Has science finally found the reason why we’re so reluctant to tax the small collection of global billionaires? We definitely think so.
As the richest people in the world move further and further towards supervillainy (we’re looking at you Bezos), calls to curb their enormous wealth have been rampant across the globe. Cries of “eat the rich” are common and a general undertone of hatred for those fortunate few permeates our society at large. But do we actually hate these people? Well, as always, science may have an answer.
So What’s the Evidence?
A collection of no fewer than eight related studies have shown evidence that people tend to have far fewer problems when hearing about the obscene amount of wealth of a particular individual, despite still harbouring negative thoughts about the concept of billionaires as a whole.
“When there’s this group of people at the top, we think that’s unfair and wonder how luck or the economic system may have played a role in how they made all the money,” explained Jesse Walker, co-author of the study. He continued by adding “But when we look at one person at the top, we tend to think that person is talented and hard-working and they’re more deserving of all the money they made.”
These sentiments could have real life effects, such as situations where people could be asked to vote on increased taxes for the super-wealthy. Depending on how the narrative is framed, people could be swayed for or against the idea. If it’s contextualised in the form of taxing a group of filthy rich billionaires it could garner support, but if specific names get thrown around support might be harder to come by.
How we think of the wealthiest people – as a group or as individuals – seems to affect even our policy preferencesJesse Walker
And Why Is This Happening?
The exact mechanisms behind these results are still unknown. One theory could be that people may tend to humanise the concept of enormous wealth when presented with someone’s individual story. They could project themselves into that situation. It’s very hard to imagine yourself joining the ranks of the world’s super-wealthy elite, but it’s much easier to imagine yourself working hard, founding your own company, and growing it to unprecedented heights. This is the dream we all feed ourselves.
If they can do it, why can’t I?
Despite the lack of concrete evidence surrounding the mechanism behind this type of logic, a couple of things are clear. How we communicate about wealth inequality is vitally important. Also, how we react to news about wealth inequality is equally important. Now that we have clear evidence that humanising the 1% softens our views on them, we need to recognise when individuals or media outlets are using this to their advantage.
See what we mean?
You can access the full journal article here if you want to learn more.
Want more of the world’s weirdest and most wonderful science brought straight to you? Sign up to PartyLab Industries’ “Lab Report” newsletter to get the latest discoveries and more behind the scenes antics than you can handle. Click here to sign up.