Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Upper Classes are More Dishonest—Official!

A series of studies conducted by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Toronto in Canada and reported by the NSF reveal something the well off may not want to hear. Those who are relatively high in social class are more likely to engage in unethical behavior. Lead researcher Paul Piff of UC Berkeley said:

Our studies suggest that more positive attitudes toward greed and the pursuit of self-interest among upper class individuals, in part, drive their tendencies toward increased unethical behavior.

Relative to the lower class, the upper class are more likely to break the law while driving, more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies, more likely to take valued goods from others, more likely to lie in a negotiation, more likely to cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize and more likely to endorse unethical behavior at work.

Piff explained:

The relative privilege and security enjoyed by upper class individuals give rise to independence from others and a prioritization of the self and one’s own welfare over the welfare of others—what we call greed. This is likely to cause someone to be more inclined to break the rules in his or her favor, or to perceive themselves as, in a sense, being “above the law”.

They therefore become more likely to committing unethical behavior.


Piff and colleagues conducted seven survey, experimental and naturalistic studies to determine which social class is more likely to behave in unethical ways—to engage in behaviors that have important consequences for society such as cheating, deception or breaking the law.

In two naturalistic field studies that examined unethical behavior on the road, researchers were surprised by the differences between upper and lower class people, finding upper class drivers were significantly more likely to pursue their own self-interests and break the law while driving than were lower-class drivers. In these studies, the researchers defined social class by an observable cultural symbol of social class—namely, their car. Drivers of higher-end automobiles were four times more likely to cut off other vehicles before waiting their turn at a busy, four way intersection with stop signs on all sides. In addition, they found upper class drivers were significantly more likely to drive through a crosswalk without yielding to a waiting pedestrian.

In another laboratory study, the upper classes were more likely to cheat to improve their chances of winning a cash prize. Piff and colleagues first measured social class using the MacArthur scale of subjective socioeconomic status, where participants rank themselves on a 10-rung ladder relative to others in society in terms of their wealth, education and the prestige of their jobs. Participants then played a “game of chance” in which a computer presented them “randomly” with one side of a six-sided die on five separate rolls. Participants were told higher rolls would increase their chances of winning a cash prize, and were asked to report their total score at the end of the game. In fact, die rolls were predetermined to sum up to 12. The extent to which participants reported a total exceeding 12 was a direct measure of their cheating. The researchers concluded greed was a “robust determinant of unethical behavior”.

Plato and Aristotle deemed greed to be at the root of personal immorality, arguing that greed drives desires for material gain at the expense of ethical standards.

Due to their more favorable beliefs about greed, upper class people are more willing to deceive and cheat others for personal gain.

Study 4 sought to provide experimental evidence that the experience of higher social class has a causal effect on unethical decision-making and behavior. It was the only study in which researchers manipulated participants into temporarily feeling either higher or lower in social class rank to test whether these feelings actually caused people to behave more or less unethically.

At the end of the study, the experimenter presented participants with a jar of individually wrapped candies, ostensibly for children in a nearby laboratory, but informed them that they could take some if they wanted. This task served as a measure of unethical behavior because taking candy would reduce the amount that would otherwise be given to children. People in this study, who were made to feel higher in social class rank, took approximately two times as much candy from children than did people who were made to feel lower in social class rank. Piff concluded:

Across all seven studies, the general pattern we find is that as a person’s social class increases, his or her tendency to behave unethically also increases.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Media Fuss about Qatada is Part of their Attack on Habeas Corpus

The fuss about Abu Qatada is nonsense. All of it is to work up popular opinion against the Human Rights Act, and the European Court. Other countries have no trouble with either, and the UK Minister of Justice, Kenneth Clarke, only last week said it had nothing to do with the human rights court, but everything to do with justice. Like all of those captives in Guantanamo Gaol who have received no trial but nevertheless are imprisoned indefinitely, Abu Qatada has had no justice, but has been locked up for seven years. Since when has it been legal to jail anyone for life on an unproven allegation. Only since the odious Bush puppet, Tony Blair! Blair broke a principle of the law by bringing in his version of the US Patriot Act.

Blair effectively abolished habeas corpus, a fundamental principle of British law for 800 years. It meant that no one could be detained without trial. If this man, Qatada, is a danger, and all the news media seem to know he is, then he should be tried. If he is persona non grata here, but other countries like the USA want him for suspected acts of terror, then he can be extradited to them. We are extraditing Assange to Sweden en route to the USA, and various naïve hackers to the USA where they can legally be incarcerated for life over petty offences, and about three million imprisoned blacks in US jails vouch for it. He can even be extradited to Jordan, his home country, because it has enshrined guarantees against the use of torture, and evidence produced by torture, in a recent act (in 2011) to assure Europeans it respects human rights, and to facilitate the return of people like him to Jordan.

