Many people intuitively feel that billionaires are out of touch with reality, some going as far as to declare they are psychopathic. In 2010 it was announced that executives including CEO’s were made up of three times as many psychopaths than the general population, which is said to be 1%. However, recent data indicates that this number could be much greater, with a figure closer to 20% suggested. Coincidentally, this is a similar percentage of psychopaths that generally can be found in the prison system. Many billionaires should have been prosecuted for destroying the economy in 2008, however, this group continue to shape society by moulding government to suit their personal desires.
Reportedly, billionaires and psychopaths share certain personality traits. Firstly, the rich show less empathy than the average person. A 2008 study revealed that the wealthy presented less compassion and attentiveness than their less affluent counterparts. This was observed when rich and poor strangers were paired together sharing life changing moments, such as a death of a loved one or a divorce.
Social psychologists indicate that human beings establish connections with people who are considered to have the most value. The less well off tend to place a great deal of emphasis on social connections and will generally listen more to others. In contrast, those with reduced material value or power matter little to the well-heeled and neither do sincere emotional connections. This disconnect can lead to societal issues within a population.
Another documented trait of psychopathy is egotism. Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman conducted a study of 25 wealth advisers over 8 years and found that their proclaimed success was a total illusion. Kahneman offers that despite these people perceiving themselves as recipients of superior skills, it was discovered that the biggest factor for any success within the finance sector was luck. The rich and powerful regularly claim that they prosper due to exceptional vision, judgment and management skills, but these bold assertions appear to be a fallacy. Kahneman describes this as the “illusion of skill”.
Furthermore, when a group of 39 British business managers and executives were tested for psychological traits, it was found that this group scored similarly to convicts. Some scoring even higher for traits such as; flattery, manipulation, a strong sense of entitlement, a willingness to exploit people and a lack of conscience. Research psychologist Dr Kevin Dutton at Oxford University developed a scale based on traits such as; fearless dominance, self centred impulsivity and cold-heartedness to ascertain potential psychopathy.
Dutton used this scale to analyse past and present leaders. His criteria suggests that scores above 155 and 139.5 for men and women respectively indicates psychopathy. Interestingly, Donald Trump registered 171 using this system. It’s important, however, to put this into context, noting that Dutton has never examined Trump in person, moreover, he is not the only President of the US to display psychopathic traits. Dutton expanded on these results proposing that psychopathic features can help advance those in areas such as politics, business and banking, making tough decisions easier to make due to a lack of empathy.
Despite superficial charm and charisma, psychopaths generally show little remorse regarding how their actions may affect people. In fact, this group often blame others for any negative outcomes that result from their behaviour, while attributing any successes to their superior ability. Despite traits witnessed in psychopathy such as, ruthlessness and dissociative behaviour being viewed negatively in daily life, within the corporate sphere they are very much in demand. It’s not too outlandish to assert that some psychopaths do actually derive joy from manipulating other, rather than feelings of guilt or regret that the vast bulk of people would exhibit.
Contrary to the stories we are told regarding the generosity of the wealthy, professor of social psychology Paul Piff discovered that a person’s generosity increased as social economic status fell. Throughout his studies people in the lower classes of society felt a need donate a greater portion of their wage to charity at an average of 5.5%, compared to upper class participants who considered 2.1% as a reasonable amount. Piff also noticed that lower class participants displayed much greater spontaneous compassion, in contrast, the rich often needed prompting to show these emotions. Piff proposes that greater resources, freedom plus independence fosters self-focused and social-cognitive tendencies that imply the rich are more likely to display unethical behaviours.
Piff has investigated this phenomenon in a variety ways. In one experiment he concluded that somebody driving an expensive car was more likely to cut in front of other vehicles on a 4 way highway. Further probes into this behaviour also discovered that drivers in what could be perceived as more prestigious vehicles were increasingly likely to drive over a pedestrian walkway instead of stopping for a waiting pedestrian. This incidentally is in violation of the Californian Vehicle Code and reinforces Piff’s unethical behaviour hypothesis.
Delving deeper into this phenomenon, in a separate study researchers used a jar of individually wrapped candy, which was said to be for the children participating in another activity. Even though it was stated that people partaking in Piff’s study were free to take some, it was clearly noted that upper class people took more candy than lower class participants, which ultimately meant less for the children.
