An apparently reputable study in a peer reviewed journal, says the rich on average are less ethical than the poor. And it's difficult to say whether richer people get to the top because of their unethical behavior or whether wealth causes people to become this way. "It seems like a vicious cycle." concludes the researcher. Counter examples given in the piece are philanthropists. So maybe we could say, "It is difficult to know whether good people become philanthropists or that they get good by doing good things."
Actually, though, it is much more complex than this. Yesterday, I heard a famous philanthropist, the son of a famous banker, cabinet member, and buyout artist turned philanthropist, talk about his parents' giving and his own. He described himself and his father as "heartless capitalists," spoke with contempt of Obama, and called him a socialist. At the same time, both he and his father took to heart the Catholic social doctrine of minstering to the poor. The father was a volunteer, serving the Eucharist to the dying in a hospice. The son takes his own children to build houses for the poor in Appalachia. The family has done much much more. How is one to parse the "heartless capitalist" who spends 40% of time serving the sick, the youthful offender, and the poor, with his money, his leadership on boards, and often with his own two hands, carrying cinder blocks, or delivering clothing? "We believe in a hand up, not a hand out," he says, then corrects himself, "though we do a lot of direct service as well."
When working with the rich, I have learned to watch their hands and feet more than listen to the words. When I ask about what they do, I am often admiring. When I ask about their philosophy, it may be all Fox News, Adam Smith, or Ayn Rand. Faith may close the heart, in righteousness but it may also open it. "I have what I have by the grace of God," so this rich man said.
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