The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Liars, cheats and thieves

Many years ago, when I was an University student, in the days when door-to-door appeals still existed, I collected for a New Zealand based international aid agency.  I used to collect in one suburb, but it had two distinct demographics.  The hillside was dotted with high-priced, large houses.  The valley residencies were more often older, smaller and inexpensive.  In short, the hillside was the home of the rich; the valley was the home of the lower middle-class.

What struck me, as a young, naive student, was that when I knocked on the door of a hillside residence I was often met with; “not today, thanks,” “I’ve already given,” or sometimes just a short “no.”  Not always, but it was common enough.

However, when I knocked on a valley door I was often met with someone who would go away, collect their purse or wallet, and then tip out whatever coins they had and place them in my collection bucket.  I just knew that person was giving possibly the last of their spare cash.

Forty years later I have come across a piece of research that suggests my experience was not atypical.  Piffa et al1 conducted a series of seven experiments and concluded that the wealthy are more likely to lie, cheat and steal than are the poor.

We often hear from politicians, talk-back hosts and others that people on welfare and those in the lower strata of society are layabouts, out to rip off the system or no-gooders.

Piffa’s research does not dispute that people in lower socio-economic strata are capable of lying or cheating.  But, those who are wealthy in comparison, are much more likely to do so.  This conclusion turns the common myth (promoted by those politicians and talk-back hosts) on its head.

Before you go thinking that rich people are liars, fraudsters or cheats though, give some consideration to the next part of the research.

What’s the Difference?

In further experiments they placed people who came from wealthy backgrounds in roles where they played poor persons.  In the same experiments they placed people from poorer backgrounds in roles of being wealthy.  And, guess what?

Those playing the role of a wealthy person became more likely to lie, cheat and steal, even though their background was exactly the opposite.  Those put into poorer roles became more compassionate, again irrespective that their own background was as a member of a wealthier class.

What does this tell us?  Compassion on one hand or selfishness on the other is not a consequence of whether one is wealthy or poor.  It is a consequence of the difference in wealth in a society.  In short, the difference in attitudes is a result of inequalities.

This research supports the findings of Wilkinson and Pickett in their ground-breaking book, The Spirit Level2.  Furthermore, Wilkinson and Pickett suggest that as inequalities widen then the incidence of social ills grow,

Its time to stop stereotyping the poor or those in lower socio-economic strata as liars, cheats and thieves.  However, castigating the rich as liars, cheats and thieves is not going to change anything.

Until we start working at reducing inequality then nothing will change.  That will require the will of those who presently control our political and economic institutions.  That is, those who are wealthy.  But then, as the research suggests, they are presently in positions whereby they are more likely to lie, cheat and steal.

Oh dear.  How to get out of the systemic spiral?  That is our collective challenge.

1. Piffa, Stancatoa, Côtéb, Mendoza-Dentona & Keltnera, Higher social class predicts increased unethical behaviour, Dept. of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley and Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Canada, January 2012.
2. Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level; Why Equality is Better for Everyone.  Penguin, London, 2010.


  1. I have read similar stories and studies. I truly believe that the needy are more giving, kind of ironic isn't it? And also, it's very eye-opening.

    1. Yes, Ironic. Maybe it has to do with being in a place that is more empathetic.


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