I’ve found the older I get, the more I hear people talk about how some rich or famous person is so smart, generous, insightful, good at business, etc. Only these days, I actually know some of the people being placed on pedestals. I offer you this report as a public service, since I made this mistake for many years, often to my own detriment.

We get confused. We think that if someone’s rich, it means all kinds of other things about the person. We’re probably biologically hardwired to think this way. in our societies, money connotes status, and humans (being primates) seem to believe that status corresponds with all kinds of other qualities.

Let’s be clear:

  • Rich people aren’t necessarily smarter than you (though some are).
  • Rich people aren’t necessarily any better at business than you (no one ever writes an autobiography called “I was born to the right parents and was in the right place at the right time,” but they should. Nor do any tomes get written about the supremely competent who just happened to have bad luck)
  • Rich people aren’t necessarily any more moral than you (no matter what Ayn Rand writes in her fiction books)
  • Rich people aren’t necessarily any more generous, any greedier, or any more insightful as to what the world’s problems are or how to solve them.

The next time you go looking at a rich person and proclaiming how smart they are, how insightful they are, or how much good they’re doing for humanity, stop and double-check yourself. Go find some poor people who are also smart, insightful, or doing good for humanity. Then give a long, hard look and decide whether the rich person actually has all those qualities, or whether you’re confusing bank balance with human attributes.

(*) For the psychologically-inclined among you, this is called the “fundamental attribution error.” We tend to underestimate the role environment plays in outcomes, and overattribute outcomes to personal qualities.

How The Rich Are Different (Hint: Not Much)

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