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Feb 28 2012

God loves cheaters

You know that old saying, “Cheaters never prosper”? According to a report from Science, that may be just clever propaganda designed to conceal the wealth-producing secrets of the rich.

The team’s findings suggest that privilege promotes dishonesty. For example, upper-class subjects were more likely to cheat. After five apparently random rolls of a computerized die for a chance to win an online gift certificate, three times as many upper-class players reported totals higher than 12—even though, unbeknownst to them, the game was rigged so that 12 was the highest possible score.

via Shame on the Rich – ScienceNOW.

If you think about it, it does make sense: if you have an environment where some people value fairness and fair play, and other people are willing to do whatever it takes to maximize their rewards, then over time the fair play folks will see more of their rewards shared with others (meaning less reward for themselves), while the whatever-it-takes folks will end up with more rewards for themselves, provided they’re reasonably wily about getting away with it.

And once they get enough to start buying their own news media, lobbyists, and political candidates… Hmmm, I wonder how long it would take this process to divide society into 99% fair-players and 1% wealthy cheaters? Part of me says this is over-simplified and too plausible to be true. On the other hand, it would explain a lot.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    unbound

    Having worked with a few C-level executives and numerous VPs and Executive VPs in several different corporations, I would agree with the findings. While they are not dumb, I do not find the top executives to be anywhere near the smartest in the room.

    However, I did come to realize many years ago that the common trait of the executives (that I dealt with at least) is that they shared the attitude of winning no matter what. While they would care about their peers, the people working for them are nothing more than resources like the paper at the copier.

    Heck, there are plenty of publicly known examples of the cheating. Enron comes to mind quickly at the most obvious recent example of unethical behavior (in the extreme). However, most corporations behave unethically…it really is just a matter of degree.

    Why doesn’t Apple assemble their products in the US? It makes substantial margins on each product sold in the US, and could easily accommodate the work here. The reason? Greed.

    Nike (originally Blue Ribbon Sports) was initially a US manufacturer. Another manufacturer that could easily still be profitable maintaining manufacturing in the US, but, once again, greed rules. The stated rationale for opening their plants in Japan and South Korea was to reduce costs that would be passed onto the consumer; however, the actual result is that the shoes went up in price. This is actually common to nearly all industries; COGS has very little to do with the market price of the product. Every corporation that uses the line of reducing costs means lower prices to the consumers is knowingly lying.

    This is the world we live in.

    1. 1.1
      unbound

      Well, it doesn’t get more current than this (note that this is just an accusation at this point):

      Here’s how Apple (AAPL) allegedly got Proview International Holdings to sell them the iPad trademark 35 days before Steve Jobs unveiled the device at a San Francisco press conference.
      – Apple hired a British firm called Farncombe International and its managing director, Graham Robinson, to be its secret agent.
      – Robinson created a British shell company called IP Application Development Limited (“IPAD Ltd.”).
      – Using the alias Jonathan Hargreaves, Robinson opened talks in Taiwan with Proview, concealing the fact that he was negotiating on Apple’s behalf.
      – Asked why he wanted the trademark, Robinson said it was an acronym for IP Application Development.
      – Asked what business IPAD Ltd. was in, Robinson was evasive: “I’m sure you can understand that we are not ready to publicize what the company’s business is,” he said, “since we have not yet made any public announcements.”
      – He further stated, apparently in an e-mail, that “the company will not compete with Proview.”

      From CNN Money http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2012/02/27/how-apple-snookered-proview-to-get-the-ipad-trademark/

      1. RW Ahrens

        First of all, such actions by companies to obtain trademarks for products they anticipate will be popular is not unusual. It is often necessary to keep the selling entity from jacking the price up unreasonably. It is in no way considered in the business community to be unethical.

        Second, Apple’s products have actually, over the years, been reduced in price compared to what they were sold for in the years when they were produced in the US. Their products are actually cheaper – competitors are struggling to match Apple’s prices for the iPad, for instance.

        Third, see ABC News’ report on their inspection of Foxconn, and how Apple has induced Foxconn to actually increase their employees’ salaries by over 100% since 2007. This has not only bettered the lives of those employees, but increased Apple’s costs – but they do it anyway.

        Not quite the image of the greedy corporation!

  2. 2
    mikespeir

    As long as it’s not presented as a universally applicable stereotype….

    1. 2.1
      Eidolon

      I have to agree with Mikespeir. My wife is an executive for a Fortune 500 firm. I have seen the real care and the real concerns that are involved in dealings with employees and customers.

      Are there peeps that fit the model shown in the study? Aplenty. Are there also peeps who have real integrity? lots of those as well.

  3. 3
    AJS

    In times of scarcity, obnoxiety is a selected-for trait: one fat caveman has a better chance of survival than two thin cavemen.

    In times of plenty, obnoxiety is a selected-against trait: a tribe of pissed-off cavemen ganging up against you are a good deterrent.

    Perhaps modern society has simply created a disconnect; whereby people in positions of power are sufficiently isolated from the people to whom their behaviour is destructive, to get away with it?

    1. 3.1
      baal

      Perhaps modern society has simply created a disconnect; whereby people in positions of power are sufficiently isolated from the people to whom their behaviour is destructive, to get away with it

      I’m convinced you’re right but think it’s a combination of isolation, cluelessness (think Romney’s recent quotes on how many cars he owns and that he loves nascar so much since his friends own teams) and religious fundamentalists pushing that destructive outcomes are a positive goal.

      1. Graham Shevlin

        It’s called living in a bubble. One thing that is easy to conclude is that a lot of high-level performers in sports, industry and politics have two challenges (a) they have no idea how everybody else lives (and little curiosity) (b) they think that the normal rules do not apply to them, because they are exceptional.
        The tendency of Mitt Romney to sound like a totally detached robber-baron every time he tries some empathetic chat-up line is a classic example of (a). For (b), try a whole cast of characters, including numerous politicians, Kenneth Lay, Rupert Murdoch etc.

    2. 3.2
      Jer

      If by “modern” you mean “the last 5000 years of recorded human history” then I’d agree.

      It’s not like a handful of elites getting undue control over resources through any means possible is some kind of “new” element of human behavior. Look at the organization of the Roman Republic – and then the Roman Empire. Look at how Athens was organized. Oligarchy was baked into their systems – and the only check it had on the rapacious greed of the oligarchs was the angry pissed off mob ready to rip them apart.

      And it isn’t like it got replaced by a better system, since it was replaced by a handful of ambitious men who declared themselves kings by divine right due to their ability to cheat the system and take what they could at every opportunity.

      I imagine if you look back to the rise of Pharaohs and Kings in Sumeria you’d find the same thing – a handful of people using any means necessary to acquire power, checked only by the angry mob.

      (Hell I suspect you might find tribes of non-human primates where this behavior is observable. I suspect this is just baked into our societies, though in various degrees from individual to individual).

  4. 4
    The Lorax

    Correlation does not imply causation, of course.

    … but it does hint strongly by nudging your elbow, pointing toward causation, and mouthing the words, “Look over there.”

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