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An Instant Child to Display on Your Desk

Not everyone is a fan of family-friendly workplaces. About 20% of employees surveyed by staffing firm Adecco, for instance, grumbled that they often pick up the slack for co-workers juggling children and career. Add some wit to that resentment, and you get TheOfficeKid.com, which offers childless workers who want to duck out early a visible excuse of their own. Launched in August by Melissa Maher, who works in advertising in New York, and two of her industry buddies, the site offers a $19.95 kit containing a framed snapshot of a child (you choose the gender and ethnicity) plus adorable artwork (drawn by Maher with her left hand). Maher, 30, says her own experience as a kidless colleague spurred her to create the kit as a gag gift. A few working mothers find it offensive, she acknowledges. Undeterred, she now offers two $10 extras: a kids' sports team picture (your face Photoshopped in as the coach) and a doctor's note on "official" stationery.

Where the U.S. Is Slipping in Tech

The U.S. is still the best place to run a tech company, according to a new study. But in some key ways of measuring competitiveness, the nation is vulnerable, industry experts say. "We see a number of factors where the U.S. is not in the lead," says Robert Holleyman, chief executive of Washington (D.C.)-based Business Software Alliance, which commissioned the annual study, now in its third year.

Released on Sept. 17 by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the report ranks 66 countries in six categories—including general business climate and the availability of a tech-literate workforce. While the U.S. topped the survey overall for the third year in a row, it was No. 1 in only two categories (table). It dominated the "human capital" indicator on the strength of its university graduates and came in first in "legal environment." But it lags behind four countries in the important R&D component and was in sixth place for infrastructure, a measure of broadband penetration. "As we start to see money from U.S. stimulus efforts related to broadband, we may start seeing an improvement," Holleyman says.

The survey's biggest surprise? Finland, home of Nokia (NOK), rose from No. 13 to No. 2, the spot held last year by Taiwan, which fell to No. 15. The switch occurred in part because of a more accurate count of IT patents. (The study previously estimated the registrations.) Rounding out the ranking's top five: Sweden at No. 3, followed by Canada and the Netherlands.

When People Reckon It's O.K. to Cheat

Perhaps because of the cheating uncovered in the aftermath of the financial crisis—the lies told by everyone from mortgage lenders to Bernie Madoff—behavioral economist Dan Ariely has been getting a lot of calls about the nature of dishonesty. Ariely, a Duke University professor and author of the best-selling book Predictably Irrational, has spent years studying the topic.

Ariely says he's not surprised that derivatives—whose values are based on other financial assets—have gotten a bad rap. He has found that people are more likely to cheat if they are a step removed from the cash payoff. In one experiment, he paid subjects (whom he allowed to report their own scores) for correctly solving math problems—some in cash, some in tokens to be redeemed across the room. The second group exaggerated their scores twice as much as the first. Similarly, in studies of real-life expense reports, he found managers pad expenses more when their assistants compile the report. Such detachment, Ariely says, may be what's involved "when you backdate a stock option."

His most recent experiment—on deception's slippery slope—was inspired by some Prada swag he got after speaking at a conference last year. Carrying a genuine luxury bag made the fashion-challenged economist "feel different," he says, leading him to wonder about the psychological effects of sporting a counterfeit.

In an experiment involving 500 people, he found that subjects who knowingly wore fake Chloé sunglasses later cheated more than twice as often on an unrelated task than those assigned to wear the authentic designer goods. "If you take that first step, your self-image changes," he says. "It becomes easier to do the next dishonest thing."

Ariely's new obsession is how to prevent cheating. Consider the math task with the tokens. In one variation, testing participants first on their recall of the Ten Commandments eliminated cheating on the math scores. Then there's the study Ariely did with an auto insurer: Car owners who signed their names at the top of the insurance application, he found, were more honest about their driving habits, even though higher annual mileage meant higher premiums.

"We all like to think of cheaters as evil people," Ariely says. But deterrence can be as simple as reminding people of their better selves. His advice to the IRS for next tax season: Move the signature line to the top of the form.


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