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Hope or Hype (Fraud & Foolishness)

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“The richest one percent of this country owns half our country's wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It's bullshit. You got 90% of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. Now you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you buddy? It's the free market. And you're a part of it." (Gordon Gecko in the 1987 Oliver Stone film Wall Street)

When one thinks about the causes of the global financial crisis, the word greed often comes up. Did the financial institutions get too greedy? Perhaps. Although you'd have to consider whether it's a stretch to blame an entire company for the sins of one division, the actions of which the other parts of the company may not have been aware of.

What about individual greed? Yes, the officers may have been overly intent on furthering their careers, and this too is greed. It could also be pride--the hubris of building a complicated clockwork of financial engineering that seemed to run smoothly for a while, but was, in the end, based on nothing more substantial than thin air.

How about “responsibility” (or the lack of it) in both corporations and individuals? Are profits the be-all and end-all of corporations? Is improving the bottom line the sole driving force?

Career officers need not worry about risky business or the consequences of their actions, so long as failure and the big blowup doesn’t happen on their watch. The corporate drones are betting that they will be gone by then and someone else will be left holding the bag when their shenanigans hit the fan. Not nice? No, it isn’t. But today there are far too many Gordon Gecko wannabes.

Unfortunately, this attitude (that it’s okay to be risky, glitzy, and underhanded so long as you don’t get caught) is found in many walks of life: business, politics, and even small organizations. It’s pulling the wool over the eyes of many gullible sheep. Catch and hold the attention of the flock with something fancy and many won’t care or even notice that you are merely using them to boost your ego or make a quick, sneaky buck.

The bigger the lie, the better.

Earlier this year, massive fraud to the tune of US$1 billion was exposed at Indian outsourcing giant Satyam. Even a review of their books by a major multinational accounting firm didn’t protect investors, and the auditors in question have been suspended. But Satyam’s scam pales in comparison to Bernie Madoff’s US$50+ billion pyramiding master scheme. Everyone loves a philanthropist, right? So, we don’t tend to look too closely at where the money is coming from in the first place.

One of the best things to sell is hope. When a subsistence worker buys a lotto ticket (or its illegal equivalent) he’s buying hope—just a wee bit of hope to get him through the seemingly hopeless toil and drudgery of his day-to-day existence. So, if you want to sell to a broader market, hyping hope can be very profitable. Plus, you need not actually deliver a better product, service, or result as claimed, at least not right away. Just keep them hoping.

Have you noticed that TV commercials have been getting even more creative lately. Marketers have much experience selling hope; hope that you’ll be healthier, slimmer, get whiter, smoother skin, that your next national leader really cares about each and every one of you.

But have you noticed that many health supplements have no therapeutic value or that the slimming drink has enough fattening sugar to send a diabetic into a coma? Have you ever wondered what “100% natural flavoring” really means? What about telephone companies who conveniently neglect to clearly inform you that the voice line or “free” notebook is an additional charge over and above your monthly DSL fee package?

As for the other TV ads, it’s interesting to note that Bernard Madoff was a plumber before he became a “caring” philanthropist.

No, we aren’t absolutely helpless. We need not believe everything we see on TV or the Internet.

We can start the change in many ways. Whether it’s buying something at the supermarket or making a major business decision, we can be more aware. We can actively sense the hype, forgo quick miracle fixes, and instead opt for real value and integrity. We’ve always had this power. It’s always been our choice.

Image: Joe Fusaro
Print ed: 06/09


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