Are Wealthy People Dishonest?
|November 5, 2009||Posted by Roshawn Watson under Uncategorized|
Are the wealthy dishonest? While it is certainly a fair question, it is also a polarizing one. The typical dichotomy is that there are some who feel like there is absolutely no way for honest people to get ahead financially while the wealthy often feel maligned for their prosperity.
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It is important to clarify what is dishonesty. Some believe taking advantage of people and situations is dishonest. With this definition, many of us who do business efficiently are thereby dishonest, but the potential problem with this definition is that profiting from such opportunities forms the basis of capitalism. For example, if one buys a product at a discount and sells it at a premium price, they are capitalizing 1) on their own willingness to hunt down deals to make profit and 2) on someone’s unwillingness or inability to put forth the same effort. Surely reaping the rewards of this relationship doesn’t make someone dishonest in itself. In fact, both parties can benefit.
Another relevant distinction is between honesty and morality. They are not always the same thing. Some are completely truthful in business and but operate businesses that many consider immoral. The classic example is the senior executives in tobacco companies. Many believe that it is immoral to prey on others addiction to tobacco for profit; however, that belief does not make it illegal nor dishonest to sell cigarettes in itself. Although honesty and morality typically go hand and hand, it is not always the case. You can be an honest bad person. A reasonable (albeit not perfect) example is Mel Gibson in the movie Payback. He plays a character named Porter, who was completely honest as an assassin. You better believe when he says you’re dead if you don’t give him back his money, he meant it wholeheartedly. Obviously, he wasn’t a moral person but just because he was a low-life doesn’t negate the fact that he honestly got his money back.
Honesty and trustworthiness are important for any brand because we want to work for and do business with honest people. People typically do not do business with someone they can’t trust (the one big exception that comes to mind is doing business with car salesman). Our inclination to want to trust the businesses we patronize suggests that in order to succeed in many businesses, you have to have some degree of trustworthiness. Indeed, if people believe you to be dishonest, they will simply not do business with you. This does not suggest that everyone who succeeds in business is honest and trustworthy but rather that it is a sweeping generalization to assume all successful wealthy people are dishonest. Sure there are some unscrupulous businesspeople who have become successful, but they are likely the exception not the norm.
There are plenty of people who have become wealthy and are honest. Consider all of the hard-working and honest actors, athletes, musicians and other entertainers who have become wealthy. The presumption that they are somehow dishonest just because they are wealthy is unfair. Also, consider the typical millionaire. The typical millionaire is incognito. He probably doesn’t drive a luxury car. She doesn’t live in a mega mansion. Only 27 percent of homes worth over 1 million are occupied by millionaires according to Thomas Stanley. The typical millionaire lives in a middle-class neighborhood where his net worth dwarfs that of his neighbors. The point is the wealthy are among us, and they are downright common. Most acquire their wealth over a long time through systematic investing. It is unsubstantiated that they’re dishonest just because they have been responsible with their money and caught some breaks in life.
Why Do We Distrust the Wealthy?
I am aware of two main reasons why we do not trust the wealthy. First, I do believe that sometimes the sensational media gravitates towards scandal. You will hear about Enron a thousand times more than you will read about the thousands of business owners who are operating honestly and ethically. Another reason is that it is sometimes difficult to stomach that others are just better than us at accumulating wealth. Attributing their wealth to dishonesty rather than a good business model, hard or smart work, and good fiscal management is a defense mechanism of sorts.
Of course, none of this suggests that the wealthy cannot be dishonest. Wealthy individuals have the potential to be dishonest just as anyone else. However, the automatic assumption that just because someone is wealthy they must be dishonest is wrong.
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Copyright 2012, Roshawn Watson, Pharm.D., Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.