Hucking for a Living

There’s a “homeless” man who stands on a corner near where I work with a sign asking for free money. Even if I hadn’t seen him get out of a car to put in a hard 3-hour day of begging recently, I would have my suspicions: he’s been doing this since at least summer of 2005. I get that sometimes people fall hard on their luck and need a leg up – but you don’t need one from 2005-present if you’re really trying.

Anyway, I mentioned something at work about the “homeless” man – drawing my shock quotes in the air like a metrosexual corporate powerpoint addict – having gotten out of a car prior to begging and got an angry retort from one of the resident leftists. It turns out I don’t know his situation. Which is true – I don’t. But once again I find myself marveling at the credulous tacit assumptions some people have to make to keep their ideologies afloat.

Consider the assumptions going in to this temper tantrum. It won’t surprise you to hear that this person is one of those who thinks that pretty much anything a corporation does is evidence of it being up to no good, deliberately scamming people to line its pockets. Which means she’s in a position to believe that all currently operative con artists consistently dress the part and that she can tell the difference. Which is just astoundingly naive when you think about it.

In her world, someone apparently thinks to himself “I wanna be a con artist when I grow up.” And then he studies up on con artistry, which in a great deal of cases involves getting an MBA. And having gotten this golden ticket, he then proceeds to dress and act like a con artist, so that everyone knows just exactly what he is and is up to, and yet somehow for some reasons that we’ll just wave our hands over, despite the fact that all con arists have what ammounts to a name tag that says “Hello my name is Con Artist,” people continue to be conned. Meanwhile, you can rest assured that anyone who appears to be homeless is completely sincere – because while it’s easy to imagine that someone would exchange goods and services for money in a dishonest way, it could never ever be the case that someone would put on a costume and pretend to be someone they’re not for handouts.

I mean, what does she honestly think con artistry is? Isn’t deceiving people about who you are and what motivates you the whole mechanism by which it typically operates? And what would possibly explain why people who were willing to lie and cheat and steal on the million dollar scale would be completely unwilling to do so on the $10-100,000 scale? You know, there’s Burger King and Burger King, and the main difference between the two is that the former was founded by ambitious people and the latter not so much. Why would con artistry be any different? Just like any other occupation, there are talented con artists, mediocre con artists and downright inept con artists. There are take-no-prisoners scorched earth ambitious con artists, merely successful con artists, and lazy con artists. Coming up with the formula for success is difficult in any field, involving, as it does, a complex interplay of innate talents, personality traits, and facts about the environment in which an aspiring climber finds himself. Why would that be any different for con artists? Why would con artistry alone among human endeacors be the kind of thing that you could identify by the fact that everyone who tried it was not only a roaring success, but the fact of his success is the very thing that tipped you off as to what he does? If that were the case, would there be any honest men left? And if it really were the case that the more successful in business you were the more likely to be a sham were your products, then what would these successful people spend their ill-gotten gains on? Also sham products that they well know – they better than anyone! – are shams? Or is there some mythic parallel economy where everything’s high quality, and “they” know about it but “we” don’t, and which nevertheless accepts money from this economy where everything is a crappy fraud, even though it knows that everything in this economy is a crappy fraud?

No, it’s just too much. I don’t have that kind of faith. It’s just easier for me to believe that there are hucksters at all pegs on the income totem because hucksters, like everyone else, are successful at what they do to varying degrees, that all that is required to entice a dishonest man into hucksterism is the perception (true or not) that he is better off conning than doing an honest day’s work – that calculation being carried out at whatever level of potential he operates – that hucksters can and will prey on the good intentions and community instincts of their better-meaning but more naive fellow men, that it follows from this that a certain percentage of beggars are deceiving us about their circumstances, and that when you see one get out of a car to go stand on a corner he’s been begging on for 5 years, he’s probably one of them.

2 thoughts on “Hucking for a Living

  1. It’s fascinating to see how the strained and overly simplistic models of reality, inherent to ideologues, consistently and dramatically increase the likelihood of category error. And no matter how much you reason with these kinds of people, their emotional commitment to their worldview increases their psychological need to dig in and find ever more creative ways to rationalize and justify those models.

    Back during my time at the university, when I regularly found myself in the company of leftists who had enough time on their hands to feel it necessary to challenge me on such issues, I have often argued that the welfare state breeds laziness and a perpetual underclass. Your description of “hucking” above is probably better and more precise than mine. The usual rationalized argument against me was: “Nobody in their right mind would be willing to live off such a pittance if their problem were just laziness (or hucksterism as you describe it)”. Or the even more grandiose rationalization that half concedes my point: “Social welfare recipients that cheat the system amount to a minute fraction of the fraud represented by business and the grossly unjustified prices they charge”…which translates to “I have sympathy for social welfare recipients and won’t criticize them too harshly, but have none whatsoever for successful business people who make profits bringing me the goods and services I enjoy at prices I really don’t want to pay”. Inevitably these ideas form the basis for the left-liberal social statism of the modern Democratic party here in the U.S., and the democratic socialist parties of western Europe. We the enlightened (who ultimately accept all the essential assumptions of Marxist models of reality), believe that free markets are the playground of hordes of snake oil salesmen who will we overcharge us good, moral, and honest people (against some nebulous and unknown absolute standard of value) for the goods and services generated by their tainted capital. And since we are emotionally tethered to the belief that the underdogs of society are definitionally good and moral – even more so than we are – we will insulate all of our ideas from criticism be wrapping them in the mantle of social justice. Man is this stuff rich.

  2. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve constantly heard that same argument – admittedly more in the 80s than now – that no one would ever voluntarily go on welfare, so we can assume everyone on the dole’s motives are pure. Another irony in there is that it implicitly buys the rational agent – homo economicus – assumption that leftists are so publicly opposed to everywhere else. No one would ever take a paltry welfare check when he can work for 8 hours for twice as much! That does rather tend to assume that all people are primarily profit-driven, have all the relevant information they need, and make the rational decisions that conform to this motivation and this information set. All this is, of course, quite independent of the empirical reality that it’s possible to be on welfare and work for a living all at the same time – I’m just saying that these assumptions, too, are incompatible and selectively made. Homo economicus is reasonable when they’re defending welfare recipients, but is obviously false when we’re talking about people making purchasing decisions in a supermarket. As you say, this stuff is rich.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>