Something I realized long ago is that when walking or riding my bike around town, there is a very strong correlation between drivers who carelessly–or knowingly–endanger my life through reckless driving and those driving luxury vehicles like Lexus and BMW luxury sedans and fancy sport utility vehicles. That is not to say that those are the only reckless drivers on the road. I also noticed a strong correlation between aggressively reckless driving and driving extremely low-cost dilapidated cars or having carloads of many young men in any type of vehicle. What always seems to stand out the most, though, were the luxury cars that were routinely driven in a way that put my life in danger only to save a fraction of a second travel time for the driver. It gave the impression that my life was not worth the seconds saved by the driver.
As it turns out, Paul Piff, a social psychology researcher at the University of California Berkeley, has recently studied this very issue. Not surprisingly, his data backs up what was already quite clear. The affluent tend to have a feeling of entitlement over others. They do feel that they are better and more worthy than others, particularly when driving.
The connection here is pretty clear if you view “money” as a unit of measure of “power” (arising from a milieu of credit and moral debts), and then consider the age-old saying often attributed to Lord Acton, “power corrupts.” That ties this, by only an slight degree of separation, to psychology research like Philip Zimbardo’s “Standford Prison Experiement” (see also Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil).
There is also the question of so-called “Lexus lanes” that allow drivers to pay a premium for access to special, uncongested traffic lanes. These more or less reinforce feelings of entitlement. But that’s also a whole other issue.
It is good to see research like this being done. It furthers efforts like The Spirit Level that show how inequality produces worse outcomes for everyone.