Cons and Scams: Their Place in American Culture
37th Social Research Conference April 23-24, 2018
Cons and con men have long been present in American culture and are often represented as romantic figures. Cons abound — from Bernie Madoff’s billion dollar Ponzi scheme to street corner crooks and their games of three-card monte; from art forgeries to fraudulent scientific articles; from predatory universities and pseudo-academic journals to magical cures for incurable diseases.
The con is so pervasive that the con artist, a strange appellation to say the least, has played a starring role in classic American fiction. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn includes a pair of con artists, the Duke and the Dauphin; and Herman Melville named a novel for the central character in his The Confidence Man. Edgar Allan Poe even wrote a well-known essay about the con-man, "Raising the Wind; or Diddling Considered one of the Exact Sciences," in which he wrote, “Man is an animal that diddles, and there is no animal that diddles but man” (“diddling” being an earlier term for a swindle or cheat). The ever-present con men—and, to be sure, there are also con women—also have had starring roles in films such as The Sting, Paper Moon, and the 2001 remake of Ocean’s 11 with a detailed listing of various scams used in the heist. There are cons everywhere we look, but this is perhaps the first time we have a US president whom some have called a con artist.
In the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, the term “con man” was used frequently in relation to Donald Trump. The renowned linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky famously claimed in a January 2017 interview with the Pacific Standard that Donald Trump was “kind of a con man. He was able to say things to a sector of the population that, in a way, articulated their own concerns and feelings, and did it pretty effectively.” This view was echoed by George Soros, Bruce Springsteen, Philip Roth, Michael Bloomberg, and others, including Marco Rubio, a fellow Republican, who appears nonetheless to have cast his vote for Trump.
If Donald Trump is indeed a con man, how was it possible for him to con a large portion of the voting public? Is this a unique phenomenon in the history of the American presidency? What are the circumstances that allowed it to happen, and what do they say about the state of American democracy? Speaking more broadly, what transforms us into “marks”—what are the circumstances that allow people to be conned at all?
Join us on April 23 and 24 to explore cons and scams in their many guises and what makes us vulnerable to them, with particular attention to the current political scene in the US. This event is free and open to the public.
This event is presented by the Center for Public Scholarship in collaboration with the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University.
Location for all sessions:
Theresa Lang Community and Student Center
55 W. 13th St, NY, NY
Day 1: Monday, April 23, 2018
Session 1: Cons and Scams in American Culture
1:00 - 3:00 PM
Edward Balleisen, Professor of History and Public Policy; Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies, Duke University; author of Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff (2017)
Noah Isenberg, Professor of Culture and Media at the New School’s Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, director of Screen Studies program; author of We’ll Always Have Casablanca (2017)
Geoffrey O’Brien, American poet, essayist, and cultural historian; former Editor in Chief, Library of America and author of Stolen Glimpses, Captive Shadows: Writing on Film, 2002–2012 (2013)
Moderator: Mark Greif, Associate Professor of Literary Studies, Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, The New School
Session 2: Case Studies: Finance, Education, and Law
3:30 - 5:30 PM
Diana Henriques, financial journalist for the New York Times from 1989 to 2012 and now a contributing writer, author of The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust (2011)
Robert Shireman, Senior Education Fellow, The Century Foundation
Barak Orbach, Professor of Law and Director of the Business Law Program, The University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law; author of the article “Scamming: The Misunderstood Confidence Man” (2015)
Moderator: William Deringer, Assistant Professor, Program in Science, Technology & Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
William Butler Yeats' "The Pot of Broth"
A reading by actors from the Irish Repertory Theatre's
production of "The Pot of Broth"
Day 2: Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Session 3, Part 1: Case Studies: Art
12:30 - 2:00PM
Elaine Salisbury, author of Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Penguin, 2009) and The Conman: How One Man Fooled Britain’s Modern Art Establishment (2010); Lecturer, University at Albany
Maggie Cao, David G. Frey Assistant Professor, Department of Art and Art History, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Moderator: María González Pendás, Lecturer in Art History and Mellon Research Fellow, Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Columbia University
Session 3, Part 2: Case Studies: Science and Medicine
2:10 - 3:40 PM
Daniel Kevles, Stanley Woodward Professor Emeritus of History, Yale University
