Why Honesty Leads to Success and Happiness in Life – 4
(”Whenever one speaks, trustworthiness（xin 信）comes first; lying and pretending to know, how can one do such things? 凡出言，信為先；詐與妄，奚可焉。” Di Zi Gui, p.20 )
One thing that has struck me living in the US versus living in Canada is that in the US people generally place more value on honesty in their everyday dealings and in their outlook. For example, during the impeachment of President Clinton, most Americans I talked to, even strong Democrats, were quite incensed that President Clinton had been dishonest during the investigation of his sex scandal. It was very instructive: people were not angry at his sex scandal but at his attempts to mislead. In contrast, during the Quebec Liberal government corruption scandal in Canada, in response to the outcry from the opposition parties, Prime Minister Chretien came right out in public and said to the media, “So we tried to cover up some bribes, so what?!” And Canadians thought that it was fine to have a little dishonesty as long as it helped fight Quebec separatism. Another example is the way people view professional hockey: there’s a lot of fighting, illegal checking from the back, and other such non-rule-abiding behavior that have been very important to winning in professional hockey. Professional hockey is immensely popular in Canada, and most Canadian hockey fans I’ve talked to say that fighting and illegal checking is part of the sport. On the other hand, professional hockey is not very popular in the US because Americans can’t stand all that fighting and rule breaking. In fact, to get hockey to become more popular in the US, back in the 1990’s professional hockey have made a lot of rule changes such that fights and illegal checking are now much rarer. Thanks to the US market, the once commonplace “bench-clearing” fights, where everyone on both teams come onto the ice to fight, have now disappeared. Moreover, in day-to-day dealings with people, with businesses, with institutions, I’ve found that people in the US are stricter about honesty, especially people who are more educated and have higher social status.
Why is that? It got me thinking. I think it’s because the US is the country with the most free-market leaning ideology in the world. Now in free markets people make a living by providing service or merchandise to their customers, not by fawning upon some politically powerful figure, getting into his good graces, and then having him give you some kind of lordship over economic resources, as happens in command economies and socialistic countries. Therefore in market economies one must be trustworthy, sell honest merchandise and charge honest prices, not taking advantage of even the very aged or the very young. Only then can there be exchange of equal values, exchange of mutual benefit, and prosperity and wealth in the society as a whole. If one uses trickery and deception to cheat others of the fruits of their sweat and toil, instead of using one’s own sweat and toil to create concrete benefits with which to exchange with others for the fruits of their sweat and toil, then how can the market continue? The market order will be destroyed, as will prosperity and the whole social order. That’s why free markets value honesty and despise dishonesty.
That’s why honesty is especially important for success and happiness for people who live in market economies.