Home > Culture, Economy, Insights and Commentary > Blind Spot: The Numbers Don’t Lie – Upper-Class People Lack Empathy

Blind Spot: The Numbers Don’t Lie – Upper-Class People Lack Empathy

December 4, 2010

I have been pretty hard lately on the wealthy for their seemingly uncaring ways & their lack of empathy for struggling everyday Americans. I have chalked it up to narcissism or narcissistic traits. They just don’t seem to care and seem to be out of touch with the reality of the masses. Now a recent report confirms my suspicions. People on the upper end of the economic scale have difficulty reading emotions. That would translate into empathy problems. If you cannot feel for the other person your decisions are going to be skewed. When considering wealthy politicians, who may be lacking in reading emotional cues and having empathy for the masses, and who are making policy decisions about the middle and lower classes, this affects judgments on social programs and establishing the need basis for those programs. It is a kind of ‘blind spot’ in one’s psyche. If one cannot gauge the needs of our society due to this blind spot we face the problem of encouraging inequity across the board.

From the report:

Upper-class people have more educational opportunities, greater financial security, and better job prospects than people from lower social classes, but that doesn’t mean they’re more skilled at everything. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds surprisingly, that lower-class people are better at reading the emotions of others.

These results suggest that people of upper-class status aren’t very good at recognizing the emotions other people are feeling. The researchers speculate that this is because they can solve their problems, like the daycare example, without relying on others—they aren’t as dependent on the people around them.

These findings provide additional insight as to how societies progress and why they have not progressed further. In my forthcoming book on collective narcissism, my own research clearly shows evidence of ingrained narcissism among the nobility. If you lack empathy it is much easier to oppress and exploit others; put people in dungeons, torture and behead them. It is no surprise when you take a look at all the wars of oppression and parallel manipulation by the Catholic church throughout European history. The problems we face today of economic inequity directly impacts the peace and prosperity of whole nations. Taking a look at Europe today — we find riots and unrest as a result of recent austerity plans announced. Here in the post-WWII United States we have enjoyed forty years of prosperity largely due to the rise and expansion of the middle class. It is well established that when you have a large middle class you have more stability and lessens the likelihood of societal unrest. But our future lies in the hands of the unempathic wealthy who got us into this mess. The fact is, until we restore fiscal sanity and economic equity in our country we will continue to experience instability. The medicine: the Simpson-Bowles Moment of Truth austerity plan proposed this past week which if implemented would have created great hardship on everyday Americans. They were not able to get the 14 votes necessary yesterday to hand over the plan to Congress. But….some elements will become new legislation and austerity is coming like it or not….and some economists are stating regardless of the path we take, economic circumstances will lay low a whole generation perhaps 20 years by some estimates. This is occurring when the Baby Boomers are entering into their retirement years. The impact of less persons working and paying into Social Security and Medicare from their paychecks combined with increase demand on those two programs has very serious implications. The bottom line is we need massive investment from the 21,000 companies the Federal Reserve made loans to and who are now stabilized. We need banks to extend a helping hand to home owners to modify their loans to create more cash flow through discretionary income. We need tax reform for everybody but not tax cuts for the wealthy. The last is really a pipe-dream for the wealthy run the show right now and in order to get what we want, we must give them what they want. This is the price of our future.

In a July 2010 Psychology Today report:

The BBC reported startling economic equality figures in a recent documentary: the top 200 wealthiest people in the world control more wealth than the bottom 4 billion. But what is more striking to many is a close look at the economic inequality in the homeland of the “American Dream.” The United States is the most economically stratified society in the western world. As The Wall Street Journal reported, a recent study found that the top .01% or 14,000 American families hold 22.2% of wealth, and the bottom 90%, or over 133 million families, just 4% of the nation’s wealth.

Economic disparity as evidenced in the BBC report, ties in directly to the findings that the wealthy lack empathy, for right now we find they persist in the efforts through political influence to press for tax cuts so they can retain more of their wealth while the rest of the country is economically oppressed, struggling, and scraping by as a result of the 2008 market collapse – a collapse largely due to the same people in power — the banks and financiers.

In the same BBC report…. The U.S. Census Bureau and the World Wealth Report 2010 both report increases for the top 5% of households even during the current recession. Based on Internal Revenue Service figures, the richest 1% have tripled their cut of America’s income pie in one generation. In 1980 the richest 1% of America took 1 of every 15 income dollars. Now they take 3 of every 15 income dollars.

Income inequality grew significantly in 2005, with the top 1 percent of Americans – those with incomes that year of more than $348,000 – receiving their largest share of national income since 1928, analysis of newly released tax data shows. The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, also reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression. The new data also shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans.

According to research done by Elizabeth Gudrais, associate editor of the Harvard Magazine, income inequality has been rising since the late 1970s, and now rests at a level not seen since the Guilded Age (1870 to 1900), a period in U.S. history defined by the contrast between the excesses of the super-rich and the squalor of the poor.

Sources: “Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic Accuracy,” Michael W. Kraus, Stéphane Côté and Dacher Keltner, Psychological Science (November)

Psychology Today: Does income inequality threaten economic and social stability?

Association for Psychological Science

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