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The Perfect Con Game

Here’s a letter to The New Yorker:

The theme of James Surowiecki’s “Do the Hustle” (Jan. 13) is the ubiquity of con artists.  Curiously, though, he mentions only con artists operating in the private sector.

Con artists do sometimes infect private markets (although it’s absurd for Mr. Surowiecki to assert that “[s]uccessful entrepreneurship involves hucksterism”).  But private markets contain built-in means for keeping con artistry to a minimum – namely, to fall victim to fishy schemes in private markets, individuals must stake their own money.  Matters differ in the public sector where individuals – voters, bureaucrats, elected officials – gamble on fishy schemes with other people’s money.  However imprudent someone might be when risking his or her own funds, that person’s imprudence is magnified when the funds at stake belong to strangers.

The most skilled and ambitious con artists, therefore, gravitate toward politics.  Why would they not?  There, these scammers not only have much looser reins to act as (quoting Mr. Surowiecki) “greedy hucksters who sell us dreams that never come true” (remember Solyndra?), they also – because through the fiat of legislation they themselves ordain their fraudulent schemes as lawful – enjoy the added benefit of seldom being exposed as the shysters that they are.

Politics is truly the perfect con game.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030