Ever had the sneaking suspicion that most rich people are jerks? Well the connection between wealth and narcissism has now been studied and the results show that as people get richer, they are more likely to feel entitled, to exploit others, and to cheat.

According to studies by psychologist Paul Piff, wealth leads humans to become intolerable bastards – whether the wealth be earned or unearned. Noted as the “asshole effect” Piff has documented how being richer than others leads the rich person to feel entitled both to take advantage of and disrespect those people considered less rich.

Piff discovered that not only was having wealth a precursor to being an asshole, but the thought of being wealthy triggered some of the same tropes as actually being rich. Those who were wealthy or put in scenarios where they were wealthy displayed a high sense of entitlement which included stealing from and cheating others.

The reason, it turns out, is that even thoughts of being wealthy can create a feeling of increased entitlement — you start to feel superior to everyone else and thus more deserving: something at the centre of narcissism. They found this was true of people who were, in real life, better off. Wealthier people were more likely to agree with statements like “I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than other people” and place themselves higher on a self-assessed “class ladder” that indicated increasing levels of income, education and job prestige. This had straightforward and clearly measurable effects on behaviour.

This has some rather profound implications for American politics, particularly the politics of wealth inequality.

If the rich genuinely believe they are entitled to steal from the country then they can never really be shamed by social movements into sharing their often ill-gotten wealth voluntarily. Yes the 1% were beneficiaries of a corrupt bank bailout, but hey, they deserved it according to them. They deserve everything they have, no matter how it was acquired.

The only possible check on this sense of predatory entitlement outside of violent revolution would be a robust upholding of the rule of law that punishes the actions taken from that sense of entitlement and therefore creates a deterrence for further transgressions. Unfortunately for the country, America had an attorney general dedicated to not enforcing the law against the rich.