Few things are aligned in this world as tightly as money and power: one rarely sees one without the other and both seem to conspire to the same ideals of being omnipotent.
Examples abound near-daily of the money and power mechanism at insidious work: data that shows the average US CEO makes more money in one day than the average worker in one year; mayors in London and Brampton, Ontario accused of pandering away thousands of taxpayers dollars on personal interests; a wealthy US teenager who drove drunk – resulting in the death of four people – spared jail time because he suffers from ‘affluenza’; a state of mind wherein the youth didn’t understand negative consequences of his actions, having been taught that wealth purchases privilege (and ultimately having this reinforced by his verdict).
These circumstances almost seem like fantasy; some fairy-tale drudged up from the mind of a deranged, overmedicated conspiracy novelist who hasn’t slept in days and watches too many true crime documentaries. They seem like folly in the wake of telling statistics that indicate one in six Canadians will go bankrupt in their lifetime and the income gap and under/unemployment are two of the three biggest risks to the global community in the next decade, according to members of the World Economic Forum.
But alas, financial and authority abuse is all too real, and studies are now being enacted to prove that the link between money, power and ethical mismanagement, too, is very real.
Recently I was forwarded a video from TED Talks, an educational seminar series of routine frequency that gathers academic, scientific and inspirational speakers to discuss novel theories and scientific advances. Titled “Does Money Make you Mean?” the talk’s discourse surrounded a correlation between increased perceived wealth and power and a degradation of social graces.
In the video Social Psychologist Paul Piff described how an experiment was enacted with over 100 participants, wherein individuals were to play a rigged game of Monopoly. Those who were blessed with wealth and biased methods of play (manipulated dice, increased access to properties) were chosen randomly, as were those who were fated with ‘normal’ play methodologies.
Despite the randomness of wealth distribution and players knowledge that privilege was unequally balanced from the onset, those with ‘more’ began to express some notable behaviour differences. They would show displays of dominance and celebration more often, consume more snacks, discuss their position of power more frequently and move their pieces around the board more loudly.
In equal measure, when asked about their experience in playing the rigged game of Monopoly, the players who won spoke about what they’d done to earn their success in the game – ignoring all the features that were set in place to ensure their victory.
Though this is only one small test, and though tests are themselves subject to scrutiny and potential shortfalls, it is no stretch to see this exploitation of privilege played out in the situations described at the onset of this article.
The idea that merely a remote appropriation of power and monetary influence has the ability to corrupt random individuals in a test scenario is demonstrative that there is something deeply disconcerting with the way some of us view our own self-esteem as people. With increasing frequency the news exposes stories of wealth proving the downfall of poor souls who’s money hoarding gets the best of them; who’s never-ending pursuit of wealth and power consumes their judgement and destroys their self-worth.
While discourse on the abuse of power and finances runs rampant, it’s interesting to note that the focus of mental illness hasn’t yet tapped into the sickness of mind that is overconsumption of power and wealth.
The TED Talk model of power corruption, aligned with the sheer volume of money-based misconduct in North America, should be an indication that it’s not a randomness principal that leads certain individuals to attempt criminal action when in positions of economic supremacy. Unfortunately, when a system privileges those with money and power, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy that those who’s aims are aligned with principals of dominance will not view the world in a rational manner, nor will they view other human beings as equals.