Wednesday, February 12, 2014


A few years ago I read a book about cheating in the U.S., and what came across was that cheating was endemic, and now part of the American culture.

You do what you have to do to get ahead in a free market ?conomy where careerism in both business and the military is rife. And why stop at cheating, when you can steal. Yes, I am thinking of the current Air Force and Army scandals—which are but the tip of the iceberg.

Here, I’m not talking about sex or war—which have their own ground rules, or lack of them—but about exams, business, sport, and so on. In this context, I ran across a blog which claims that High Speed Trading is cheating.

Yes, it certainly is—but it is notable that the SEC does nothing about it. Similarly, it tolerates share buybacks by the corporations themselves which is clearly insider trading because the buyers—being insiders—have information which is not generally available. You can go to prison for insider trading—though apparently you are immune if you are a corporate CEO or senior executive.

If the U.S. is a nation of laws, enforcement of them is a decidedly moveable feast. 

Anyway, the blog starts with a story from the Atlantic—a story that has the ring of truth..

I was a senior in high school, and I was staring at NBA legend Red Auerbach. He'd coached the Boston Celtics to nine championships in 10 years, won seven more as an executive, and, a bit less notably, gotten his first coaching job at our schoolway back when. He was 85 years old, but he lived nearby and had finally agreed to come back to be feted.
Then Auerbach turned to life lessons. "Everybody always asks me how to gain a competitive edge," he said, "and I'm always surprised because the answer is so obvious." Eighteen-year old me knew where this was going. He was going to tell us to work hard, that successful people prepare for their luck, yada, yada, yada.
"You cheat."
Our teachers looked confused, then horrified. They kept waiting for Auerbach to say he was just kidding, that of course there's no substitute for hard work. He didn't. Instead, he calmly explained that if you're playing a better fast-breaking team, you should install nets so tight that the ball gets stuck. Or if you're playing a faster baseball team, you should water the basepaths till they turn into muddy quagmires that nobody can run on. But most of all, he wanted to make sure we didn't misunderstand him. He cleared his throat, and said, "So, if you want a competitive edge, just cheat." Then he walked off stage, and the mayor's mother, who was inexplicably there, led us in a solemn rendition of America the Beautiful.

To repeat myself: The American Business Model is broken—and its problems aren’t just structural—they are cultural.

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