Rich pick­ings

Do wealthy peo­ple have dif­fer­ent val­ues to those with less money?

Finweek English Edition - - Openers - STEPHEN MUL­HOL­LAND stephenm@fin­week.co.za

IN AN AR­TI­CLE FOR Esquire mag­a­zine in 1961 the great African-Amer­i­can nov­el­ist James Bald­win wrote: “Money, it turned out, was ex­actly like sex; you thought of noth­ing else if you didn’t have it and thought of other things if you did.”

An­other Amer­i­can – the hu­morist Bill Vaughan – ad­vised that, while money won’t buy hap­pi­ness, “it will pay the salaries of a large re­search staff to study the prob­lem”.

This is what hap­pened re­cently at the Pew Foun­da­tion’s Re­search Cen­tre in Wash­ing­ton, where data on 13 mid­dle in­come coun­tries – in­clud­ing South Africa – gleaned in the cen­tre’s 2007 “Global at­ti­tudes” project was ex­am­ined to dis­cover if peo­ple with more money do in fact have dif­fer­ent val­ues than those with less.

The global mid­dle class was de­ter­mined to be those with an in­come in 2007 buy­ing power of around R45 000/year. A stricter def­i­ni­tion of the global mid­dle class is those with in­comes be­tween R40 000 and R170 000/year but in the 13-coun­try sam­ple the num­bers in the group weren’t sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant.

Thus, in Vaughan’s words, Pew’s “large re­search staff” looked into those coun­tries where the mid­dle class was more mod­estly cal­cu­lated. It was de­duced that, com­pared with poorer peo­ple in emerg­ing coun­tries, “mem­bers of the mid­dle class as­sign more im­por­tance to demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­ual lib­er­ties, con­sider re­li­gion less cen­tral to their lives, hold more lib­eral so­cial val­ues and ex­press more con­cern about the en­vi­ron­ment”.

And, it ap­pears, be­ing bet­ter off does cor­re­late with be­ing hap­pier. “Nearly ev­ery­where, wealthy peo­ple tend to be more sat­is­fied with their lives. Life sat­is­fac­tion tends to be higher in wealthy coun­tries; and in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries it tends to be higher among wealthy peo­ple. So it’s not too sur­pris­ing that mem­bers of the global mid­dle class tend to be more sat­is­fied with their lives.”

As is shown in the chart, of those in the mid­dle class in the 13 coun­tries sur­veyed, the lower in­come group has 31% of its mem­bers stat­ing they cur­rently are sat­is­fied with their lives, while of the mid­dle class 50% claim that. Fur­ther, that 50% turns into 71% who ex­pect to be bet­ter off five years hence.

Hon­est elec­tions be­tween at least two par­ties are im­por­tant to 59% of SA’s mid­dle class but to only 49% of those in lower in­come groups. Like­wise, in “Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, 74% of mid­dle class re­spon­dents said such elec­tions were very im­por­tant, com­pared with 62% among lower-in­come re­spon­dents, many of whom have formed the base of po­lit­i­cal sup­port for Chavez through­out his con­tro­ver­sial ten­ure”.

Given cur­rent mis­giv­ings about the ANC’s com­mit­ment to an in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary it’s in­ter­est­ing to note no less than 68% of South Africans in the mid­dle in­come group be­lieve an im­par­tial ju­di­cial sys­tem is very im­por­tant, whereas only 50% of those with lower in­comes agreed with that propo­si­tion.

When it comes to rank­ing their lifestyles in terms of a “lad­der of life” – where zero rep­re­sents the worst pos­si­ble life and 10 the best pos­si­ble life – “roughly half (49%) of the South African mid­dle class rated their cur­rent life at least a seven, but only 24% of their poorer coun­try­men rated their lives as pos­i­tively. Sim­i­larly, 52% of those in the Malaysian mid­dle class placed them­selves near the top rungs of the lad­der (7 to 10), com­pared with just 30% of peo­ple earn­ing less in­come.

“Over­all, across the 13 na­tions the me­dian per­cent­age rat­ing their cur­rent life in the range of seven to 10 is 50% among the global mid­dle class and just 31% among poorer re­spon­dents.”

In­dia was an in­ter­est­ing study in this ex­er­cise – given, for ex­am­ple, that both mid­dle class and the poor be­lieved equally ( just more than 50%) that hon­est, mul­ti­party elec­tions were im­por­tant.

Lastly, the cru­cial is­sue of equal­ity be­fore the law re­vealed a rather dis­cour­ag­ing pic­ture for SA, where 68% of its mid­dle class and only 50% of its poor be­lieved that to be im­por­tant, while in, for ex­am­ple, Egypt the fig­ure was a stun­ning 88% for both groups.

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