Everybody lies (except me)
There’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal from yesterday about lying. In the article it explains that everybody lies a little bit and, yes, some people are serious liars, but the little lies are the more destructive because they are so pervasive.
It also explains that people only lie the amount they can get away with to themselves (besides maybe the out-and-out huge liars, but who knows what they’re thinking?).
When I read this article, of course, I thought to myself, I don’t lie even a little bit! And that kind of proved their point.
So here’s the thing. They also explained that people lie a bit more when they are in a situation where the consequences of lying are more abstract (think: finance) and that they lie more when they are around people they perceive as cheating (think: finance). So my conclusion is that finance is populated by liars, but that’s because of the culture that already exists there: most people just amble in as honest as anyone else and become that way.
Of course, every field has that problem, so it’s really not fair to single out finance. Except it is fair to single out any place where you can cheat easily, where there are ample opportunities to lie and profit off of lies.
One cool thing about the article is that they have a semi-solution, namely to remind people of moral rules right before the moment of possible lying. This can be reciting the ten commandments or swearing on a bible, which for some reason also works for atheists (but wouldn’t stop me from lying!), or could be as simple as making someone sign their name just before lying (or, even better, just before not lying) on their auto insurance forms.
Can we use this knowledge somehow in setting up the system of finance?
The result where people are more likely to lie when they know who the victim of their lie is may explain something about how, back when banks lent out money to people and held the money on their books, we had less fraud (but not zero fraud of course). The idea of personally knowing who the other person is in a transaction seems kind of important.
The idea that we make people swear they are telling the truth and sign their name seems easy enough, but obviously not infallible considering the robo-signing stuff. I wonder if we can use more tricks of the honesty trade and do things like make sure each person signing is also being videotaped or something, maybe that would also help.
Unfortunately another thing the article said was that having been taught ethics some time in the past actually doesn’t help. So it’s less to do with knowledge and more to do with habit (or opportunity), it seems. Food for thought as I’m planning the ethics course for data scientists.