Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Everything Old is New Again

Pyramid scams have been around for decades.  Why do they still exist, if people know they are scams?

When I was a kid, we watched Dragnet, which was sort of the Blue Bloods of its day, although ironically less jingoistic.   While Sergeant Friday was all "Law and Order" he did tend to see different sides to various social issues.  And the actor and producer behind it all (as well as Adam-12 and Emergency!), Jack Webb, was very progressive with regard to racial views, as he himself was part native American.

He used a regular roster of repertory actors in the series, including the great Virginia Gregg who played a con artist running a pyramid scheme in the episode linked above.   I learned at an early age that pyramid schemes were just a dead-end and a con, and they played upon the naivete of the Mark, as well as the Mark's own desire for riches, to succeed.

So, they went away, right?  I mean, after we all saw this on the TeeVee, who would fall for such nonsense?  And yet today, pyramid schemes have gone mainstream.  They call it "Multi-Level Marketing" or "MLM" to give it respectability, just as the gambling people cloak their nonsense as "gaming."  Some of these companies are even listed on the stock exchange.  And they all use the same old gag - you sign up, buy the "starter kit" and then try to get other people to become distributors and salespeople as well.   Sales of the actual products are, of course, secondary.

Why didn't pyramid scams go away?  Well, if you watch the episode above to the very end, you'll understand why.   The character played by Virginia Gregg is fined $500 and given six months probation.   Consider the cost of the investigation and the time involved as well as the court time, and you can see why the Police have better things to do, particularly in Los Angeles, what with gangs, drive-by shootings and drugs and whatnot.

Dragnet  was considered "square" at the time, and eventually it went off the air.   The hippies were calling the Police "Pigs" and not many of the younger viewers (the most desired demographic) connected with old Joe Friday.  They might want to watch something more contemporary and hip, instead. It didn't help that some episodes, such as the infamous "Blue Boy" episode, which discussed the spread of LSD, were almost laughable in their naivete.  The episode depicted a young man painting his face blue and shoving his head in a hole in the ground while on LSD, because that's what you do on acid, right?

But we knew back then that drugs were a dead-end, and potentially fatal.   While pot seemed harmless enough, we knew that methamphetamine (which we called "speed" or "crank" back then) was really bad for your health, both mental and physical.  And since you felt invincible once you took it, taking more of it seemed like a swell idea - so it was highly addictive.   Heroin and other opioids were also well-known as bad news.  Cocaine wasn't really yet on the radar, but by the 1970's and the disco era, we knew the score on that as well.  Sadly, a whole generation after that was lost to crack.

People died back then - often famous people.  We lost Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix to drug overdoses.  Decades later, we'd lose "Prince" in a similar fashion (not as great a loss as Hendrix, in my opinion - Prince was highly over-rated).   But it begs the question, don't people ever learn?

Today, we have a new epidemic of opioids, and this time around, they are legally prescribed.   Methamphetamine became a "thing" in the last few years, and not only did Joe Friday not preach against it this time, the television actually celebrated Meth with its own TeeVee show.

We declared a war on drugs - and lost.   We tried to go after the con artists - and still do - and slap them with trivial fines.   A guy who represents an Invention Broker isn't sent off to jail, he's appointed acting Attorney General.   So you see where we are today - and how we got here.   The police, and the courts can't really stop us from doing stupid things if we are bound and determined to do them.

So what does that leave?   Well, it leaves you and me.  We can decide that buying a timeshare is a shitty idea, and not something that should be defended.  Ditto for leasing cars and other crappy bargains offered out there.  And no, you can't make money on an MLM scheme, so be sure to mention this to your "friend" who tries to sell you a distributorship - and then find new friends.

Welcome to the United States of Go Fuck Yourself - and it isn't changing anytime soon.   Oh sure, some Democrats may try to enact laws to curb these sort of abuses.  But like drug laws, they rarely result in a real reduction in crime, even if they could fill up all the jails with scammers and con artists.  Someone else is always there to take their place - these are lucrative businesses.

Today, thanks to the Internet, the con artist who takes your money might not even live in this country - making them nearly impossible to track down and prosecute.   Yet more and more of these cons exist, and more and more people fall for them, every day.  It seems we never learn.

And while the cop shows on television today depict scientific investigations of all sorts of heinous murders, they don't go after the sort of street-level scams that Joe Friday did - and in the process, educated us on how to avoid being ripped off.   People won't sit still for that old-school stuff anymore.  Besides, the sponsor of "CSI" or whatever is probably a timeshare company, a car company offering scam leases, or some MLM scheme - or someone selling "gov't gold" - or whatever.

I said it before and I'll say it again - we've gone from a manufacturing-based economy to an information-based economy, to a fraud-based economy.   A lot of these folks wearing MAGA hats and attending these Nuremberg rallies are probably the folks who have been ripped off by one scam or another.   And they hope their "Law and Order" President will fix all of this, not realizing that he is in on the deal - running a "for profit college" of his own and scamming everyone he's ever met with one sort of raw deal or another.

For-profit colleges - we didn't really have those back then, or did we?   There were what we called "matchbook schools" which advertised on the back of matchbooks.   Go back to school and become an electrician!  Or a truck driver!   The catch was, they charged a lot of money and didn't teach you much.   So I guess it was the same old thing, even back then - only on a much smaller scale.  Today, the Federal Government is in on the deal - guaranteeing loans for sketchy colleges.  Loans that cannot be absolved in bankruptcy, thanks to that same Federal Government.

Joe Friday - where are you when we need you?