Trump and the Scammer’s Economy
“Now look at them yo-yo’s that’s the way you do it/You play the guitar on the MTV/That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it/Money for nothin’ and chicks for free/Now that ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it/Lemme tell ya them guys ain’t dumb/Maybe get a blister on your little finger/Maybe get a blister on your thumb”-Dire Straits “Money for Nothing”
Burt Likko had a go about how Donald Trump appears to a certain demographic. Dr. Saunders launched into a critique of Trump as well. Now it is time for me to launch into Trump. I think Trump represents everything that is bad about American capitalism and American business. Or maybe Capitalism and business in general. Whenever I think of Donald Trump, I get the strong sense that the American economy is filled with a never-ending amount of fraudsters, scammers, and confidence people trying to defraud each people out of money in the name of profit.
Donald Trump is not a good business man but he has done a remarkably good job of convincing large swaths of the American public that he is a titan of industry and development. As Burt noted, he is an unrepentant blowhard and this appeals to a certain part of the American ID. I don’t know why but there is something about Trump that makes lots of people think “This is how a titan of business should act, like an unrepentant asshole with flash and panache.”
The problem is that Trump’s assholeness has caused him a lot of problems in losing business. His recent tirades against Mexicans do not seem to have helped his businesses. He has also filed for corporate bankruptcy four times and still appears in the public eye as a business genius.
Yet people still think Trump is a business genius as the lawsuits of Trump University reveal. Trump University seemed to work a lot like Scientology. People were given an initial free seminar but told that the real secrets came at the next level with required paying money. This was repeated until students paid 35,000 for the Trump Elite Package. The whole thing was a massive fraud though. Vox writes: “Schneiderman’s investigation found that most of the curriculum came from an unnamed “third-party company that creates and develops materials for an array of motivational speakers and seminar and timeshare rental companies.” Students didn’t meet Trump, but they did get the opportunity to take a photo with a life-size cardboard cutout of him.” Schneiderman is the New York Attorney General.
There are lots of rich and successful people who are probably more ruthless than their outward public appearances. Warren Buffet appeals to people as an unpretentious and unshowy Midwesterner but Berkshire Hathaway owns companies with shady business practices. Bill Gates was probably ruthless in selling Microsoft even though he appears as a loveable and unassuming nerd in public. Steve Jobs was no one’s idea of a nice person.
What Trump seems to appeal to is the idea that the best way to get rich in the United States is by scamming people and he seems to be damned good at it. My anti-libertarianism is not so much out of anti-Capitalist stances. I believe in the profit incentive but more because I worry that in an unregulated economy, you will just see more and more examples of fraud and scamming file into the economy without any means of redress. I suspect that a more unregulated economy will produce more stories like this or this.
I’ve mentioned before that I am not a Caveat Emptor kind of guy. I like the idea of a society and economy where the buyer knows what they are getting without fear of fraud or malfunction. I also think that there is a role for government from protecting people who can’t do the research from being duped. Trump seems to be the living embodiment of scamming and frauding. I suppose there is some cosmic justice in people falling for the Trump University scheme because they were potentially hoping for a way to get rich quick.
Now I admit that there is a problem that someone’s idea of a fraud can be very subjective. I find that most 100 percent commission jobs are suspect but there are also people who can really thrive and be successful in those positions. I am an unrepentant believer in plaintiff’s law but others would call me am ambulance chaser and fraudster. I am also suspicious of Multi-Tiered Marketing Schemes but others seem to think that they are a good deal (last link is audio). So it can be very tricky to impossible to tell what a business is a fraud and when we should let people take the risk.
What is it about the American economy (or maybe economy) in general that seems to create so many get rich quick schemes? I might be snobby against places like Olive Garden or sometimes critical of businesses like Uber for their labor practices but I don’t think they are trying to defraud anyone. They are offering a valid business service in exchange for cash whether it is standardized food across the nation or transportation at the click of an app.
One theory I have is that it is about access and income/wealth inequality. There is a small sliver of the American public that seems to get access to jobs with great salaries right away. They tend to already be upper-middle class or above and they are educated at schools that are the elite of the elite. The path seems to be go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford, get a job on Wall Street or for a Consulting company at 22 for 120K or so. Then you go to business school, work on Wall Street or in Consulting again and then slink into middle management for 250K or so by the time you are in your early 30s. There are minor variants for law or medicine or tech but these positions also tend to go to the best of the best.
The rest of us generally need to work much harder to get to those levels. There is nothing wrong with this but the United States is very good at filling the media with the brass ring stories. We are not so good at filling the media and public awareness with stories of someone who started at 30 or 40 K but was making a six-figure salary by their 40s or 50s. This variant of success is far more common but my anecdotal experience makes me feel like people feel it is becoming more and more rare to be successful this way. I see and read and hear a lot of people despairing that the American economy is going into two paths. One where people are successful right away and always climb up and one where you are always on the bottom rung and struggling to pay back loans while constantly being underpaid and overworked.
So maybe Trump appeals to people who always worry about being bottom rung. Maybe it is better to try and fail really big than make a slow and steady climb especially if you think that a slow and steady climb is impossible.