Kate Ferguson, 29 April 2021
What would you do if you were confident you could get away with it? Perhaps you’d rob a bank, or have a wild affair. Or maybe you’d subsist on nothing but candy floss for the rest of your life.
The chances are you won’t, though. The risk of being arrested, destroying your marriage or becoming a diabetic are simply too high. For most of us, the question is destined to remain hypothetical. After all, life has taught us that bad behavior does not generally go unpunished.
Generally doesn’t mean always
There are notable exceptions to the rule, though. In recent years, three major scandals in Germany have provided pleasingly concrete answers to the question.
First, there’s Volkswagen, which flouted environmental tests by installing cheat devices in up to 11 million vehicles. Then there’s the young German reporter named Claas Relotius who forged a successful journalistic career by fabricating stories or elements of stories. Finally, there’s Wirecard, the payment company that built its business on €1.9 billion ($2.3 billion) of assets that did not exist.
In all cases, the deception was richly rewarded. In Volkswagen’s 2014 annual report, the carmaker boasted about receiving numerous awards for environmental protection. Meanwhile, Relotius was winning prestigious prizes for his reporting, and Wirecard rose to become the tech darling of Germany’s financial world.