Power Corrupts, Entitlement Corrupts Absolutely

by JamieList on February 5, 2010

  • “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power  corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton, 1887
  • “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who posses it.” – Earl of Chatham, 1770 

In light of recent events (Tiger Woods, anyone?), many would believe the above statements to hold true.  It seems, in our society, that increasing power inevitably leads to a complete erosion of moral and ethical boundaries.  Consider former US Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, or Senator John Edwards preaching family values as a campaign slogan while committing adultery.

However, power may not be the entire story.  I recently read an article in The Economist (Jan 23-29, pp. 75-76) that looked at a study by two professors (one in Europe and one in North America), who conducted a series of experiments to see if this was indeed true.  In the tests that they organized, they arranged so that one half of the group felt entitled to their power, whereas the other half did not.

What they found was interesting.  The research suggests that the individuals who were made to feel entitled to their power were far more likely to commit immoral or unethical acts than the group that was led to believe that they did not deserve their power.  In addition, the research went on to consider the actions of those in power who did NOT feel entitled to the power they were given.  Not only were they more likely to be much more harsh in the judgement of immoral acts, but as a group, they were also more harsh on themselves when judging their own acts than on others.

Huh.

So why did I bring this up in the money column?  I think that this is a very strong analogy about how people, and specifically children, act when confronted with money (note: this is my opinion now, but go with me here).  I have seen many clients come and go, and come to know their families relatively well over the years.  I have also listened to many people speak about the plans they have for their retirement and estate plans, and most feel that leaving “too much” money would have a negative effect on their families, or more specifically, their kids.

So how do we teach kids about money and responsibility?  There are loads of fantastic resources around the web.

However, we are often so preoccupied with saving and spending wisely ( heck, that is what this column is designed to discuss! ), that we fail to consider whether or not our culture (I must have this video game/car/home/toy/etc.) is making our children to feel entitled to the money that their families earn.  Parents may work their fingers to the bone to earn this stuff, but there is likely no activity, strategy or website that will teach them the importance and impact of money unless they learn they will have to earn it, not that they deserve it.

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