Nina Shapiro, Director of Pediatric Ear, Nose, and Throat at the Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and Professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; author of Hype: A Doctor’s Guide to Medical Myths, Exaggerated Claims and Bad Advice – How to Tell What’s Real and What’s Not (2018)
Moderator: Heidi Hausse, Lecturer in History and Mellon Research Fellow, Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Columbia University
Edward Balleisen is Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies (VPIS) at Duke, as well as Professor of History and Public Policy. A graduate of Princeton and Yale, Balleisen has written widely on the historical intersections among law, business, and policy in the United States, as well as the evolution of American regulatory institutions and contemporary debates on regulatory governance. His most recent books are Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff (Princeton University Press, 2017), and Policy Shock: Recalibrating Riskand Regulation after Oil Spills, Nuclear Accidents, and Financial Crises, co-edited with Lori Bennear, Kimberly Krawiec, and Jonathan Wiener (Cambridge University Press, 2017). Balleisen has won three teaching awards at Duke – the Howard D. Johnson Award for excellence in undergraduate instruction, the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award, and the Graduate School Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring. In 2019-20, he will serve as the President of the Business History Conference. A national leader in conversations about the need to expand the versatility of doctoral students, Balleisen is also the Project Director for Duke’s three-year Next Generation Implementation Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Versatile Humanists@Duke. As Vice Provost, Balleisen is responsible for facilitating cross-school collaborations around research, teaching,and civic engagement.
Maggie Cao is the David G. Frey Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received her PhD from Harvard University in 2014 and completed postdoctoral work at the Columbia University Society of Fellows. Cao is a historian of American art whose research focuses on intersections of art with science and economics as well as the environmental humanities. Her first book, The End of Landscape in Nineteenth-Century America (forthcoming in June 2018), explores the dissolution of landscape painting as a major cultural project in the late nineteenth-century United States. She is now working on a project entitled "New Media in the Age of Sail," which examines new art forms that emerged from contexts of global commerce in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
William Deringer is Leo Marx Career Development Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at M.I.T. and currently Fellow at the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University. His research excavates the history of economic and political knowledge practices. His first book, Calculated Values: Finance, Politics, and the Quantitative Age (Harvard University Press, 2018) reconstructs how numerical calculation became an authoritative mode of public reasoning in Anglophone political culture. His new project, Discounting: A History of the Modern Future (in One Calculation), traces the history of “present value” calculations from the early-modern period to contemporary debates about climate change.
Maria Gonzalez Pendas is an architect and an architectural historian whose work explores the intersections of spatial and building practices with processes of political, technological, and religious modernization across the Atlantic world. Her research more particularly weaves together the history of modern architecture with the politics of fascism and the process of secularization and development in Spain and Mexico during the twentieth century. Her book project, Holy Modern: A Spatial History of Fascism, Catholicism, and Technocracy at Mid-Century examines these dynamics in the context of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship and through the architecture and narrative of modernisation that responded to the rise of the secretive and ultra-orthodox Catholic organization Opus Dei. Her published articles include a piece on the politics of emptiness during the Cold War for Architecture of Great Expositions 1937-1958 and one on the ways in which the architecture and aesthetics of concrete conceal and reveal the social relations of labor and political economy of Mexican building industry at mid-century, forthcoming in Grey Room. Her research and teaching interests include global modern architecture, the politics of modernism and the critique of ideology, the architectures of secularization, the architectures of exile and migration, Southern Europe and Latin American modern architecture, and theories and practices of labor in the building industry. She received her architectural degree from the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura in Madrid and her PhD in Architecture History and Theory from Columbia University and is currently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Society of Fellows in The Humanities and Columbia University and a Lecturer in its Art History Department. She has also taught at Vassar College, the Cooper Union and the School of Architecture at Columbia University, and her work has received the support of the Fulbright Commission, the Temple Hoyne Buell Center and the Graham Foundation, among others.
Mark Greif is Associate Professor of Literary Studies at Eugene Lang College, the New School, and is a founding editor of n+1.
