits and characteristics is dangerous, a statistical rather than a descriptive device.

    I am drawn to the old adages of “the proof is in the pudding” and “pretty is as pretty does” as measured by benefit to the common good in making my decision as to whether one is rich or poor. Thus Gandhi was “richer” than the Kochs; King was “richer” than any hedge fund operator, all as further and finally measured by an old sage’s observation “that in the end, all is philosophy.”

  15. In my experience fat people are the most aggressive and entitled drivers.

  16. While we are curating “the other”…maybe it is the big suv/pickups that try to rule the world? Come on folks…get human!

  17. Jack Smith – I remember reading a study a short while back. BMW drivers were considered the worst, most self-centered drivers. Maybe it is a “I’m way better than a Chevy even though I can’t afford a Mercedes, so I will drive like I own the road to compensate” thing?

    Flash back memory – post-doc years in La Jolla – I made a right turn onto a street and a Mercedes driver wanted to make a left turn onto the same street (I had the right of way) – he honked and a policeman gave me a ticket. I was later told that in La Jolla, police assumed that the rich were always right and had to be protected from the riff-raff. My ticket was par for the course there.

  18. this presents a good case for 1 year commuity service as a pre-requisite for college.

  19. Teamwork! Individualism has always ruined teamwork. We Americans make too much of individualism and too little of teamwork.

    The whole is greater than the sum of the parts is a rare occurrence, but when you truly experience it and are a part of the team that achieves it, you will never again think of individualism as you once did.

    A friend of mine, a professional musician, is writing a book with the working title of “The Art and Joy of Playing Second Fiddle”. In it, he will tout giving up individualism not only for the team but for your own happiness.

  20. Terry Munson – a lot has changed since the 50’s. The “Greed is good” ethos of the 80’s marked a shift in American culture, the end point of which might be Donald Trump and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” We as a nation should be embarrassed to be so shallow.

Comments are closed.