There are four factors that affect how likely someone is to obey or break a rule, according to a book by David Callahan called “The Cheating Culture.” It came out in 2004, but these things are even more true today.
- Risk/reward: If the perceived reward is greater than the perceived risk of getting caught, you are more likely to break the rule.
- Social norms: We might be sensitive to what other people think of the behavior. If we care, we are less likely to break a rule.
- Personal Morality: You are more likely to break a rule that doesn’t break any of your personal moral beliefs. Less likely if it does.
- Legitimacy: If the authority that enforces the rule is perceive as inconsistent or corrupt, we are more likely to break a law.
There are several reasons why he says it is getting worse, also more true today than in 2004.
- There is less enforcement of white collar crimes. There are fewer SEC agents, IRS auditors, etc.
- There is less social aversion because there is a general impression that “everyone does it.”
- It is easy for us to create our own morality. Who really believed “music should be free” before Napster?
- Many of us see the system as being “rigged” so there is less legitimacy to the law. The CEOs get away with crimes, banks get bailed out, and it’s only you and me that get prosecuted. It’s not fair, so getting away with crime is understandable.