Heidi Hausse received her PhD in History from Princeton University in 2016. Her research uses the hands-on practices of surgeons and artisans to explore life in early modern Europe, with a particular interest in the intersections of culture, medicine, and technology. Her book project, "Life and Limb: Technology, Surgery, and Bodily Loss in Early Modern Germany" examines surgical treatises and artifacts of prostheses to uncover a transformation in the way in which early moderns cut apart the body and worked to artificially put it back together. Her research has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and the Dr. Günther Findel-Stiftung Foundation. Dr. Hausse was the 2016-2017 Molina Fellow in the History of Medicine & Allied Sciences at the Huntington. She has articles published in The Journal of Early Modern History and The Sixteenth Century Journal.
Diana B. Henriques, the author of A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, The Worst Day in Wall Street History and the New York Times bestseller The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, and is a contributing writer for the New York Times, which she joined in 1989. She was previously a staff writer for Barron's magazine, a Wall Street correspondent for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and an investigative reporter for The Trenton (N.J.) Times. In 2005, she was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and won a George Polk Award, the Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Reporting and Harvard’s Goldsmith Prize for her 2004 series exposing insurance and investment rip-offs of young military consumers. She was also a member of the New York Times team that was a Pulitzer finalist for its coverage of the 2008 financial crisis. In May 2011, HBO optioned The Wizard of Lies and, in May 2017, released its film-length adaptation of the book, with Robert De Niro starring in the title role and Ms. Henriques playing herself. Ms. Henriques is also the author of three previous books: The Machinery of Greed, Fidelity's World and The White Sharks of Wall Street. She and her husband Larry live in Hoboken, N.J.
Noah Isenberg is Professor of Culture and Media at the New School’s Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, where he also directs the Screen Studies program. He is the author, most recently, of We’ll Always Have ‘Casablanca’: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie, published by W.W. Norton in February 2017 (and in November 2017 by Faber & Faber in the UK and by Európa, in Hungarian translation, in Budapest), which earned a spot on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list, was named an Editor’s Choice by the New York Times Book Review, was selected as a Summer Book of 2017 by the Financial Times and a Best Film Book of 2017 by the Scotland Herald. His other books include: Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins (California, 2014), which the New York Times hailed as “a page turner of a biography” and Huffington Post selected among its Best Film Books of 2014; Detour (British Film Institute, 2008), a book-length study of Ulmer’s acclaimed low-budget film noir; and, as editor, Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films of the Era (Columbia, 2009), which was selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title. His introduction to Vicki Baum’s bestselling novel of 1929, Grand Hotel, appeared with the book’s reissue by the New York Review of Books Classics in 2016. In support of his work, he has been awarded grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Commission, the International Research Center for Cultural Studies in Vienna, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He serves as book review editor of Film Quarterly, is a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities, and was awarded a 2015-2016 NEH Public Scholar research grant. His writing has appeared in such diverse publications as: The Nation, The New Republic, The Daily Beast, Salon, Times Literary Supplement, Bookforum, New York Review of Books Daily, Film Comment, The Paris Review Daily, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Criterion Collection, The Threepenny Review, Film Quarterly, New German Critique, Partisan Review, Raritan, Wall Street Journal and the New York Times Book Review. From 1995-2004, he taught at Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania and at Dartmouth College.
Daniel J. Kevles writes about science, technology, medicine, and society past and present. His works include The Baltimore Case, In the Name of Eugenics, The Physicists, and articles, essays, and reviews in scholarly and popular journals, among them The New York Times, the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and the Times Literary Supplement. Recently retired from a professorship of history at Yale, he lives in New York City and is spending this academic year as a visitor at NYU Law School and Columbia Law School.
Geoffrey O’Brien Geoffrey O'Brien's books include Hardboiled America (1981), Dream Time: Chapters from the Sixties (1988), The Phantom Empire (1993), The Times Square Story (1998), The Browser's Ecstasy: A Meditation on Reading (2000), Sonata for Jukebox (2004), The Fall of the House of Walworth (2010), and Stolen Glimpses, Captive Shadows (2013), as well as eight collections of poetry of which the most recent is The Blue Hill (2018). He recently retired as editor-in-chief of The Library of America.
