Monday, February 20, 2012
Boston Globe, Why It Matters That Our Politicians Are Rich, by Britt Peterson:
As the presidential primary race has unfolded over the last few months, curious Americans have angled for a look at the candidates’ wallets—and observed that they are bulging. ... Politicians would like us to believe that all this money doesn’t matter in a deeper sense—that what matters is ideas, skills, and leadership ability. Aside from a little extra business savvy, they’re regular people just like the rest of us: They just happen to have more money.
But is that true? In fact, a number of new studies suggest that, in certain key ways, people with that much money are not like the rest of us at all. As a mounting body of research is showing, wealth can actually change how we think and behave—and not for the better. Rich people have a harder time connecting with others, showing less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them. They are less charitable and generous. They are less likely to help someone in trouble. And they are more likely to defend an unfair status quo. If you think you’d behave differently in their place, meanwhile, you’re probably wrong: These aren’t just inherited traits, but developed ones. Money, in other words, changes who you are.
As voters consider which presidential candidate to support in November, one thing is for sure: Whoever wins is going to have money and power to spare. In a world where our politicians are inevitably better off than most of the people they govern, the new research sheds fresh light on the nature of our elected leaders—and offers insight into why they so often seem oblivious to our problems. ...
What are the implications of realizing that our wealthy leaders may be more callous, self-absorbed, and self-justifying than the people they represent? For one thing, it suggests that the constant calls for candidates to release tax returns and disclose their assets are not so petty after all.
- Linda Beale (Wayne State), Politicians' Wealth and the Tax Policies They Support