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The 10 Best Scams of 2009. Maybe Ever.

by Tom Lewis (editor), , December 24, 2009

Credit: Photo by Keith Bacongo
A demonstrator expresses the best New Year's resolution of all.

The following propositions are so big, so loudly proclaimed and widely held, that millions of Americans believe them and millions more who know better are forced to play defense against the believers

There may be a universe in which the following ten propositions are true, or useful, or have some redeeming social value. But writers are advised constantly to write about what they know. The basis of this advice is that when you derive what you say, think, imagine or predict from the evidence of your eyes and ears, what you say, etc., will be authentic. Without that grounding, it will not be.

The following propositions are so big, so loudly proclaimed and widely held, that millions of Americans believe them and millions more who know better are forced to play defense against the believers and proclaimers. And yet I, personally, can find no shred of evidence in my personal experience to validate a single one of them. A coincidence? I think not.

1. Politicians support business because business creates jobs.

I have never seen a business set out to create jobs. Businesses that I have worked for, managed and started over the years have set out to make money. The goal, generally, is to eliminate as many jobs as you possibly can without crippling the company, so you can make money. Moreover, in my experience, politicians support businesses that support the politicians, with the only job in question the one the politician is after.

2. If you raise taxes, any taxes, businesses will move or downsize or close down and you, the taxing jurisdiction, will lose jobs.

I've been in a lot of business meetings, conducted many of them, about startups, moving, downsizing, expanding and shutting down. I cannot remember a single instance in which taxation even came up. I can imagine it happening, of course, but see paragraph 1 above: in terms of what I know, it has never happened. (Which is not to say that, once or twice a year, a meeting with an accountant will not center on tax-reducing strategies, that's straightforward management. But in life-or-death, go-or-no-go situations? Never a factor.)

3. Corporations don't pay taxes. They simply pass them on to consumers.

To believe that is to believe that if Coca-Cola's headquarters building gets hit with a property tax increase, and Pepsi-Cola's headquarters building does not, Coke's prices will increase relative to Pepsi's. It will never happen. To any business I have been associated with, taxation is a minor cost of doing business whose fluctuations are a very small part of the pricing decision.

4. America is fortunate to have a free-market-based health-care system, not "socialized" medicine.

The benefits of a free market are provided by competition. If there are two gas stations on the corner, the theory goes, one is forestalled from raising its prices for fear of losing business to the other. (The theory does not explain the reality -- that they both raise their prices by exactly the same amount, day after day.) But in my personal experience, when I have been injured or sick and in need of health care, I have never been in a position to take bids or even check prices. And if you can't do that, how does competition help you?

My parents lived out their lives in Canada's single-payer health-insurance system, and here's what I noticed that set them apart from every older person I know in the U.S. -- when they sufffered their allotment of surgeries and hospital stays, it was not under a stifling cloud of fear that they would lose their savings, their home and their remaining years to debt collectors.

5. Government should protect the wealthy because wealth trickles down to benefit everybody.

Personally, I have never seen a single trickle. What I have seen, to cite the most recent example, is that after the government of the United States almost broke its own bank bailing out the wealthiest of its citizens, the high rollers of investment banking, the money the high rollers immediately started making again did not trickle down to anybody; it was distributed as bonuses to themselves.

6. We should support politicians who protect the wealthy because when we get rich we will appreciate the protection.

The degree to which this scam has won the avid loyalty of blue-collar workers, retired people and others of limited means is truly awe-inspiring. It has thus far escaped the notice of the scammed that everything the wholly-owned politicians do to protect their owners ensures that ordinary people will never ever have the remotest chance of getting rich.

7. The American Dream is to be rich.

It's an odd national dream that measures everything in cash. My own life and associations have taught me that there are two ways to become wealthy: assemble a great many dollars, or reduce the number of things you need. I have never in my life known a dollar-assembler who was content, but I have known many people who don't need much who are happy. I have also noticed that of the things in my life that I value most, not a single one was obtained with money.