Barak Orbach is a Professor of Law and the Director of the Business Law Program at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, as well as an elected member of the American Law Institute and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. He is one of the nation’s most well-known authorities on antitrust law. Professor Orbach teaches and writes about antitrust, corporate governance, intellectual property, and regulation. He published over 30 articles, essays, and book chapters in these areas. Additionally, Professor Orbach is the author a leading casebook on regulation, Regulation: Why and How the State Regulates (Foundation Press, 2012). His study of the motion-picture industry is credited for contributing to a change in the pricing of movies in the United States. Professor Orbach and his works are often quoted in the national media. Discussions of Professor Orbach’s work appeared in The Atlantic, Forbes, Fortune, Mother Jones, Slate, Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and many other media outlets. Professor Orbach holds undergraduate degrees in law and economics from Tel Aviv University and masters and doctorate degrees in law from Harvard Law School. Before joining academia, Professor Orbach served as an Advisor for Law & Economics to the Israeli Antitrust Commissioner and as an associate with Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, New York.
Elaine Salisbury focuses her time teaching writing and reporting to undergraduates at the University at Albany, SUNY, and instilling an appreciation for the First Amendment. A former reporter with Reuters and The Associated Press, she is the co-author of The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic (W.W. Norton) and Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Penguin).
Dr. Nina Shapiro is the Director of Pediatric Otolaryngology and a Professor of Head and Neck Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She is a graduate of Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Medical School, and completed her post-graduate residency and fellowship training at Harvard, The Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, and Rady Children’s Hospital. She has received numerous prestigious awards, been interviewed by national news outlets including CBS, CNN, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times, and has presented to thousands of academics, physicians, and general consumers across the country. Her expertise in dispelling inaccurate medical claims with evidence-based information can be found in her myth-busting and evidence-driven book, HYPE: A Doctor’s Guide to Medical Myths, Exaggerated Claims and Bad Advice—How to Tell What’s Real and What’s Not(St. Martin’s Press, May 1, 2018). A native of New York, Dr. Nina Shapiro lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.
Bob Shireman is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation working on education policy with a focus on affordability, quality assurance, and consumer protections. He served in the Clinton White House as a Senior Policy Advisor to the National Economic Council, and in the Obama Administration as deputy undersecretary of education. In 2004 he founded The Institute for College Access & Success, and in 2011 launched the policy organization California Competes. In his various roles since 1989 Shireman has led successful efforts to reform student loans, streamline the financial aid process, promote campus diversity, and protect consumers from predatory colleges. He has shepherded the evolution of the nation’s income-based student loan repayment system from its initial adoption in 1992 to its expansion and improvement by President Barack Obama. He organized the federal response to emerging signs of predatory for-profit career training in 2009, leading to a widely discussed set of regulatory reforms and enforcement actions. Shireman’s analysis of local needs in California prompted changes in the funding formula for that state’s community colleges, following on his earlier work to improve the ethnic and economic diversity of California’s private colleges. He led an effort that significantly simplified the process of applying for federal college aid, and pressed for and ultimately won the elimination of costly middlemen from the federal loan programs so that more grant aid could be made available to low-income students. Under Shireman’s leadership, in 2018 The Century Foundation won a contract with the State of California to develop recommendations for reforming the state’s approach to college affordability. In addition to his role at Century, Shireman serves on the board of uAspire, a national nonprofit that helps low-income students find quality, affordable college options, and The Opportunity Institute, an education policy think tank.
Edward Balleisen - "An Enduring Hothouse for Grifters: American Capitalism and the Historical Dynamics of Business Fraud"
This talk focuses key on continuities in the American experience with business fraud. People are susceptible to marketplace deceptions everywhere, in all eras. But the United States has often offered especially fertile ground for such duplicity, because of American fascination with/support for innovation as a driver of economic growth, social mobility, and cultural dynamism. In addition to exploring the links between the American embrace of innovation and openings for deception, I will stress the remarkable ingenuity and adaptability that animates so many American cons, now and in the past, as well as the resulting challenges for policy-makers who have tried to contain business fraud.
Maggie Cao - "Fabricating Value between Mint and Studio"
The most counterfeited artist in American history is not who you might expect. Now largely forgotten, the name Ralph Blakelock was legendary around 1900, when the record-setting prices of his landscapes made the artist and his work the target of sophisticated con artists. This lecture uses Blakelock’s story to explore the intersection of artistic and economic duplicity at the turn of the twentieth century, when financial volatility and debates surrounding the trustworthiness of paper money relied upon an aesthetic vocabulary of illusionism, imitation, surfaces and depths. In the hands of collectors, auctioneers, and swindlers, Blakelock’s paintings were subject to the troubling tendencies of currency itself: circulation, counterfeiting, hoarding, even melting down; and in turn, Blakelock began issuing his own fake money. This richly layered history of artistic fraud poignantly and humorously reveals the visual and material anxieties surrounding economic uncertainty.
