The Rich in Public Opinion

What We Think When We Think about Wealth

The Rich in Public Opinion: What We Think When We Think about Wealth cover

What do people in the United States and Europe think about the rich? There are several thousand books and articles on stereotypes and prejudices directed at women, people of various races or nationalities, and even the poor. In contrast, there has only been sporadic research into stereotypes about the rich and no published comprehensive, scientific study on the topic—until now.

About the Book

What do people in the United States and Europe think about the rich? There are several thousand books and articles on stereotypes and prejudices directed a countless different social groups. In contrast, there has only been sporadic research into stereotypes about the rich and no published comprehensive, scientific study on the topic — until now. Negative prejudices and stereotypes have repeatedly been used to justify the exclusion, expulsion, persecution, and murder of minorities who have been scapegoated at times of social crises. The 20th century is full of examples of wealthy people, including capitalists, kulaks, and other groups, who were victims of deadly persecution. These were exceptional situations but, even in moderate forms, prejudice against social groups harms society as a whole — not just the rich—through economic or physical destruction and declining prosperity.

In The Rich in Public Opinion: What We Think When We Think about Wealth, historian and sociologist Rainer Zitelmann examines attitudes about wealth and the wealthy in four industrialized Western countries: Germany, the United States, France, and Great Britain. Consisting of three parts, this book first surveys the literature about stereotypes and prejudices. Zitelmann then reports on never‐​before‐​seen data commissioned by the polling firm Ipsos MORI and from the Allensbach Institute, which conducted identical surveys of residents of the four countries regarding various aspects of their attitudes toward wealth. Lastly, The Rich in Public Opinion looks at the portrayal of the rich in media and film.

People often admire the wealthy, but Zitelmann shows that people can also envy them — a sometimes toxic envy that can put lives at risk. This book aims to examine how we think about a minority that, while undeniably powerful, can still be the subject of scapegoating — often with dire effects for us all.

About the Author

Dr. Rainer Zitelmann is a historian and sociologist. He started his career at the Central Institute for Social Science Research at the Free University of Berlin. Later, Zitelmann worked in book publishing and the newspaper industry. He headed various departments at one of Germany’s leading daily newspapers, Die Welt, before founding his own public relations firm. Zitelmann is the author of 23 books, which have been published worldwide in numerous languages. His two most recent books are The Wealth Elite (2018) and The Power of Capitalism (2019). He writes for prestigious European media such as Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Switzerland); Die Welt, Focus, and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany); and The Daily Telegraph and City AM (London). Every Monday, he publishes a column on Forbes​.com.

Praise for the Book

“Rainer Zitelmann exposes, dissects, and quantifies the twin vices of envy and covetousness … and makes it impossible for future generations to ignore: Atlas Shrugged—with numbers and footnotes.”
—Grover Norquist, president, Americans for Tax Reform

“Rainer Zitelmann raises the awareness for the general biases of the media against the people who have created value not only for themselves but especially for the society they live in. This makes the book a great read for everyone interested in the intersection of sociology and economics.”
—Frank Schaffler, president, Prometheus – Das Freiheitsinstitut, Berlin

“This is a timely and relevant book, not least because while ‘eat‐​the‐​rich’ rhetoric may be good politics, it is demonstrably a poor guide to policy.”
—Kristian Niemietz, head of political economy, Institute of Economic Affairs

“Zitelmann destroys empirically and logically the virtue‐​signaling arguments that so often attack the rich.… [He] does a superb job of revealing the media and public bias against the very people that allowed most of the world to overcome poverty and reach the middle class. An important contribution that sets the record straight!”
—Wolf Von Laer, CEO, Students for Liberty

“This is a very timely book about the rarely mentioned prejudice, classism, and denigration of those with wealth and status. Zitelmann systematically and scientifically explores why this attitude is so pervasive.”
—Madsen Pirie, president, Adam Smith Institute

The Rich in Public Opinion should be the standard reference on the subject for years to come.”
Libertarian Book Reviews

“Zitelmann’s book presents us with exemplary scholarship and analysis, helping us understand the social and economic background of how the rich are perceived, and making the case for greater tolerance in our society. To say that it is well worth reading and absorbing the information presented in these pages would be an understatement, and an impoverishing one at that. I hope that as many people as possible will read it and take its lessons to heart.”
—Adam Smith Institute, London