Described above are just a few examples of studies that have been conducted within this field. So, with all this information in mind the question must be asked; why do we even listen to billionaires? In the US the ‘American dream’ revolves around the idea that if you work hard you can achieve anything. This fable suggests that the US is a meritocracy, a myth many Americans still wholeheartedly believe exists. Using this ‘logic’, however, it implies that billionaires must be the smartest and hardest working people on the planet. But is there really any truth to this?
I guess this brings us to the central question, do we need billionaires, what value do they add to society and should they even exist? Stephanie Kelton former advisor to Bernie Sanders argues, “you don’t make a billion dollars, you take a billion dollars. You take it from your workers. You plunder it from the environment and you strip it using patents and protections”. All over the globe there are billionaires with several homes to their name, while others sleep on the streets. Although billionaire parasites living in Manhattan apartment blocks are often far less moral than their bench dwelling fellow human beings, they are regularly held up as examples of excellence, by a system that only measures the bottom line.
What all this indicates is, we are witnessing a widespread catastrophic ethical and moral failure driven by unbridled capitalism. People are on the whole are treated vastly different according to their power and ultimately the amount of money they possess. The fact that we even question the validity and the need for billionaires is a sad indictment of how western society has become so accustomed to massive economic inequality.
The above graphic exemplifies the enormous disparities regarding pay around the world. Massive inequality exists within every country throughout the ‘anglosphere’ and in most of Western Europe. It is vital to understand that extreme inequality destroys the very fabric of society. To accommodate the rich and powerful who fight to maintain the status quo, we have been led to believe that selfishness, greed, individualism and hyper-competitiveness are good traits. But these are attributes of a psychopath or a narcissist, often displayed by the very types of people heading some of our most important institutions.
In contrast to bogus theories such as homo economicus banded about by capitalist economists such as Milton Freidman and Friedrich Hayek or wackos such as Ayn Rand, it has been postulated that we succeed as a whole when we work together. Scientists posit that we have innate cooperative instincts, developed over hundreds of thousands of years, working and living in highly cohesive groups. Cooperation has proved to be the best way of surviving, while supressing individual greed and self centeredness. It has been suggested in contrast to the neoliberal narrative, that to deny this way of being is to disrupt human nature.
Substantial levels of inequality changes the way people interact with each other. In Europe, studies have demonstrated that countries with larger levels of economic inequality are less likely to help each other. These societies have also shown less engagement with social and civil activities, including lower voter turnout. It has also been strongly proposed that unequal societies are associated with reduced levels of trust. The mechanism involved surmises that as inequality increases so does the social distance between members of society, thus manufacturing a belief that the haves and have nots are almost a different species.
This weakening of societal bonds leads to mistrust, an inability to form relationships, which is ultimately linked to an increase in crime, homicides and worsening health. The proposal is, that these societies lack the capacity to prevent violence through the construction of safer communities. It has been postulated that an encouragement of social competition, can promote violence, primarily because an unequal society cultivates feelings of hopelessness, while inciting fear. These emotions can manifest as thoughts of inferiority, contributing to people being less inclined to behave in a socially acceptable manner.
All this begs the question, why do we listen to these psychopaths when it comes to ideas regarding how to run society? They are no more qualified than you or I, but we have been brainwashed to value the ability to make money so highly that we equate it not only with success, but enlightenment. This very small privileged group of people continue to persuade others on how the world should function (for example at Davos), simply to shape the world thus accruing more money and power. Their billions create movements such as climate change denial (Koch’s), while extolling the virtues of low taxation and limited banking regulations. These actions as we have witnessed help nobody, apart from themselves and their psychopathic buddies.
Billionaire’s are not your friends, or a fountain of wisdom, or even someone who should have a profound influence on how society is constructed. These individuals only ever care about themselves, while assuring everyone that this is how humanity naturally operates. The stinking rich proclaim they are simply infinitely superior at the very game they promote, conveniently forgetting any cash they may have inherited or the thousands of dollars that have been thrown at their education.
We are repeatedly encouraged to play this game, one which most of us can’t possibly win. All the while, being told that their success is built purely on hard word, effectively insinuating that the vast majority of the global populace are failures. It’s time we changed the tune by working together to make this a better place for the most amount of people. While we remain fragmented and hung up on relatively trivial issues such as Brexit (in the UK), or pointless impeachment processes (US), psychopaths will continue to win big, meanwhile, the planet and all who inhabit it will lose out to this tiny group of lunatics.