Diana Henriques - "Madoff: The Man and the Myth"
This talk will focus on how Bernie Madoff transformed our understanding of an age-old type of crime: the Ponzi scheme. His historic $65 billion fraud was unquestionably the largest Ponzi scheme on record. But beyond sheer scale, his fraud was significant for how it redefined a classic crime for the modern era. Ponzi schemes date back well beyond 1920, when Boston con artist Charles Ponzi was arrested for what became his signature crime. In the decades after Ponzi's capture, investors, regulators and the media all came to believe they knew what kind of people became Ponzi schemers, how they operated, who they preyed on, and how victims were lured into their web. But the Madoff scheme proved that much of what we thought we knew about Ponzi schemers is obsolete -- dangerously so!
Noah Isenberg - "The Ballad of Lonesome Rhodes: Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957) in the Age of Trump"
In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, “The Madness of the American Crowds,” columnist Roger Cohen selected as one of his chief examples for understanding the Trump regime, and its shameless penchant for mendacity, a long-forgotten film of 1957 by Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd. The star of the film, Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a TV-generated political demagogue, is perhaps the greatest swindler in motion picture history (“This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep!” he remarks in one of his many rabid speeches). By way of close formal analysis, buttressed by a choice selection of film clips, I’d like to revisit Kazan’s film, charting the path of Lonesome Rhodes and its chilling portents.
Daniel Kevles - "Scientists vs. Charlatans: Oceanography and Climatology in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America"
In 1851, Alexander Dallas Bache, the superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science: “Our charlatans” may have doffed the costume of the charlatans of old, keeping only their shoes and buckles, but they were no less pretentious in claiming knowledge that they do not possess. Bache added that “our real danger lies now from a modified charlatanism, which makes merit in one subject an excuse for asking authority . . . and claims to be an arbiter in others.” Bache and his allies in the leadership of American science held that the scientific charlatans of the day made unwarranted claims on the federal purse, promoted the dissemination of false or misleading technical information, and jeopardized the making of sound federal policy. To their minds, one of the leading culprits was Matthew Fontaine Maury, the head of the Naval Observatory, who developed an ingenious system for gathering data concerning winds and weather across the world’s oceans. But Maury exploited the information to publish faulty sailing guides at federal expense and drew on them to publish, in 1855, a popular book – The Physical Geography of the Sea – that was riddled with physically impossible theories. In 1863, with Maury having defected to his native South, the new National Academy of Sciences successfully recommended that the Navy halt the publication of his guides indefinitely.
In 1879, the geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell enlisted the Academy in his attack against another charlatan-like theory that undergirded the settlement of the arid region beyond the 100th meridian through the conventional system of 160-acre homesteads. Eventually dubbed “rain follows the plow,” the theory held that the greater the number of settlers working the land in a region, the greater the quantity of rain that would fall upon it. Powell, using rainfall data, held that the theory was ridiculous and that rainfall in the region was inadequate to support 160-acre homesteads. Through the National Academy, he proposed arrangements for the settlement of the region that comprised dividing it into larger tracts of land for farming and grazing and that depended upon irrigation. Western congressmen derided and killed the measure, celebrating the practical men who had “seen the capabilities of this land which had escaped the notice of our scientists and statesmen.” The episode was the first – but would not be the last – in the nation’s history to join contested theories of climate with passionate convictions of political economy.
Geoffrey O’Brien - "A Nation of Grifters, Fixers, and Marks: The Big Con Then and Now"
David Maurer's classic study The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man represents a pioneering linguist's encapsulation of the methods, argot, and mores of the American grifters who flourished in the first half of the twentieth century, seen from the perspective of 1940. For all his intended objectivity, Maurer's fascination with the type of criminal he describes as an 'aristocrat' is evident throughout his book, which Luc Sante praised as 'a robust and spring-heeled piece of literature' and which has been a standard reference for information of classic techniques of deception. Echoes of Maurer's con men can be found in the work of Jim Thompson, David Mamet, and others. The question remains what to make of the legacy of these criminal aristocrats and the aura of myth that surrounds them in an era when grift has taken new and ever more invasive forms, moving from subcultural side streets to the public square. A rereading of Maurer's work offers an opportunity to rethink the archetypal roles and situations he so deftly catalogued."
