Your Fake Purse Will Make You Cheat and Lie

When you see an article about the "moral costs" of counterfeiting luxury goods, you probably expect to read upsetting details about ten-year-olds in sweatshops working 18-hour days. But Harper's Bazaar has to keep its advertisers happy, which explains why the mag held an "anti-counterfeiting summit" this week, and explored the idea that Schenectady soccer moms might somehow be less likely to drop $50 on a replica Kate Spade purse if they thought it might disturb their own proud moral compass. The event featured a talk by Professor Dan Ariely of MIT and Duke, who presented a report called "Faking It: The Psychology of Dishonesty and Counterfeits," which explains how the mere act of wearing a fake makes you a bad person who will do bad things.

In Ariely's study, subjects were divided into two groups: those who were told they were wearing fake shades, and those who were told theirs were real. Three times as many counterfeit-wearers then cheated on a math task. In another exercise, the subjects looked at images and were told to say if there were more circles on the left or the right, and that they'd be paid more money if they said the right. Everyone started lying, but the fake group lied more and faster.

So it's like the broken window theory, but on an individual level: First you carry a fake Louis wallet, and the next thing you know your whole value system has collapsed and you're shunned from polite society. Which, even for those hardhearted folk who'll buy fake stuff knowing that it exploits child labor, allegedly funds terrorism, and, worst of all, diverts business from sweet little companies struggling to turn a decent profit like LVMH and the Gucci Group, should be a worthy deterrent.

The Moral Costs of Counterfeiting [NYT]