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When Did Cheating Become Acceptable?

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 28, 2009 4:13 PM |

There have been cheaters and con artists throughout history. While I do not present myself as an economic historian, I think it would be interesting to review the depth of cheating and scandals today relative to other eras. The challenge for many individuals and businesses is competing honestly yet coming up short in the process. What is one to do?

We witness this cheating throughout society. From the steroid scandals in sports to financial frauds on Wall Street and at every point in between, the lack of real moral integrity has eroded our economic foundation. The excuse commonly utilized by cheaters is the need to keep up with the competition.

I lost all respect for Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots when it was revealed he cheated. What was the common refrain around the NFL? “If you’re not cheating, you’re not really trying.”

The same mentality has permeated other industries, including Wall Street. That said, while many in America would paint all of Wall Street as one large bunch of cheaters, that is also a great disservice.

This culture of cheating is not a popular topic in the media. To say that “the king has no clothes” is not typically well received in the mainstream media. However, one reporter is willing to tell it like it is. Who is that? Susan Antilla of Bloomberg.  I commend her for possessing the courage and character to write stories that others would not dare. As an example, today she writes You Cheat, I Cheat, as Wall Street Acts as Model:

The more people observe bad guys getting away with it, the more they cheat, says Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.”

Ariely worries about what he calls “the Madoff effect,” a swine-flu-grade virus that causes people who witness corruption to conclude that cheating has become acceptable, and to wind up cheating, too. When Mom and Dad are putting their tots’ names on the income-tax forms to scam $8,000, Ariely says, “we’re seeing the aftershock of all this dishonesty on Wall Street.”

If we ever think that our economy and country are going to truly recover, it will not happen until the acceptance of cheating on Wall Street, on Main Street, in Washington, and every little hamlet in this great land is looked upon with true disdain and treated accordingly.

I thank Susan Antilla for addressing this critically important topic and I strongly recommend readers to track Susan’s work.


  • TD

    LD…check out Daniel Henninger’s video op-ed on the WSJ website: Reminds me of WC Field’s old line, “Anything worth having is worth cheating for.”

    • Larry Doyle

      Nice…thanks for sharing.

  • Larry, I’ve been wrestling with the issue of why people cheat, both in my fiction (Top Producer) and in my non-fiction, Acrimoney. The Galleon scandal is yet another example of the important issue you raise in this post.

    I think “the Madoff effect” is a reasonable explanation. But cheating is more of a drug than a virus in my opinion. There’s a certain glory—a high—from betting big, being right, and winning the game every time at any cost.

    I’ve explored this issue as it relates to Galleon and hope you don’t mind the link here:

    And I’m with you on the Pats. Does this mean you’re a Jets fan now?

    • Larry Doyle


      Your links are ALWAYS welcome here at Sense on Cents. I agree, I think a lot of people possess the “win at all costs” mentality. They do not have any real appreciation for the risk they take. What is the greatest risk? Reputation risk!! Ask the crowd at Bear Stearns how that worked out. They sold their reputation short everyday. When they finally needed some friends for support, nobody was there.

      In regard to the football . . . I use up all my gusto on the Holy Cross Crusaders. To be frank, the NFL has lost its allure.

  • Bill Berliner

    Hello, Larry: The question that Susan’s theory raises is that punishment (i.e., permajail for Madoff) should equally serve as a disincentive for cheating. Playing amateur sociologist, my view is that people are very willing to look on their own activities as modest violations justified by circumstances, even while they shake their heads at cheating by “others.” It reminds me of a line from the Blues Brothers, where Elwood says to someone (I forget who) who accused him of lying: “It wasn’t a lie–it was…bullsh*t.”

    • Larry Doyle

      Bill….good to hear from you. I think your point is well taken and spot on. Regrettably that concept pollutes our country …it’s called ‘moral relativism.’

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