To Cheat, or not to Cheat, that is the Incentive

Taylor Markey (Period 4)

May 5, 2013

Everyone cheats. But if everyone does it, then isn’t it just a normal behavior? If cheating is the norm why is it considered cheating and not just an expected behavior? In chapter one of Freakonomics (What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common), by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, the problems of cheating and incentives in society are discussed. The first issue discussed is that of a daycare center where parents were charged for picking up their children late. The hypothesis was that if parents were charged a fine for being late, they would try harder to be on time. However, the hypothesis was incorrect and the number of late parents increased. “Economics is, at root, the study of incentives: how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. Economists love incentives.” There is an incentive for everything. “An incentive is simply a means of urging people to do more of a good thing and less of a bad thing.”  We are taught and trained by incentives. As a child, you are commonly awarded for long streaks of good behavior, which then teaches the child the habit of being good. They know that if x is done for y amount of time, they will receive z. Every action has an incentive, a consequence or a reward.

Freakonomics, written in 2005, is still very relevant today and in people’s lives in general. There is not a specific contemporary event that this reading relates to; however, it relates to every event. In the Economy, incentives are what keep it running. There is the incentive to work in order to make money. There is the incentive to make money in order to buy things one needs to survive. There is the incentive to make products that people will pay for in order to make money as well. Everything has an incentive. In the reading it talks about crime rates decreasing because there is the incentive to not kill because of the punishment of being murdered. No one wants to be murdered; therefore, they will not kill in fear of being killed.

The daycare plan had the opposite effect desired because the parents now had a way to pay off the fact that they were late. With a fine as small as three dollars being late was not too costly. When the fine was taken away, the parents continued to be late because “now they could arrive late, pay no fine, and feel no guilt.” The incentive of being on time because it is the right thing to do was now demolished leaving an incentive to be late simply because the daycare made it okay. The reading quotes Thomas Jefferson on the Boston Tea Party saying, “So inscrutable is the arrangement of causes and consequences in this world that a two-penny duty on tea, unjustly imposed in a sequestered part of it, changes the condition of all its inhabitants.” This quote just goes to show that even the smallest incentive can have a huge effect on society.

“Who cheats? Well, just about anyone, if the stakes are right. You might say to yourself, I don’t cheat, regardless of the stakes. And then you remember the time you cheated on, say, a board game” It is true, everyone cheats in some way no matter how small because of “the stake” also known as an incentive to do so. “Cheating may or may not be human nature, but it is certainly a prominent feature in just about every human endeavor.” Like the quote said before, you may think that you never cheat, but cheating does not have to be a huge ordeal. It can be something as simple as cheating on a board game, but everyone does it.

Now for the part of the title about Schoolteachers; they have an incentive too. They have an incentive to show that they are a good teacher and deserve their job which can only be determined by the success rate of their students. If a child does not improve in a school year or does not show positive results, it is now the schools fault, and more specifically the teachers. The reading talks about an epidemic of teachers cheating for their students to make themselves look better, but this is a problem still very relevant today. Because of standardized testing, pressure is put on the teacher to teach their kids everything they need to know to take the test and do well. When the children do not do well, it reflects badly on the teacher. Schools who achieved high scores on the standardized test were rewarded with positive academic titles for their school. Those who did not show positive results in their test may be forced to shut down. But in order to keep from having to shut down the entire school, why not fire the specific teachers who have the lowest scoring classes? They obviously are not doing their job. Why not cheat to get the results desired? The reading discusses specific cases of teachers cheating where they change long strings of answers on scantrons. The way the cheating was discovered was from common patterns on answer sheets for every student in a class, even those who would normally get these answers incorrect. The incentive for the teachers is to keep their job so they can make money to afford the things they need to live. “A teacher, after all, is meant to instill values along with the facts.”

Another form of cheating discussed in the reading occurs in Sumo Wrestling in Japan. “Cheating is more common in the face of a bright-line incentive (the line between winning and losing for instance),” making it common among sumos. However, they cheat to lose. In order for the wrestler to advance, they must win eight matches. “So a wrestler entering the final day of a tournament on the bubble, with a 7-7 record, has far more to gain from a victory than an opponent with a record of 8-6 has to lose.” So sometimes the winner helps the loser out, “you let me win today, when I really need the victory, and I’ll let you win the next time.” Is this really a bad thing though?

The last case of cheating in this reading is the “bagel man.” He sold bagels to offices but simply leaving a box with a suggested price but not a required one. With the money he made compared to the number of bagels, it was apparent that some people were taking the bagels without paying. Some people even stole the boxes full of money. But what is the incentive behind theft?

In conclusion, everyone cheats in some way shape or form, and every action has an incentive. So why is cheating bad? Everyone does it, so what makes it so bad? If one has an incentive or reason to cheat, is it acceptable?

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