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How to cheat and thrive in the age of fraudulence

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to whether I should become a lying, cheating, duplicitous SOB. There is ample evidence that it’s a very respectable strategy in whatever field you put your mind to—sports, entertainment, the arts, and, of course, business. The world we live in is flooded with no-goodniks who, to my eye, seem to be doing very, very well. Sure, like any worthwhile strategy, being a sleazebag has its dangers. But both history and the front page of your daily news destination will testify that the approach has to be considered, particularly by young aspirationals before they become too set in their ways. Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pro: It’s profitable. Examples abound, but you only have to look at the alleged miscreants at FIFA who were recently arrested for massive defalcations. The Feds charge that one bribe alone, from soccer entities in South Africa to a FIFA official who controlled most of the Western Hemisphere, amounted to $10 million. Ten million dollars! Just one bribe! You and I have to work years to make that kind of money honestly.

Pro: It’s diverting. Hedonists everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when French sybarite and presidential aspirant Dominique Strauss-Kahn was recently acquitted of being a pimp who recruited hookers for orgies attended by his wealthy friends and associates. No uptight middle-management type is he. And don’t even get me started on Mr. Berlusconi. Bunga bunga! And still in business!

Pro: You can be better. Run faster. Jump higher. Achieve the kind of edge that gave crafty inside traders from Ivan to Martha to Raj a leg up to pull off the kind of deals you and I only dream of. And they’re just the ones who got caught. Consider the mouthful of canary now being enjoyed by the cats who weren’t. And aren’t.

Pro: You will be feared. The corporate world will tremble and governments will cower while we all repeatedly change our passwords in a vain attempt to stave off the inevitable.

Pro: You will be admired. You can be a highly regarded, massively wealthy pundit who advises the SEC while you’re fleecing old people of their retirement checks. Then you can be a highly regarded criminal helping your prison buddies do their taxes. People love a winner, especially their winner, no matter how, um, deflated others may feel when they find out about you.

Pro: You can get what you want even when you don’t deserve to. No, it’s not obvious what right Russia has to invade Eastern European neighbors like Latvia, Estonia, and Ukraine. That doesn’t mean the talented Mr. Putin isn’t going to try. Because rules? Feh!

Pro: You can maintain your self-respect. Lance Armstrong makes the excellent point that for many years everybody has been flooding their bodies with illegal substances to get the job done. He was just better at not getting caught. The same rationale was employed by a generation of baseball players and a decade’s worth of bankers who did really lousy things to people and felt totally awesome about themselves while they were at it. They’re probably at it again, come to think of it. Ah well, we’ll find out about that soon, I’m sure.

Pro: The risks are manageable. You can throw your associates under the bus before you go down. And even if the worst happens, you often walk out of the country club with a comfortable chunk of your gains intact. How many former felons are now respected philanthropists driving around in their Bentleys and lighting cigars with $100 bills? A lot, believe me.

Con: It would be wrong, and people might get hurt. Hmm. Yeah. There’s that.

Take a minute. Think about it. And if the final consideration concerns you, raise your hand. It’s possible you should move to the back of the class. 

A version of this article appears in the July 1, 2015 issue of Fortune magazine with the headline “Thriving in the Age of Fraudulence.”