Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Apropos of absolutely nothing (I mean, seriously, I can't think of a single 21st century example of this), here's an excerpt from the Big Con.

Not the Jonathan Chait book but the classic 1940 study of confidence games, particularly the "long con." It's the book that launched a thousand screenplays, most notably the Sting. I've been meaning to read this for years. It's not easy to find and I had looked for it in a number of libraries until finally giving up and putting it out of my mind. Recently, though, someone mentioned it in an email and I realized that if I couldn't find it in one of the four large library systems I have cards for in LA County, it probably couldn't be found anywhere.

After all this time, I half expected the book to be a letdown, but I've been very pleasantly surprised. One passage in particular jumped out at me:

From the Big Con by David W Maurer
Most marks come from the upper strata of society, which, in America, means that they have made, married, or inherited money. Because of this, they acquire status which in time they come to attribute to some inherent superiority, especially as regards matters of sound judgment in finance and investment. Friends and associates, themselves social climbers and sycophants, helped to maintain the solution of superiority. Eventually, the mark comes to regard himself as a person of vision and even of genius. Thus a Babbitt who has cleared half 1 million in a real estate development easily forgets the part which luck and chicanery have played in his financial rise; he accepts his mantle of respectability without question; he naïvely attributes his success to sound business judgment. And any confidence man will testify that a real-estate man is the fattest and juiciest of suckers.

1 comment:

  1. Hey---that's one of my favorite quotes, and I was planning to pull The Big Con off my bookshelf, copy out this passage which I remembered well, and blog it!

    I guess I still can; indeed I can just copy and paste your entry, and you've saved me the trouble of typing.

    P.S. Regarding "sound judgment in finance and investment": I think it was good for me that we lost 40% of our life savings in the stock market crash in 2008. Had I withdrawn our money on time (which I'd been planning to do that summer, just never got around to it), I'm pretty sure I'd've have a smug attitude about my financial sagacity ever since.