Tyler Cowen: Professional Obfuscator

Tyler Cowen links to and discusses the research previously linked to about whether the richer, wealthier, higher socio-economic status people are less ethical than the rest of us.

First he points out that this research isn’t too strong. The various experiments offer only weak support for the conclusion and the paper’s strength probably comes from the quantity of data rather than its quality.

But then Cowen goes on to make the following claims:

  • the experiments ‘made the subtle shift from “upper class” to “wealthy,” which of course is not the same.’ Except that it really is. I’m not sure if he’s trying to defend the upper class at the expense of the wealthy or vice versa, but the experiments really focus on those people who have more money than you or I.
  • ‘Very often in studies the highest trust, lowest corruption societies in the world are the relatively wealthy Nordic countries, not poor countries.’ Did you forget about the distribution of income? No, of course you didn’t. These Nordic countries tend to be the richest countries with the most equal distribution of income (and so fewer super rich). That supports the paper’s findings. It doesn’t refute them.
  • ‘Consumers are eager to buy products from companies such as Apple, and they regard the wealth of the shareholders, and the high profit margins, as a sign they will get a high quality product, not a reason to fear a rip-off.’ That has absolutely nothing to do with anything. We’re talking about whether rich people are less ethical, not rich companies.
  • The work of Garett Jones shows that high IQ predicts greater cooperativeness.’ Perhaps Tyler Cowen is unaware that IQ is only loosely correlated with income. Or maybe he isn’t.
  • ‘One simple hypothesis — which for now I will take as the default, when you sum up all the evidence — is that high-status people cheat more at games and less at many other activities, including those of real life.’ I would agree with this and say that many of these rich people treat their job and many other aspects of their life as a game. Like, say, supporting your political masters who also fund much of your work.

He is too smart not to be doing these things on purpose.


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