anonymous survey respondents with money

Survey: Millionaires Aren’t All Terrible

Warren Buffett, chairman of the board and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, speaks in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University, September 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan moderated the discussion with Buffett. Buffett also took questions from Georgetown students.
Warren Buffett, a many-times-over millionaire, was probably not part of the CNBC survey. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

CNBC rounded up 514 millionaires and asked them a bunch of questions about money, work ethic, and the American Dream, and their answers were … surprisingly not terrible?

I mean, there’s some predictable myopia about the sources of extreme wealth. (“When asked about the No. 1 factor in obtaining their wealth … only 1 percent cited luck as the top reason.”) But it seems like some millionaires, at least, have read their Piketty: “More than half of millionaires and multimillionaires agreed that ‘inequality of wealth in our nation is a major problem,’” and 64 percent of those surveyed supported higher taxes on the wealthy. (Though the survey didn’t ask what kind of taxes — which matters if reducing inequality is your goal.)

Among the survey’s findings, this is probably the bit that speaks most to the psychology of the rich:

More than half of millionaires and multimillionaires agreed that “inequality of wealth in our nation is a major problem.”

Yet they don’t see themselves as a cause. Fully 81 percent said they don’t feel embarrassed by their wealth, “because I earned it,” and only 5 percent said they feel a sense of guilt about the wealth they possess. More than half said anyone in the U.S. can become wealthy if they work hard.

The view that wealth accumulation is entirely merit-based, and has nothing to do with luck or systemic privilege, is a particularly pernicious bit of Randian philosophy. But the good news is that CNBC’s millionaires don’t all adopt the frequent corollary to that argument — that poor people can be incentivized to work harder by having their benefits cut. “Only 13 percent supported reducing unemployment benefits to encourage more work as a solution to inequality,” and 63 percent of respondents support a minimum wage.

Now, keep in mind that rich people’s stated views (even on anonymous surveys) often differ starkly from their observed behavior. Still, it looks like there’s at least a smidgen of self-awareness in the ranks of the capital class.