If the our secret services allege they have secret evidence that any of us are a danger to the public, any of us could be banged up indefinitely without proof of our guilt—because even if it exists, it is secret! Do not be taken in by emotive propaganda by the right wing media. It is in their interest to be able to jail anyone without evidence or trial. It is in our interest to have the protection of due process of the law.

Defend habeas corpus. It has saved thousands of people from arbitrary detention, and, if it goes, they’ll be able to bring back dungeons.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Class Warfare in America

Gil Villagrán, MSW, Lecturer, School of Social Work, San Jose State University [gvillagran [at] casa.sjsu.edu] has posted this interesting factsheet for Class Warfare in America: a Teach-in for Occupy San Jose, lightly edited here for presentation.

Our nation’s class war began as early as 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia, established by the Virginia Company of London—a charter corporation granted by King James. English, Scot, Irish, Dutch, Polish, German and other European immigrants were recruited as indentured servants, working up to five years to pay off their indenture. Children born to these servants themselves became servants along with their parents in exchange for room and board. Many of the indentured did not live long enough to complete their five years of servitude. But seeking to lower costs and increase profits to the colony owners and managers (the CEOs of the period) by 1619 the first African slaves were imported for heavy work, unpaid, of course.

Descendants of these slaves, along with more recently “acquired” slaves under “privatized construction contracts” built many of the buildings in our nation’s capitol, including the Congress, White House, and Supreme Court.

The Class War in America has never ceased, and when the pernicious abuse of workers by the ruling ownership class becomes even more overwhelming, people have risen up to plead for food, fairness, safe working conditions and sustainable livelihoods. When such pleads are disregarded and people realize their economic masters do not care about fairness, human decency or Democracy, eventually they have armed themselves with more effective weapons (under those circumstances) than the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, or any moral philosophy or religious teaching of human rights.

The Class War by the ruling ownership class has been won over and over for almost 400 years in America, and in most of the world, by those in control of wealth, natural resources, government at every level who write the laws which are then enforced by courts, police, private mercenary militias, secret police, FBI, DEA, CIA, and countless other police state agencies, and finally when all else fails to subdue the rebellious people—the army attacks its own citizens. In most nations today, national armies are created, funded and used to protect the ruling class from rebellions civilians rather than from attacking armies of other nations.

The economic situation in 2011 America

  • The top 1 percent own 51 percent of Wall Street financial instruments—stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
  • The top 1 percent of American residents own 34 percent of all wealth, and have even more in financial instruments such are retirement accounts, mortgages, credit card debt, etc
  • The other 99 percent share the rest, but do not control most of it.
  • The bottom 50 percent of American residents share only 2.5 percent of the wealth
  • In the last 20 years CEO pay has risen 298 percent while minimum wage values has declined by 9.3 percent
  • Average effective hourly wages have not increased in 50 years!

The increasing chasm between wealthy, middle class and poor Americans

  • From 1979 to 2005, the top 1 percent gained $673 billion in combined annual income, an average annual household income gain of $597,000
  • The middle class lost an average of $8,600 annually
  • The bottom 20 percent suffered a loss of $5,600

The truly rich pay less tax than all other classes

  • From 1992 to 2007, the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes had an average increase in income of 392 percent while their tax rate decreased by 37 percent.
  • So, buying Congress is the best investment for the 400 richest Americans!

War on Poverty

President Johnson’s 1960s War on Poverty was lost in the jungles of Vietnam, which cost at least one trillion dollars, and created a generation of disabled, traumatized and thousands of homeless veterans—many living in San Jose.

The economic safety net initiated by the FDR New Deal programs, generally successful in caring for the aged, disabled, widows and children until the 1980 Reagan War on the Poor, is now a tattered net with gaping holes that determined that many Americans are (unlike “banks that are too big to fail”) too sick, too mentally ill, too addicted, too criminal, too “feral” to save from living in the streets, eating out of garbage cans, sleeping in trash bins.

The cruel fraud of so-called Safety Net

There is no national federal minimum wage, most states legislate a statewide minimum wage. In California the wage is $8 per hour. $8 per hour x 40 hours x 52 weeks is an annual wage of $16,640, but the 2011 Federal Poverty Level for a family of three is $18,530. Therefore a full-time parent in a real job earns almost $2,000 less than the poverty level!

