It seems that con artists, for all their vices, represent many of the virtues that Americans aspire to. Con artists are independent and typically self-made. They don’t have to kowtow to a boss—no small thing in a country in which people have always longed to strike out on their own. They succeed or fail based on their wits. They exemplify, in short, the complicated nature of American capitalism, which, as McDougall argues, has depended on people being hustlers in both the positive and the negative sense. The American economy wasn’t built just on good ideas and hard work. It was also built on hope and hype.
Of course, the fundamental difference between entrepreneurs and con artists is that con artists ultimately know that the fantasies they’re selling are lies. Steve Jobs, often enough, could make those fantasies come true. Still, that unquantifiable mélange of risk, hope, and hype provides both the capitalist’s formula for transforming the world and the con artist’s stratagem for turning your money into his money. Maybe there’s a reason we talk about the American Dream.
The New Yorker's James Surowiecki on what entrepreneurs and con artists have in common.
Surowiecki is the author of the indispensable The Wisdom of Crowds.
For those of you in New York City, here’s a sneak peek at the limited-editon MDB calendar that will be on sale at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, Thursday at 7pm as a part of Tumblr Prep! All proceeds from the sale of the calendar will go directly to Housing Works.
You may notice it’s a dual 1863 and 2013 calendar—that’s so you can coordinate your schedule with your Daguerreotype BF when he’s off fighting at Gettysburg. On the reverse side are letters from Civil War soldiers to their ladies at home.
Impressive, thoroughly researched visual history of 150 years of photographic portrayal of lesbians and queer women. Also see Venus with Biceps, a visual history of muscular women.