The Cheating Culture

The Cheating Culture
The Cheating Culture: Why American Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead. (2004).
David Callahan. Harcourt.
The Cheating Culture
• Cheating is increasing in American society.
NY Municipal Credit Union 9/11
Henry Blodget
World Com
Wall Street
Big Banks
SAT tests
Diagnosis shopping
Lawyers overbilling
CEO’s fake resumes
Steroids in sports
Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass (“Shattered Glass”) in
– 82% of corporate executives admitted to cheating on gold
• Crime down, violence down, drunk driving down.
Cheating up?
• Cheating is breaking the rules to get ahead
academically, professionally, or financially.
– Some cheating violates the law – often by outstanding
members of society who wouldn’t shoplift a pack of
chewing gum. But at tax time cheat, or betray trust of
clients or patients, or rip off insurance companies or the
• Americans tend to use two moral compasses:
– One that directs behavior on sex, family, drugs and
traditional forms of crime.
– Another that provides ethical guidance in careers, money,
and success.
• Where did Americans pick up second compass?
• Jeffersonian suspicion of central power nurtured
seeking personal liberty and individualism.
• During Industrial Revolution Americans embraced
the rawest form of industrial capitalism in the world.
• 1920s notorious for cheating, and inequality was at
its height – not until 2007 was it that high again.
• Social responsibility movement lost traction in 1970s
and 1980s.
• 1981 Reagan: “Government is not the solution;
government is the problem.”
– Deregulation
– Making money was in, government activism was out.
– “The market as the dominant cultural force had so
infiltrated society that it is increasingly difficult to
remember any other reality.”
– The laissez-faire revolution – focusing on the bottom line
and shareholder value.
• Economic inequalities led to striking changes in our
– Winner-take –all
– High inequality = more divisions in society, undermining
the “we’re all in it together” mentality and being bound by
the same rules.
– Inequality reshaped politics as wealthy elites were able to
break the rules. Money = influence.
– The government’s ability to act as a referee was hobbled.
• Market values held sway. Social Darwinism thinking
• Cheating increased.
• What led to more cheating?
New pressures for profit
Bigger rewards for winning
Trickle-down corruption
• When middle-class people stop believing the rules are fair, they
change their behavior.
• Hard to stop when “everybody does it.”
• Cheating in the bottom-line economy:
– Money is valued more than service to clients, customers,
or community.
• Wall Street – outright greed.
• Lawyers overbilling hourly
• Whatever-It-Takes morals
Led by skyrocketing CEO pay
Tax policies that favor the rich
Barry Bonds in sports
Jason Blair, Jonah Lehrer in journalism
• It’s a question of character.
– The “do your own thing” of the 1960s led to the laissez-faire
revolution of the 1980s and 1990s.
– Stressed individual liberty and choice.
– Ayn Rand’s philosophy of extreme libertarianism – unfettered
markets and personal freedom
– 1980s juggernaut of yuppies and materialism
– Financial goals pushed aside other aspirations – belief that more
money makes you happier.
– Rise of Social Darwinism – survival of the fittest means some
people naturally suited to rule.
– Made moral judgments on people’s level of economic success.
• The everybody-loves-a-winner mentality has
troubling implications for our society’s ethics.
– Cut slack for those who are successful; love them whatever
their sins.
– The sacrosanct goal of wealth virtually consecrates the
means – any means.
• Jay Gatsby
• Ken Lay
• However, Max Weber argued that people are more
likely to follow rules or laws that seem fair and are
made by an authority that deserves its power.
• Cheating from the starting line:
Cheating at schools to get into selective colleges rampant.
Difference between Harvard and Rutgers worth millions.
Cheating one way not to be left behind.
Stakes are too big.
• Crime and no punishment.
– United States more punitive than any other advanced
democratic society – death penalty.
– Uniquely tough on poor and unemployed and on drug
• “Strict-father” morality jibes easily with laissez-faire
mentality and libertarianism.
• Wealthy American coddled.
• Most academic cheating goes unpunished.
• Athletes and other admired people easily forgiven.
• Cheating thrives where unfairness reigns along with
economic anxiety.
– And where government is the weak captive of the wealthy.
• New social contract with new rules is needed:
– Everyone who plays by the rules can get ahead.
– Everyone who breaks the rules suffers the same penalties.
– All off us are in the same boat, living in the same moral
• We need a different bottom line.
– Media ethics
– Business ethics
Happiest and Most Hated Jobs
10 Happiest Jobs *
Physical Therapists
Special Education teachers
Financial Services Sales Agents
Operating Engineers
* National Organization for Research, University of Chicago
• Meaning, not money
10 Most Hated Jobs *
Director of Information Technology
Director of Sales and Marketing
Product Manager
Senior Web Developer
Technical Specialist
Electronics Technician
Law Clerk
Technical Support Analyst
CNC Machinist
Marketing Manager
• Money, not meaning

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