The Economy of Cheating

The American cheating industry is complex. And while all cheaters share a keen ability to rationalize their actions, we can't paint all cheaters or their crimes with the same brush. The accountants of Lehman Brothers wreaked far more harm on American society than the group of college kids who collaborated a little too closely on their Harvard Statistics project.

Even so, at every level of U.S. business, school and government, cheating is a serious issue. It all comes down to how we define cheating and it's effects. Who is doing the most harm? When is it "worth it"?

We all know the feeling. From that niggling urge to run a deserted red light all the way up to the temptation to steal a colleague's idea or fib our way through tax forms, we've all felt the temptation to cheat. The only thing more surprising than the number of us that succumb to these temptations on a regular basis is just how far we'll go to rationalize the legitimacy of our actions.

Take a moment to enjoy this video and consider that tiny almost-harmless cheats are common and that the costs of tiny cheats add up quickly.

Video Transcript

In a given year, 1.6 million people cheat on their taxes - cheating the American government and people out of $270 billion dollars. This cheating isn't just from big corporations dodging taxes through loopholes and offshore accounts - anyone who doesn't mention the couple hundred dollars they made off an Etsy account adds to the cheating too.

The Cheating Economy is Growing

The economy of cheating is become more real than ever before, and it's not because the government is beefing up the FBI or jail-time sentences for cheaters. It's because humans think about cheating in terms of amounts - as in a little is okay, but a lot, no way. One study of 30,000 people showed only a dozen or so people were willing to steal a considerable amount from the testers, but about 18,000 - over half of the test subjects - were willing to steal just a bit.

The Grey Line

So what's the big difference between stealing or cheating a little and a lot? Cheating is cheating - right? Wrong. It's human nature to think it's okay to cheat a little, tell a little white lie, skim a little off the top to put back in our own pockets. People will cheat a little and stop when they meet their morality threshold - the grey line that changes them from being a generally good person, to a lyin', cheatin', stealin' you-know-what.

See No Evil

And thanks to our economy of paying with plastic and online shopping people are more likely to cheat in the marketplace because they don't have to look a cashier in the eye or hand over cold hard cash. Paying for things is like a fairy tale until the credit card bill comes at the end of the month and the anonymity makes it easy for consumers to find little ways to cheat the economy.

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