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Growing income inequality is leading to more guilt among the affluent, and inspiring them to seek more ways to give back.

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Sociologist Rachel Sherman published a book entitled Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence, in which she interviewed a group of affluent New Yorkers—parents in their 50s who were in the midst of costly home renovations—to find out what they would think and say about their wealth. Without exception, she found that her subjects were deeply conflicted about it. In his review of the book, Businessweek journalist Drake Bennet wrote: “The people Sherman interviewed tend to define themselves not through consumption, conspicuous or otherwise, but as workers…doing work—any work—is important because it allows these people to feel on some level that they deserve their fortune.”

It seems modern wealth is creating two divergent but powerful mindsets. The first is a winner-take-all mentality symbolized by the worst of the Wall Street elite. They see the world as one that is rightly ruled by those with money, and they work to hoard as much of it as they can for themselves. Others, though, feel moral discomfort about how to handle their wealth, and genuinely worry about contributing to a widening inequity among the classes. To feel good about their privileged lifestyle, they create a narrative in which they convince themselves that their wealth is justified because of how hard they worked to acquire it. They spend freely on “indulgences” and give to causes at a higher pace.

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