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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Americans Are Too Stupid to Avoid the Nigerian Prince Scam

Two days ago John Cole wrote up a quick post titled “Easy Marks about supporters who left their homes, jobs and families to move to Iowa and campaign for that transparent grifter Sarah Palin.  Cole started his screed by asking

You ever hear a news report about a bunch of people who were swindled and lost their life savings in an obvious scam?  I’m talking about the people who lose their life savings to a Nigerian prince who emailed them and said if you just give me your bank account info I will put millions in it for you.  Every time I hear stories like that, I feel an immediate twinge of sympathy, and then a wave of “JUST HOW FUCKING STUPID ARE YOU?”

(Coincidentally, a few hours later Jon Stewart would also cover Palin’s very obvious grift, focusing on how she continued to solicit donations from supporters even though she had no intention of running, and he also compared those supporters to people who fall for the old “Nigerian Prince will give you millions” internet scam.)

The thing is, when I first read Cole’s piece I thought he was going somewhere else with it.  To me, a very obvious and much more important example of the Nigerian Prince scam is the supply-side one that’s been run on the American people ever since St. Ronnie Raygun took office:  the idea that if we just keep showering the wealthiest among us with greater and greater largesse, and keep cutting their taxes, eventually some of their wealth will work its way down to the rest of us and we’ll all be better off.

We’ve been trying this now, to greater or lesser degrees, for 30-odd years and it still hasn’t worked.  Wealth disparity is greater than it has been since WWII, the economy is in the worst condition since the Great Depression and Conservatives are still calling for us to just “double-down” on the same failed idea because eventually we’ll get our money back.

And this, of course, is exactly how the Nigerian Prince scam works.  First you invest a little money in it, then you are told you need to invest just a little more, and then just a little more, and then suddenly you’ve got so much invested in it that you feel you have to keep going just on the off-chance you might not be getting ripped off.  The scam plays on our unwillingness to recognize and walk away from “sunk costs.”

You’d think that most Americans wouldn’t be stupid enough to fall for the same patently obvious scam for more than 30 years.  I guess we’ll see. 

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