How Dishonest Are Businesspeople?

To read the news, one might think that businesspeople arise early, hold a conference call planning ways to cheat the public, and then set about taking advantage of their customers. Like focusing on plane crashes instead of millions of safe flights, we tend to be seduced by the exciting exceptions rather than the mundane rule.

Each day, we engage in literally dozens of transactions. We buy bread, pay rent, get paid for working, and give our money to banks and investment specialists, all in the faith that we will get what we agreed to. How many of those go bad? Of all the things I have bought over the years, I can count on one hand the number of times I have genuinely been cheated or defrauded.

Of course, I have had many more experiences in which I was less that ecstatic about my purchase. The other day, I bought some pears from a market I really like. There were not one, but three bad spots in it. I don’t know if you have ever bitten into a dark spot in a pear, but it is as bitter as quinine and has a decades-long aftertaste. I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t mad either. That store normally sells great stuff. I wasn’t about to complain.

What if I did start to get bad pears regularly? I would stop buying pears there, and so would most other people. When pear sales went down, the store would want to know why and would talk to the supplier, who in turn would be faced with diminishing sales because of his/her product.

If I were to become deathly ill from a contaminated pear (legitimately, not because of cell phone radiation), I might consider a lawsuit. The bad press alone would be devastating to the store if it did not correct its problems right away.

In short, there are numerous reasons for businesspeople to be honest and offer good products. There are also dozens of ways for me to “push back” if I don’t experience satisfaction. Will I always win, always be happy with my economic transactions? Of course not. As it is with our significant others, trust and admiration are interspersed with moments of intense dislike. We do not expect our love partners to be perfect, and neither should we expect it from our trade partners. As our moments of anger pass, we realize that on the whole, we have it pretty good.

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About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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