Allowance Reduced, 30-Year-Old Turns Patricidal

Here’s your horror story for the day, in case you needed one: an able-bodied, 30-year-old Princeton graduate living in New York City became so enraged with his parents for threatening to reduce his allowance and stop paying his rent that he killed his father and tried to make the death look like a suicide.

Police said the son entered his parents’ Beekman Place home Sunday afternoon and asked his mother to get him a sandwich.

Boyce said that the mother “had a bad feeling” after leaving the two men alone together and decided to return to the apartment, but when she came back she found her husband shot in the head in his bedroom.

The allowance reduction, by the way, was going to take him down from $400 a week to $300.

Perhaps it’s a good time to read that Michael Lewis piece going around about “What Wealth Does To Your Soul.”

He cites one study that found that richer people are more likely to be unscrupulous:

The value of winning $50 is greater for the poor, and, by implication, the incentive for lying in our study greater. Yet it was our wealthy participants who were far more likely to lie for the chance of winning fifty bucks.

There is plenty more like this to be found, if you look for it. A team of researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute surveyed 43,000 Americans and found that, by some wide margin, the rich were more likely to shoplift than the poor. Another study, by a coalition of nonprofits called the Independent Sector, revealed that people with incomes below 25 grand give away, on average, 4.2 percent of their income, while those earning more than 150 grand a year give away only 2.7 percent.

A UCLA neuroscientist named Keely Muscatell has published an interesting paper showing that wealth quiets the nerves in the brain associated with empathy: If you show rich people and poor people pictures of kids with cancer, the poor people’s brains exhibit a great deal more activity than the rich people’s. (An inability to empathize with others has just got to be a disadvantage for any rich person seeking political office, at least outside of New York City.) “As you move up the class ladder,” says Keltner, “you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and to be tightfisted in giving to others. Straightforward economic analyses have trouble making sense of this pattern of results.”

Yikes. The truth is, though, the more you have, the scarier loss can seem. It makes sense that people with privilege might do whatever is necessary to retain their hold on their advantages. In novels, after all, the fall is rough: Lily Bart doesn’t descend from the leisure class to the middle; she ends up dying in a rooming house after failing as a seamstress.

My question is, do these findings hold true in countries with more robust safety nets? Maybe if there’s no real threat of poverty and disgrace, rich people have less to fear and so can behave better.

Regardless, take heart! If you’re an ethical rich person, that means you can feel extra good about yourself; if you’re a not-that-ethical rich person, you’re average; and if you’re an ethical not-rich person, you can feel morally superior. Win win win!

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.