But these wages are before all the deductions for federal, state, local, SS (wage) taxes, UIB, are taken from the worker. There are also exemptions from the minimum wages for part-time workers, trainees, extra help, restaurant servers, seasonal, farmworkers, children, and of course the undocumented who are easily exploitable. Many of our nation’s 3 million incarcerated prisoners are cajoled into prison labor not unlike the chain gangs of earlier times. There is also the underground economy filled with human trafficked wage and sex slaves.

Most of the poor in America are not poor because they do not work, but rather are poor because they earn their poverty every day they work by such low wages.

Which class do you belong to?

Earnings from work, and not including assets such as property, financial investments—stocks and other income producing assets. 2005 earnings data, Dept of Labor:

  • Lower class—25 percent of workers: annual income, $10,000 to $22,500
  • Middle class—33 percent of workers (mainly high school educated): $30,000 to $62,000
  • Upper middle class—25 percent of workers (mainly college graduates): $77,500 and higher
  • Top class—5 percent (graduate or professional) $167,000 and higher
  • Megarich class—top 1 percent (CEO top management) $350,000 and more.

Who are the very poor in our society?

  • One out of five children live in poverty all of their childhood—their parents’ struggle to provide often ends in failure to self-recrimination
  • One out of five seniors will die in poverty
  • African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Single moms recent immigrants are twice as likely to be poor
  • 50 million American live in or on the edge of desperate poverty
  • Health care costs are the major cause of home foreclosure and bankruptcy

The American Corporate Plutocracy

The truly rich do not earn their money from labor of any sort, but from earnings on investments. The highest wealth in America is now inherited wealth—that is, based upon who your parents were—like back in the days of the founding of the nation. America is a land with a new kind of aristocracy—a corporate aristocracy based upon wealth amassed from corporate profits.

What are the lower and middle class workers to the megarich class?

We are worker bees, the drones that make or sell and certainly buy the products, who clean the offices and factories, and fight their wars. Also critically, it is the lower class and middle class who build and pay in taxes for the vast infrastructure that enables corporations to function: the transportation, energy, communications networks; the water and sewage systems; and the educational system that trains workers, managers and executives.

We also provide another critical function of society—the police and criminal justice system to keep public safety and prevent lawlessness or even insurrection, and the vast military to ensure the American empire continues to function in the world. Who fills these ranks?

The lower and middle class. Wealthy youth. George W Bush, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, Michael Bloomberg, etc) never risk their lives as beat cops or rank soldiers, but for the lower class, these are considered good jobs with higher than low wages and the prestige of serving your community and your nation.

American Dream?

Current middle class wages are not enough to afford a middle class lifestyle of owning a home—even if it takes a lifetime to pay for it—sending your children to college, expecting some upward mobility. In the last five years, actual working class wages have remained constant while income for the top 1 percent increased 23 percent. Imagine such a raise in your wages. It is unlikely to happen. The “American Dream” project of the “Change to Win Federation” identifies four elements to the American Dream:

  1. a job that pays to support your family
  2. affordable health care
  3. being able to ensure your children have opportunity to succeed
  4. and having a secure and dignified retirement.

How many middle class Americans are certain they can achieve these goals? If we have an endangered middle class, then are we witnessing the eclipse of the American Dream?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Republicans Attracted to Repulsive Sights, Liberals Avoid Them

Republicans like horror

It is said that conservatives and liberals do not see things in the same way. Recent findings make that clear—quite literally. In a series of experiments, researchers closely monitored physiological reactions and eye movements of participants shown combinations of pleasant and unpleasant images on a screen. To gauge subjects’ physiological responses, electrodes measured subtle skin conductance changes indicating an emotional response. The cognitive data were gathered by fitting subjects with eye tracking equipment that captured even the most subtle of eye movements while the images were on the screen.

  1. Conservatives had stronger reactions to and looked longer at the unpleasant images like an open wound, a crashed car or a dirty toilet than liberals
  2. Liberals had stronger reactions to and looked longer at the pleasant images like a beach ball or a bunny rabbit than conservatives.

Conservatives seem to focus on and respond more to negative stimuli while liberals focus on and respond more to positive stimuli. Conservatives responded physiologically more to images of Democratic politicians—presumed to be a unpleasant to them—than they did to presumably agreeable pictures of Republicans. Liberals, on the other hand, had a stronger physiological response to Democratic figures—presumed to be an agreeable stimulus to them—than they did to images of the Republicans, presumed disagreeable to them.

Ultimately the research suggests Republicans are rubberneckers, attracted to unpleasant and gory sights, while liberals find even thoughts of such horrors unpleasant. Who then seems more likely to be a warmonger, a torturer or apologist for torture, and a believer that the pacific Jesus Christ of the gospels is really Rambo Jesus? No prizes for this one.

Republicans more inclined to rubbernecking