What long term effects does this have? Dan Ariely says that the slippery slope on cheating is pretty strong. Once you have set your ethics at a fuzzy level, it slowly becomes “often” (60-70%), then “when possible” (40-50%), “only when I feel virtuous” (30%, 20%). He talks about the “what the heck” threshold where honesty is just not an attribute in your self-identity anymore. At this point, you don’t have worry about ethics at all any more.
So the message is that we have to keep ethics at an absolute 100%. But how do we do this with dishonesty? We learn from an early age that we lie to be nice to people (“Sure, your new haircut looks great”), to keep harmony in the home (“I’d be happy to have lasagna again”). Even G-d does it (you can read the Abraham and Sara story in Genesis or in this fantastic interview of Dan Ariely’s on the DR Show).
Maybe we are just screwed. We are destined to have Enrons, Madoffs, et al forever. What a cheery thought for a Monday.