Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. "Rich Boy" F. Scott FitzgeraldI have a little experience with the very rich. Most of us do have some chance associations based on where we have lived or worked or gone to school, the families we come from, or the hobbies we have. I don't know that mine is much more extensive than any of yours. We rub shoulders with the wealthy. More rarely, with the uberrich - I can't say I know much about them.
Similarly, most of us have occasional contact with the moderately wealthy - people who don't necessarily see themselves as all that rich - because they are in contact with people much richer - but by all objective measures are among the most prosperous folks in the country and certainly, the world. We talk about the 1%, but in world terms, we are all among the 5%, and historically, the 1%. Few people think of themselves as rich.
I am uncertain how much I agree with the quote above. Putting aside Fitzgerald's personal reasons for a love-hate relationship with the rich, treating the quote as a generic observation by some anonymous writer, it seems partly true at first glance. I have certainly known folks who have that air of entitlement, of deserving the choicest portions because they can pay for them, even if they never disparage others or make claims of superiority. We go to church in a wealthy community, where rather expensive cars, homes, or vacations are considered everyday by some. It is troubling at times to be brought up short, noticing that this person has a rather skewed idea of what is normal, I think, and not a lot of obvious gratitude that they should be so lucky as to have their abilities match their time and place so well.
Yet they aren't all like that, and I wonder if we do not simply notice such things more among the wealthy. A (female) coworker of indisputable kindness remarked years ago how tragic the death of a young woman was: "She was so pretty and personable." I remember thinking it would be equally tragic if she weren't pretty. We hear similar words about intelligent people being struck down by some illness or misfortune, as if this somehow makes it worse. Perhaps we mean it that way, though we know we shouldn't, but I think a more likely explanation is that we notice it. Thus with even mildly irritating characteristics among the rich.
OTOH, it is certainly true that exposing people to more temptations means a percentage of them with succumb. The rich with an inflated sense of desert may not do any worse than we would in their shoes, but the point is they aren't in our shoes. They have that temptation and we don't. It would thus be surprising if the wealthy - collectively, not individually - weren't slightly worse than average on this measure, because they have been exposed to temptations the average person hasn't.
I sense, I feel, I smell, that the rich are different in their attitudes, and not in a good way. But selective bias and confirmation bias are likely to be so strong in me that I mistrust it. Perhaps I am projecting my own weaknesses on others, but I have to suspect that much of the current class envy, class-warfare rhetoric of our era plays on the same biases. People think they know what the rich are like and how they think..But they may not.