Cheating at the Game of Life

Not everyone follows the rules. Most people at least “bend” them from time to time.  In some cases it is easy to see when someone breaks a clear set of rules. In most aspects of life, however, the rules are not so clear, and it becomes easy to justify cheating.

When someone cheats in sports, it is pretty obvious. Lance Armstrong cheated when he used performance enhancing drugs. Pete Rose cheated when he corked his bat. The question at hand is factual, and the rules of the game are clear. The justification for the rules is a bit murkier. Can coffee (caffeine) be considered a performance enhancing drug? Do high tech training facilities give wealthy athletes an unfair advantage? Would getting laser eye surgery to improve your already good vision be considered cheating?

All too often, cheating becomes a lucrative business. Take the example of Phuong Quoc Troung who cheated casinos out of around $7 million using a blackjack scheme. By enlisting dealers to false shuffle cards, the scam allowed the group to go beyond counting cards and know exactly what would come out next. Ultimately, one approached dealer alerted the FBI to the scheme and Phuong, along with over 30 accomplices, were caught. In many cases, however, the con artists are never brought to justice.

Bernie Madoff has become synonymous with cheating. The pyramid scheme he set up landed him 150 years in federal prison and $170 billion in restitutions. Madoff is far from alone in the arena of financial cheating, however. The LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) scandal was financial cheating on a global scale. LIBOR is an average of interest rates submitted by major banks in London. The banks started submitting false data to the report in order to make money on LIBOR interest linked portfolios. One bank involved, UBS, agreed to pay $1.5 billion in fines in a settlement. It should be noted that UBS is on the list of the 29 “global systemically important banks” and is considered “too big to fail.”

Cheating on tax returns is also big business, with an estimated loss of $270 billion annually to the U.S. Treasury due to unreported income. An estimated 1.6 million people cheated on their taxes out of 144 million filers in 2010. Despite this, 79% of people think it is morally wrong to cheat on their taxes. That doesn’t mean they’ve never fudged the details a little to get a bigger refund.

Academic cheating is as certain as death and taxes. Not only do the students cheat, such as the Emory student who took SATs for other students using fake I.D.s and the 70 or so Harvard students who are facing punishment for collaboration on a take home exam, but even the teachers cheat. In 2009, a massive Atlanta public school scandal was uncovered in which teachers were changing the answers on student’s tests to boost scores. Cheating was found in 44 of the 56 schools investigated (78.6%). In total, 178 teachers and principals cheated and 38 principles of the 56 schools were found to be responsible for, or directly involved in, cheating (67.9%). More recently, in Memphis teachers were caught cheating on the National Teacher Certification Exam, using the same fake I.D. strategy as the Emory student.

Has cheating become so widespread that people are forced to cheat just in order to stay competitive? Do we live in a world of cheaters?

Additional Resources

The New York Times, Students Disciplined in Harvard Scandal:

The Washington Post, Shocking Details of Atlanta Cheating Scandal:

Governor Nathan Deal Office of the Governor, Deal Releases Finding of Atlanta School Probe:

Discovery, Beyonce and the Art of Lip-Syncing:

The New York Times, In a Memphis Cheating Ring, the Teachers Are the Accused:

AOL, Beating the House:

Statistics Brain, Tax Cheating Statistics:

CNN Money, Cheating Business Minds:

Deadspin, This is Pete Rose’s Corked Bat:

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SAT Cheating Scandal Involving Emory Student:

U.S. Department of Justice, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act:

The Washington Post, European Police Say Match-Fixing Probe Uncovers More Than 680 Suspicious Soccer Games:

The Wall Street Journal, U.S., States Plan to File Civil Charges Against S&P:

Don Norman, In Defense of Cheating:

Reason, Lance Armstrong Cheated to Win. Why is that Wrong?


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