A few days ago Tyler blogged a study dissing elites:
Upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies, take valued goods from others, lie in a negotiation, [and] cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize. (more)
While Tyler had doubts, I’d guess this is mostly true. I’m reminded of Freakonomics on “What the Bagel Man Saw”:
The same people who routinely steal more than percent of his [honor system paid] bagels almost never stoop to stealing his money box. … Telecom companies have robbed him blind, and … law firms aren’t worth the trouble. … Employees further up the corporate ladder cheat more than those down below. He reached this conclusion in part after delivering for years to one company spread out over three floors — an executive floor on top and two lower floors with sales, service and administrative employees. … ”I had idly assumed that in places where security clearance was required for an individual to have a job, the employees would be more honest than elsewhere. That hasn’t turned out to be true.” (more)
I’m also reminded of Charles Murray’s wish that on marriage, hard work, religion, and (caught) crime, elites would more “preach what they practice.” At least by the usual reading, elites are more moral on these key choices.
My interpretation: elites excel at hypocrisy. Elites can better distinguish ideals which are mainly given lip service, from ideals that really matter personally. Elites can better see which laws and social norms are actually enforced with strong penalties, and those that can be violated with impunity. This ability comes in part from implicit cultural learning, and also from just raw IQ. Homo hypocritus is alive and well – having good enough brains and social connections to manage hypocrisy well is still a core human capacity, as crucial for success in our world as it was for foragers.
This theory suggests that weak culture, the parts without strong local teeth, matter more for lower classes. Upper classes give lip service to whatever they are supposed to endorse, and then mostly ignore it to do what helps them personally. It is the lower classes that are more likely to naively do what culture suggests. They are more likely to “only marry for love” or “follow your bliss” or to think “its all relative anyway.”