As such, the issue of cheating and dishonesty is a big matter in the modern society. People are aware that acts of dishonesty are not right, yet such actions are still prevalent. In fact, reports on dishonest behavior constantly surfaces, and in some aspects the situation may be getting worse.For example, the fraudulent acts of investment banks that caused the 2008 financial crisis exhibit how cheating can be done in a very large scale, accompanying disastrous effects.
Regarding the escalation of cheating in the modern era, one might argue that the rise in ethical standards is making the situation look worse than it actually is. More people are conscious of the wrongs of immoral behavior, and the once tolerated murky actions are now directly referred to as unethical due to stricter and higher standards. Citizens recognize that ethical behavior is a necessity, rather than a recommendation.
However, this side of the story does not fully explain the possible increase in modern acts of dishonesty. The structure of modern society may have actually made it easier, more tempting for people to cheat.
In the book The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely, the author discusses various factors and circumstances that compel people to cheat more, with real data based on self-conducted research.
One interesting and plausible conclusion Ariely came up with was that people are more prone to cheat in the presence of nonmonetary objects than actual money. That is, the degree of cheating will rise when the object of cheating is a couple of steps removed from real cash. With the spread of electronic payment and credit cards, modern people do not handle money directly as much as before, which may unintentionally increase the degree of dishonesty in individuals.
Another factor for dishonesty is conflict of interest. Ariely gives an example of a dentist urging a patient to undergo unnecessary treatment in order to make use of the dentist’s new expensive device. Pharmaceutical representatives and people working in financial services could also face such conflict. In companies, shareholders and company managers face the modern day principal-agency problem. Some say that full disclosure of conflict of interest could be a solution to this problem, but according to Ariely, full disclosure may actually cause greater bias in advice on the part of the agents.
The thing is, most people have the propensity to cheat. A very small number of people will never cheat, and a very small number of people will always cheat. But the majority of the population will always be challenged with temptations. So in the end, we all need to strive to create an environment where people will not suffer from temptation, and we need to shake up our moral compasses from time to time to remind ourselves of the virtue of morality.