Barak Orbach - "Con Men and Their Enablers"
Confidence games, schemes that exploit trust for profit, are intriguing for the ability of con men to fool their victims. Numerous academic and literary works study the methods and characteristics of the confidence game. Despite the broad interest in the topic, however, certain characteristics of the confidence game are still poorly understood. For these characteristics, it is difficult to distinguish between deceiving schemes and poor judgment. This distinction, in turn, directs many public policies that define wrongful conduct and are used to address confidence games. When policymakers and enforcement agencies cannot define deceiving schemes with some precision, con men escape the social and legal condemnation. This essay examines three aspects of confidence games that create challenges for the design and implementation of public policies intending to address confidence games: (1) the combination of greed and delusions, (2) the heterogeneity of con men and their victims, and (3) the facilitation of confidence games by enablers.
(1) Confidence games typically build on parallel, though not symmetric or equivalent, types of greed and delusions. The con man takes advantage of the mark’s trust to advance his greed. Many con men, however, believe that their schemes are legitimate and honest. Similarly, confidence games succeed only for the victims’ pursuit of unrealistic gains and willingness to trust strangers. For third parties, the victims’ choices may appear silly and unreasonable. The victims themselves often cannot rationalize their choices. The combination of these parallel patterns complicates efforts to define the wrongfulness of alleged confidence games. (2) The heterogeneity of con men and victims further complicates attempts to define illegitimate schemes. Such heterogeneity reflects variations in types and degrees of sophistication, cognitive capacity, and cognitive biases of con men and victims. (3) “Enablers” are individuals and institutions who facilitate confidence games through various forms of cooperation with con men. Although enablers may benefit directly and indirectly from the con, evidentiary problems and social perceptions impede society’s ability to hold enablers accountable. The essay explores various mechanisms that the legal system utilizes (or may utilize) to address these aspects of exploiting practices.
Elaine Salisbury - "Art Forgers – Criminals or Heroes?"
Art forgers – when they are caught -- rarely fail to capture newspaper headlines. Their intrigue, deceit and talent have bankrupted dealers, broken relationships, and led to litigious claims and counterclaims. And yet, despite the destruction, there is often something delicious about these crimes that leave readers grappling with mixed emotions. In a market where value can seem subjective and paintings often exchanged only among the hands and pricing codes of multi-millionaires, are forgers as criminal as they appear or endearing rogues who deserve light applause?
Nina Shapiro - “Quackery and Hype: Mesmerized by Wizards”
It is human nature to crave the extreme, the bizarre, and the hoax. While we may know that we see an illusion, there is always a glimmer of expectation that a tincture of reality is hidden in the surreal. When it comes to our health, hope springs eternal that there are miraculous cures, quick fixes, sequestered treatments, and unconventional interventions. While the medical huckster has existed for eons, as medicine and healthcare become more sophisticated, more complicated, and more accessible to the lay public, the distinction between groundbreaker and charlatan becomes ever more nebulous. With increasing access to internet health sites, non-peer reviewed medical advice, celebrities hawking treatments, and our desperation for tangential approaches to prevention and cure, patient-centered medicine has become an overflowing melting pot of scientific advancement and wizardry.
Robert Shireman - "Exploiting the American Dream: Seventy-Five Years of Trump Universities"
Hardwired into the American psyche is the the expectation that hard work and a little luck will bring a better future. Education and training have long been seen as one important route, revealing the secrets of success and opening doors to jobs and connections. With the collapse in the value of the high school diploma, a college degree is now viewed not just a way to get ahead but as a requirement for basic economic security. The insecurity of those without a college degree, combined with the fact that the quality of a school experience is difficult to predict and measure, has created unprecedented opportunities for swindlers to attempt to cash in. This paper examines the long history of education and training scams, analyzing how the messages and methods have repeated and evolved, with a spotlight on the recent case of Trump University.