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We’ve all seen the pitches in our inbox. They careen from the aggressive “Make Money Fast!” to the more subtle “The Financial Freedom You Deserve.”  Most people ignore this mail and go on with their lives – but the invitations keep coming all the same.  Is there something to this?  I decided to spend some time finding out.

The problem for me started when I kept asking what was being sold to make money.  After all, the vast majority of us either perform a service, make something, or sell someone else’s products for a commission.  The websites that the curious e-mails direct you to are often very long and very tedious, but they never come right out and tell you just what you’ll be doing.  To figure that out, you have to sign up for the “webinar”, a word that I’ve come to loathe.

After listening to a few of these presentations, I can tell you what they are basically all about – it’s a legal form of Ponzi Scam called “Multi-Level Marketing”.  I don’t feel bad calling it a scam because what makes it technically legal is that they are selling the materials for the program itself – the methods, the coaching and, yes, more “webinars”.  You pay a fee for all this stuff, supposedly worth kazillions of bucks, but yours for the low price of $19.99 a month or some such.  I think I can see that times are tough by the fact that these used to sell for one large payment up front, but are now typically sold on the installment plan.

What you get for your cash is permission to use the same materials for your own pool of acolytes that you’ll be recruiting for the same amount – minus a few residual payments to the people that recruited you.  It’s obvious after a while why they can never tell you what you’ll be selling because you are, in fact, the one buying.  The reason these scams never really die is that they constantly produce more eager salespeople to send even more spam into the inboxes of the world.

Why do I care about this stuff?  First of all, it’s an interesting sub-culture with a mindset of its own.  The people who go for this stuff ask questions that seem to imply that they’ve been through this before and want to know why “this program is different”.  In many ways, they’re really all the same.  Yet this sub-culture also appears to be little more than the instincts of the larger culture here in the USofA running wild on the ‘net.  It goes far beyond the fact that when they say “success” they mean “money”.

Ultimately, it’s all based on the idea that wealth is spontaneously generated, or that you can in fact make something from nothing.  This is made personal when they teach that wealth is knowledge plus mindset, or that you have to have the right attitude to succeed.  That’s reasonable as far as it goes, especially since most good cons rely on the mark’s insecurity.  But what they tell their recruits is that they should believe that they deserve this “success”.  It’s an entitlement philosophy, a catechism that separates wealth from where it comes from.  It’s simply yours for the taking if you are bold enough.

Many of us wonder how so many seemingly smart people were hooked by Bernie Madoff, who ran a much more traditional (and thus illegal) kind of Ponzi scam.  The answer can be found by following the leads out of your own spam filter and into the nether reaches of what really created the bubbles and ultimately our Depression.

Once people appear to become wealthy for no apparent reason, the rest of the culture loses sight of the simple fact that et lucro, lucre – wealth comes from wealth.  It is not spontaneously created, and is ultimately the product of someone’s labor in service, production, or making new connections.  People fall for these scaminars because they don’t really sound too good to be true, but have the ring of how things seem to be done at the highest levels of power in our culture.

The sub-cultures that create all this hoopla are nothing more than a reflection of what got us to where we are today, distilled and pure.  They are simple Ponzi scams, but the trappings around them make them seem real.  Why did other people with no apparent talent become so wealthy when I didn’t?

Check your spam filter, and you’ll probably find a number of people who are sure they have the answer.  All they ever lost sight of was the big picture, right along with everyone else.

2 thoughts on “Scaminars

  1. I remember my first real job supervising paperboys for Gannett. The CEO always emphasized the “net (profit). Made millions in salary per year. Gannett basically had monoply newspapers in smaller cities St. Cloud, Sioux Falls. They would bust the printer’s unions and start shoveling the money into the corporate coffers. My other young coworkers were often supporting a wife and 2 young kids so they went for this “stuff”. We had free time when the kids were in school and most people only lasted a year. I lasted 4 years until I moved to another corporation and another town where the sales pressure was less. My supervisor who was a decent enuf guy (saved me when I didn’t meet quota once) sold amway. One thing about this stuff is that it has a low barrier to entry. So many jobs have high barriers to entry i.e. credentials, money, experience, connections, timing. Just a few random experiences.

  2. Pingback: Fried in Greece « Barataria – the work of Erik Hare

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