Why Cheating Does Not Pay
Rules and Laws alone have never successfully administered societies. Ethics and morality provide the invisible foundation for Rules and Laws to function and sustain. In the absence of ethics and morality societies can turn towards an unstable situation in anarchy. Open the newspapers. Some place in Bangladesh has been a victim of adulteration. In spite of all good efforts from the government and law enforcement agencies, people carry on with adulteration and other activities that threaten the ethical and moral dimensions of a nation. The question that needs to be asked- does cheating pay?
In 1968, Garrett Hardin, a professor from Santa Barbara, California, published an article in Science. The Tragedy of the Commons, proposes a simple game where individual maximization leads to over depletion of a natural resource that is known as the commons. A commons is a natural resource that is owned by a group of people, e.g., common grazing land. Members of the commons can let their animals enjoy the grass of the commons. Since the commons is owned by the community, the additional cost of another animal grazing for grass is minimal. What does an individual do in this situation? Herd as many animals as possible since the grass is free. However, if all individuals in the society think like this, the grass of the commons will be depleted sooner than we think. Fishermen are advised to let go of fish that are small so that a decent catch can be maintained in the future. If some fishermen do not follow this rule, they will benefit, but if many fishermen do not follow this rule, the consequence is obvious. There will not be much fish left for future generations.
Let us return to the adulteration game. A Banana seller dips his stock in chemicals. He does so to keep the stock of Banana fresh for a longer time. He does not take into consideration that such an act jeopardizes the health of consumers. The consumers are powerless since it is not always possible to detect which stock of bananas is chemical-free, and which are not. The banana seller sells his entire stock every time. Business could not have been better. In the banana market the seller is King. Let this banana seller now go to a fish market as a buyer. The fish sellers have dipped their stock with chemicals to keep their stock fresh just like the banana seller did in his market. The banana seller may have won in his market, but loses out in another market. Whatever profits the banana seller made in his market evaporates the moment he goes to another market that is a victim of adulteration.
The morale is simple- in the end cheating usually does not pay. You can win some battles, but seldom would you ever win the war.
In the Holy Month of Ramadan, think about it. Unofficial estimates suggest 30 percent of iftaar in Dhaka alone is adulterated. Let 15 million people have iftaar each day in Dhaka and if they eat only two pieces of peyaju, the market for peyajus alone is a minimum of 30 million per day on a very conservative scale. If one third of this is adulterated, at least 10 million adulterated peyajus finds somebody's plate each day during Ramadan. These theoretical estimates will probably not be too far away from the truth.
Whatever is our profession, we may be able to successfully play the cheating game in our own markets. However, people never operate in single markets. They do and have to operate in other markets. It is a vicious circle from which there is no exit once we enter.
With so much adulteration going on everywhere, not only in the food industry, we need ethics and morality more than ever. We need the Campus Generation to seriously think about this more than ever. Think about it- cheating does not pay. Eid Mubarak.
(The author teaches economic theory at Jahangirnagar University and North South University.)