Does it pay to be a jerk?
Ann Coulter recently managed to remind us that she's still around by saying yet another stupid thing.
Now, I'm not going to defend or attack Coulter. I think what she said was a dumb attempt at a bad joke, but I'm not interested in what Ann believes. I'm interested in how she manages to survive by doing little more than upset people.
Of course, the press eats it up for fear of appearing biased and liberal. Fox News let Alan Colmes "talk tough" to Coulter before letting all the other commentators talk about just how great she is. This is how Coulter remains relevant. Even she seems to be aware of just how boring the whole routine has become. As she said to Alan Colmes on Hannity & Colmes:
I mean, this is the same thing we go through every six months. I say something, the same people become hysterical, and that's the end of it.
And I think she's right. Even though some more conservative people have jumped up to condemn her comments, this doesn't hurt her. As Fox News Pat Caddell said:
It was very funny. They were raising money with it. So at least you raised money for them, Ann, but I'm sure it won't hurt any of your book sales either.
Ah. There's the rub. It won't hurt any of her book sales. No, quite the contrary, it will actually help them. It doesn't matter that some people think that Ann went too far or that some companies pulled their ads off of her website. What matters is that we are talking about her. A lot.
Offending people is Coulter's job, her schtick. Like a lot of other political commentators, Coulter exists mainly to stir up people's emotions. And her usual method is to be offensive. Bullying people is how she makes her living, and it doesn't seem to hurt her. Ever. But I wonder if it applies in the real world. Is Coulter a bully hyperbole, an extreme example of bad behavior getting good results?
Is being a bully financially savvy? Does it pay to be a jerk?
I know I'm showing my liberal colors (pass the tofu, please) by linking to This American Life, but ruminating on Coulter's book sales reminded me of an episode of that show called Mean Friends. It's a great show, one of my favorites, and in Act 2, the shows producers put together a little experiment (to listen to the show for free, go to This American Life and search for show 245; the date is 9/5/03).
Does Niceness Pay? In which we conduct a little scientific experiment – on tape – with hidden microphones - about whether niceness pays. We wire two waitresses with hidden microphones. They're superfriendly to half their tables; and aloof to the other half. They examine their tips to see which generates more profits.
I'm going to go ahead and spoil it: niceness, in this experiment, does not pay. The aloof tables pay more in tips. Why is this? I can't imagine a time in which I tipped someone well for not-so-hot service, but apparently it works for some people.
We already know that beautiful people make more money, on average, than not-so-beautiful people. People who drink more earn more than people who don't imbibe (is that because only beautiful people can get into the good bars and clubs?). We've all seen this in action, so it's no surprise. But what about mean people? Can you earn more by being a bully? Or is it such a niche market that only a select few can manage it?
I don't see much in the way of research in this area, possibly because "mean" is pretty hard to quantify. Are the people that we often perceive of as bullies really just extremely aggressive, outspoken people who ruffle feathers but tell it like it is?
What about Wise Breaders? Think of the most successful people that you know, even if they aren't close to you - are they jerks? Have you ever done better in your job or career by bullying someone?