Thursday, 9 August 2012

A quick post on dishonesty

Economists have for a long time thought of honesty and crime through the guise of the simple model of rational crime (SMORC) which presumes that we act dishonestly if it is in our interest to do so (the chance and probablility of getting caught are outweighed by the gains of acting dishonestly).  Given this then why then is there not far more fradulent and dishonest behaviour in the world?
In his new book Dan Ariely trotts out expirement after expirement attempting to discredit the SMORC.  In fact we cheat upto the point that we can still rationalise ourselves as honest.  So, creative thinkers are more likely to cheat as they are better able to rationalise their own dishonesty.  Similarly, if we see others from the same peer group cheating it becomes more acceptable (If everyone is doing it, it isn't immoral / dishonest behaviour).
Similarly if we can physically distance ourselves from something cheating becomes more acceptable. So, in experiments run with tokens that will later be exchanged for money people cheat more than in experiments without the intermidiary step. Similarly, golf players are far happier fraudulently moving their ball to a better lie with their club than their hands. 

However, what Ariely fails to acede is that just as survival of the fittest can deal with altruism so the rational theory of crime can deal with these seeming inconsistancies.  Perhaps seeing ourselves as "good people" keeps us happy and sane, thus to preserve this image it is not rational to allways commit crimes.

Nevertheless the message is clear the majority of people will cheat to a degree when given the opportunity.

This post was inspired by Dan Ariely's book The Honest Truth About dishonesty.

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