General Question

dopeguru's avatar

Does wealth or poverty affect morality?

Asked by dopeguru (1925points) June 23rd, 2016 from iPhone

How does poverty influence one’s ethics, you think? Or can? Or does it at all?

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19 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

In very general terms, it has been observed by many writers and thinkers that “the poor” are generally more ethical and better-behaved than the very well off. And there seems to be some truth to that, at least to a point. That point is “survival”. When people are so poor – or desperate, for whatever reason – then manners (which are an indication of morality) go out the window for them, too. When the lifeboat is down to the last few sips of fresh water and the sun is burning and there’s no real hope or expectation of immediate rescue, then all bets are off regarding who might attempt to steal those last few sips.

As another general observation of my own, it’s not usually rich people who participate in riots or looting behavior, either. So there’s that in their favor. After all, choosing to participate in a mob and then escalate to a riot – or not – is an exercise of moral choice, too.

My own experience has been that if you treat “normally well-behaved” people reasonably well in normal circumstances, then they will treat you the same, assuming you’re not a criminal, and they’re not. And on a retail level, that seems to be irrespective of levels of wealth or poverty (or the perception of those things, which is not the same thing).

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Often, those who have everything think they can get away with anything since money goes far and can buy them absolutely anything they desire with very little consequences. On the other hand, those who have very little (or nothing) will feel driven to do things they otherwise might not if they were on the opposite end of the spectrum. Additionally, there are people on both sides of the spectrum who remain moral through it all, just like there are always those who will take advantage of others, no matter which side of the spectrum they fall on. More than anything, though, some people just suck, and others don’t. I have a feeling that, no matter what class someone is, if they started out as a morally bankrupt jerk, they’d probably remain a morally bankrupt jerk even their class changed drastically in either direction.

gorillapaws's avatar

There was a really interesting accidental experiment about white collar honesty: What the Bagel Man Saw. It turns out that the higher up the corporate ladder you were, the more likely you would be to steal. This of course begs the question, does wealth make you dishonest? Or is it the dishonest/morally corrupt who are more likely to rise to the top of the corporate hierarchy?

cazzie's avatar

I think extremes of both will magnify what is inherently in a person. I do think wealth brings with it more opportunities to take advantage.

@gorillapaws that is a very interesting question.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It would be difficult to believe that an existence of grinding poverty might engender ethical conduct from those so afflicted. This would seem particularly the case when lavish opulence is visibly flaunted before those who struggle.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Well. Most impoverished people I’ve known seem defeated by life, but many of them have dogs or pets that they care for better than themselves. (guess I mean homeless people ) Those who are poor seem to try and take care of one another more I think. Like helping people get food , school supplies, and babysitting each other’s kids. They often seem less educated and more likely to attend church gatherings and the like. In some poor communities they are a tight knit bunch. They have to take care of themselves. Police, and EMS response times are usually pretty bad, and relationships with local law enforcement is typically strained at best. They seem morally obligated to hold the community together, though their motivation may be religion driven .
Of the rich people I have met or interacted with, they seem more detached from their community, and only care about how high the neighbors grass is or if they do something that makes them think their property values will be affected. Most seem to feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to most things. They feel that they should have the nicest car on the block, prettiest wife , best toys etc. Surely, they just have different priorities, the rich and poor. The rich seem to whine alot about the trivial things, where as the poor seem to be just trying to make it , riding the struggle bus…
I would say the easiest place to notice the moral difference is in Washington. Rich law makers seem to care very little about the poor and impoverished. They fight tooth and nail to oppose government subsidizing, tax breaks , cheaper medical care, an affordable way to live… Then they turn around and vote themselves raises. The government almost shut down several times in the past several years. A person running a McDonald’s would be fired if their productivity matched that of our congress. They CLEARLY don’t give a flying fuck about anyone but themselves. I doubt they think much about the people suffering from one affliction or the other when they’re at the golf course, or eating at extravagant dinners , or paying the illegal aliens that maintain their yard or watch there children, or clean the house.
IMO the rich are mostly pretty shitty people, who think of themselves as much higher organism. None of them think they would ever be poor. If they weren’t born with money, in nice neighborhoods , with nice private school’s, why they would just work hard and be rich anyway. After all, in their eyes, poor people are just lazy people living on government aid of one type or the other, and refusing to work . I think rich people are capable of morality, but until they have to walk a mile in a poor persons shoes they wont have the opportunity to use introspective thought and become more moral. The tich dont/can’t empathize with poor people because most rich people were born rich.
If you weren’t born rich, and you are now, it’s certainly possible you did one or many unethical things to get rich, so I think money does effect morality.

