Serving rich clients isn’t a panacea. Bud Fox, the neophyte broker in the classic film “Wall Street,” learned this the hard way.
Remember the film’s Shakespearan plot? Fox (Charlie Sheen), an ambitious junior trader, decides to win corporate raider Gorden Gekko (Michael Douglas) as a client. Gekko, ruthless and slick, brushes him off, but Fox persists, offering Gekko inside information about the struggling Bluestar Airlines. Fox gleaned this tidbit from his father (Martin Sheen), a maintenance foreman at the company.
Impressed with Fox’s potential, Gekko taps him as a trader, and so begins the hero’s preordained rise and fall. Soon, Fox willingly conspires with Gekko in securities fraud. And why not? The rewards — the big corner office, the opulent apartment, and the beautiful girl (Darryl Hannah) — are amazing.
But when Gekko threatens to break up Bluestar, hurting his father and friends, Fox redeems himself; but not before losing everything, including his self-respect. The plot is pure Shakepeare. But life imitates art, according to social psychologists who study wealth’s impact on human behavior.
In fact, their research suggests that as people’s wealth and status increase, their tendency to bend or break the rules in their own favor increases in tandem. Case in point: Researchers observing a four-way intersection recorded the make and model of drivers’ cars and their driving behavior. They found that people in the most expensive cars were four times more likely to cut off other drivers than those driving more modest vehicles and three times more likely not to grant the right of way to pedestrians in the crosswalk.
In another experiment in the study, researchers asked participants to imagine themselves as being rich or poor. Researchers then offered them candy from a jar ostensibly belonging to children in the lab next door. The rich participants grabbed more candy than the poor ones. Five other experiments confirmed the same pattern, writes Paul Piff, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study.