THE CHEATING CULTURE, Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, by David Callahan. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc. 2004. 366 pages, Sources, Endnotes, index. Softcover; $14.00. ISBN 0-15-603005-5.

In Micah 6:8, we read:

"He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God."

Three things the prophet enjoins upon us. This book addresses the first of these. What does "acting justly" mean to a modern day Christian citizen of the United States?

David Callahan, author of five previous books, cofounder of the public policy center, Demos, writes in THE CHEATING CULTURE that ethical lapses (a polite way of defining "cheating”) are so endemic in our culture that it is questionable if we can survive. The author skewers us all -- the corporate CEO approving false earnings reports, the politician supporting public policies that favor those who support his campaigns financially, and the sports "hero" who attains his records through drugs. Then there is the white collar worker who pads his expense reports, the carpenter who takes materials from the job site, the waiter who reports a fraction of tips. And the college student who cribs a test, the high schooler who downloads "free" music from the net, the grade schooler who copies from his friend across the aisle.

And all the rest of us. “Creative” tax accounting. Migrating company office supplies. "60 mph really means 65 or even 68." And on, and on, and on.

This is a difficult book to read. Well written, interesting, sometimes shocking, the "judas question" keeps coming up. Is it I, Lord? Am I included in this indictment?

Callahan finds the cheating culture pervasive; he attributes it to the competitive climate of the last few decades. Economic inequality has created two classes of people, the "winners," where cheating without consequences has created a separate moral reality, and the "anxious," people who cheat because they see that choosing otherwise would cancel their only (slim) chances of success. The book is well researched, and thoughtful. It will make you angry. And almost certainly ashamed. He recommends some structural changes, some sound reasonable. One does not. he suggests the SEC should be able to "eat what it kills." Bad idea; it would simply lead to cheating incentives within the SEC.

How does one avoid the cheating culture? Callahan provides two simple rules: (1) Can you tell your mama about what you are doing? (2) be a chump anyway. Even if 85% of your colleagues pad their expense accounts, fill out yours as accurately as possible. Even if "everybody else" is doing it -- you don't have to. Does your job require you to cut corners? Quit. Or blow the whistle.

I recommend the reading of Stephen Carter's book, INTEGRITY, along with this one. The two together just might change your life.

Reviewed by John W. Burgeson
Rico Community Church
Rico, Colorado

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