The George W Bushes, Trumps, and others like them don’t spend one second of their lives considering the ‘moral thing to do’ when making any decisions. GWB claimed that he talked to God a lot when trying to make certain decisions. I’m sure that’s because he simply had no idea of the concept of ethics. Part of me thinks he tried, but his upbringing couldn’t help but create the affluent idiot that would one day fail all the way up to the Whitehouse. And set in motion one of the worst times in history.
There are to be true, certainly morally dead people who are poor or homeless, who , rob, kill and steal. But I think most of that comes from their starting place in life. Some exceptions to both sides indeed aply.

Seek's avatar

All I’ll say is, come the Zombie Apocalypse, I’d rather fill my commune with homeless people than upper-middle-class bankers, dermatologists, and businesspeople.

People who are used to gathering for themselves from the communal pie, then patting themselves on the back for how well they did and scorning others for what they haven’t been able to carry away, are not the people you trust in a situation where you need to be able to trust others to do what is best for the group.

I’ve known people who are at the very edge of civilized living – literally living in the garden shed of an abandoned house – who wouldn’t take a hot meal and a shower off of me unless I would let them pay with yard work. And I’ve had money stolen out of my purse at a church full of yuppies.

msh's avatar

Everyone has to deal with their own morality. Groupings seem to disintegrate when this trait is added to any one person’s way of life or issue. Many factors effect their own actions/choices. Positive morality is not genetic as some philosophers argued. I belive it is learned through life’s experiences and observations. What is interesting is when called upon, some can throw some surprising curveballs in their actions and reactions. Not at all what most would expect to have happen.

Bill1939's avatar

Some aspects that we think of as morality are instinctively derived. Protection of offspring is one example and collective behavior is another. While animals kill their prey, competition for mates or territory seldom causes the death of one of their specie; thou shall not kill has an instinctive origin.

In complex societies, edicts controlling the behavior of members are often considered as morals. However, when resources necessary for survival or reproduction are limited or when wealth or power protects individuals from society’s retribution, creatures capable of rationalizing can transgress instinctive and social moralities.

Coloma's avatar

I’ve been on every fence there is now, and my integrity has not changed. I have been comfortable and fairly well off and now, thanks to the recession, completely flat lined financially, bankrupt and living on an extremely low budget compared to my old life. I remain, exactly the same as ever.
I am not contemplating selling drugs or doing something illegal and while I am not happy, I certainly am not about to disappoint myself.

I may be poor now but I still have standards, as it should be.
Integrity is all we can take with us anyway.

SmartAZ's avatar

Ethics, morality, and honesty are not the same thing although people routinely confuse them.

You might be thinking of the well known fame of rich people’s petty frugalities and poor people’s petty extravagances. If you drive through a poor neighborhood you will see mountains of broken furniture. They buy cheap crap because they know it’s going to be broken, then they don’t hesitate to break it because it’s just cheap crap, then they go buy more. Rich people buy the best stuff and pass it down to their heirs.

Seek's avatar

Funny, my house is full of furniture that rich people left on the side of the road because they got bored with it.

The era of the family estate is long past, I think.

SmartAZ's avatar

In England it is an insult to say that somebody buys their own silverware. They are supposed to inherit silverware.

Seek's avatar

That would be a very silly thing to shout at someone during an argument.

Dutchess_III's avatar

LOL! You buy your silverware at Goodwill and I fart in your general direction!

I saw or read of a study somewhere that the more well off a person is, the more they feel “superior” and “entitled”. They are more likely to disregard someone who needs help than a poorer person, especially one who knows what it’s like to need help. They’re less likely to “take turns,” or to stop for pedestrians.

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. I was raised upper middle class (although my Mom bought a beautiful silverware set at an estate sale once, so maybe we were just rich white trash and didn’t know it!) but as an adult, single mother, was very poor. I’ve managed to pull out of that, and I certainly see things much differently now than I would if I had never experienced that poverty. I know what a huge difference a gift of a mere $20 can be.

SmartAZ's avatar

Yes, they are awfully silly in England. Here in the USA we know very well that “trailer trash” is the appropriate insult for such people.

Seek's avatar

Maybe one of our British Jellies could confirm your “insult”, which sounds like one of those BS “facts” you read in Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I agree. If you have 12 children in the family, what happens to the other 11 who don’t inherent silverware? Are they shunned and kicked to the gutter?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

If there was a standard to determine morality then it might, but for the most part morality as it is constantly used has no foundation so it has no sway with how much wealth one has or not. I know poor people who have no compunction shoplifting from a very large company or business because they believe the people getting rich off that business are exploiting their workers, not doing enough for charity (i.e., ways to make their life easier), or they have so much they will not miss it, etc. I have met some wealthy people who thought no wrong in taking bums and homeless druggies and deporting them so they would not be a drain on society (i.e. sucking off their money they paid through taxes from their hard work).

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