8. Making money is easy for anyone willing to work hard.

This proposition, advanced primarily by people who are already rich because of an inheritance or a successful talk show, makes sense to me when I think about how other people make their money. Oddly, whenever I have tried making money by one of these obviously simple methods, its difficulty suddenly increased by several orders of magnitude. Probably coincidence.

9. Some problems are so difficult that only violence can solve them

Another claim -- made by gun-rights people, endless novels and TV shows, and by the president of the United States while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize -- that I cannot validate. Every time that I have seen violence used to deal with a problem, the problem has not only got worse, it has spawned a myriad of other problems, each of them worse than the original. Maybe that's why the people most enthusiastic about war have never been in one.

10. Everything else is about sex, which has no consequences and will make you happy.

Our culture is drenched in sex. Movies, TV shows, popular songs, magazines, advertising, every where and all the time glorify sex as the thing to get because it's cheap, easy, thrilling and has no down side. Yet I have never known a person who puts sex at the center of his or her life and identity -- straight or gay -- to be happy.

So who am I, to put my puny experience up against the accumulated wisdom of an entire society? In the immortal words of Popeye (and, in a different context, the God of Abraham), "I yam who I yam."

Happy New Year. Don't get scammed.



About the Writer

Tom Lewis is an editor for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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7 comments on The 10 Best Scams of 2009. Maybe Ever.

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By The Gaming Gentleman on December 24, 2009 at 02:28 pm

Thanks for the chortle Mr Lewis, I enjoyed this a lot.

TGG

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By Tom Lewis on December 25, 2009 at 04:46 am

Thanks for the good thoughts. At first I thought aw, rats, how could I have missed the death-panel scam? Then I rationalized: to be a great scam it has to be credible to a person with an IQ greater than their shoe size. It's out. So's Obama's bogus birth certificate. So's Sarah.

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By Tom Lewis on December 28, 2009 at 06:50 am

Thanks, Rock, for an excruciatingly detailed but excellent demonstration of what it's like to buy into all these scams at once. And thanks for nailing a point that I had omitted: that almost all the people thus deceived become pugnacious and angry as a result.

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By Iain Donaldson on December 29, 2009 at 10:32 am

Thank you, Rock, for taking time to share so much detail regarding your tonsils. Truculent personal abuse is, however, as unnecessary as it is undesirable; it detracts from the credibility of one’s arguments. Those whom you call Liberals will probably dismiss such profane ranting as a result of an unfortunate upbringing, whereas those of a more conservative inclination may mistake you for an ill-mannered oaf.

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By Iain Donaldson on December 30, 2009 at 08:51 am

Iain,

As the author used personal experiences so did I. I thought you would catch that simple personal experience matching approach but apparently you aren’t quite that quick.

Thank you,

Dave

Dave,

Of course I agree that it is appropriate that you should match personal experiences. I merely mentioned the detail about your tonsils, because it made such gripping reading.

Iain.

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By Re77 on January 02, 2010 at 06:03 am

I like your article except for the Health Care one. I think people don't realize or see the bigger picture. The fact is and the reason why socialized health care works in other countries is because of their smaller more managable population. We the US, is the third most populated country. We have over 310,000,000 people. I know you've been to a lot of business meetings but have you ever tried to control and monitor that many people? This is the main reason the US adopted the free market healthcare system. We don't have enough resources to give 'free' healthcare to the majority. Yes, I'm all for it but, I'd rather live in a stable country first then worry about if my doctor is giving me the full treatment I need or a government issued treatment just to get line moving. The government of New York can barely manage the budget...

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By Re77 on January 02, 2010 at 06:08 am

We have to focus on the more important things at the moment... Like have a steady income. Having a steady income and living within your means, you can afford any type of health care. The economy and having a job is my very TOP priority. Going to the docs ain't going to pay my heating bills or put food on the table. Once, the economy is at a point where there are no worries, then I'd say we should then shift towards a better health care system. Or better yet, get a better government.

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