The Con of E-con-omics

Except from “A People’s History of Capitalism”

The term “con-artist” is short for “confidence” artist. The person the con-artist is trying to deceive is known as the mark. If you’re an accomplice to the con-man, you’re called a shill.

A confidence artist is defined by Wikipedia as:

Someone who attempts to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. He does so by understanding and exploiting characteristics of the human psyche such as greed, both dishonesty and honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, naivety, and the thought of trying to get something of value for nothing or for something far less valuable.

In a typical swindle, the con-man gives the mark his own confidence, encouraging the mark to in turn trust him. The con-artist thus poses as a trustworthy person seeking another trustworthy person.

What do you call a con-man who tries to
defraud another con-man? A stock broker.

The first known usage of the term “confidence man” in English was by the American press during the United States trial of William Thompson. Thompson’s ruse was to chat with strangers until he asked if they had the confidence to lend him their watches. Then he walked off wearing it.

Change the word from “con-man” to “stock broker” and the same definition applies almost verbatim—especially the part about trying to get something of value for something far less valuable.

The first two American stock-brokers who sold stock to each other standing on the corner of Wall St. and Broad St. in New York swapped their pieces of paper because each of them believed the other was getting the short end of the stick. At the same time, each man’s game was to not let on to the other man that he thought the company who’s stock he held was worth less. (read: worthless.)

So each man was playing the part of a con-artist.
And what do you call a con-man who tries to defraud another con-man? A stock broker.

Neither would have sold their piece of paper for the other piece of paper if they felt they already owned the more valuable piece of paper.
A trader will only sell a stock when he believes the value will keep going down. In order to sell, he must find someone to pay a price he himself believes is too high. Thus, trying to get something of value (money) for something far less valuable (the stock).

The trader on the other side of the bargain, too, only buys because he believes he’s getting something of value (the stock) for something far less valuable (money).

They are both con-men.

This behavior is the foundation behind the working model called Game Theory that economists use to describe and explain behaviors observed in the seemingly schizophrenic stock market.

This principle was originally worked out by mathematician John Nash. The 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind is the biography of John Nash and his life-long struggle with mental illness.
This mathematical model claims to demonstrate how seemingly irrational human behavior is determined—and can be predicted by—mathematics. However, it works only as an accomplice (a shill) to the belief that every action is inherently selfish—that no one ever does anything unless they believe it will benefit themselves more than anyone else.
Turns out, Game Theory does accurately describe human behavior. But not in everyone. In fact, only a small subset of people live their lives and make their decisions in accordance with the patterns predicted by Game Theory.
The subset of humans this theory applies to are con-men and the observed behaviors of some mentally ill patients.

The players of Game Theory control the stock market,
epitomizing the very definition of con-men.

Ironically, later in life, when John Nash’s schizophrenia was under control with medication, he recanted the entire notion of Game Theory as a flawed model.
But game theory does work in explaining the seemingly irrational moves of the stock market.

And who controls the stock market? Stock brokers, traders and economists whose trades are the only things producing the moves.

A bear market (selling frenzy) happens when their confidence is low. A bull market (buying frenzy) occurs when their confidence is high.

The world economy only functions when consumers’ confidence remains high. The talking heads on the investment news channels will say this all the time.
Consumer confidence was down in March. That means we shouldn’t look for an economic rebound yet.

Retail investors like you and me, typically end up throwing our money into the market when stock prices are right at the top. When confidence is highest.
The con-man has earned our confidence and we give him our watch. We’re willing participants in the con. We’ve become the marks.

Brokers know this. They look for retail investments to spike. When it does, they apply Game Theory to the equation and sell, sell, sell. They walk away with our watch.

Market tops occur just as predicted by economists behaving according to the mathematics of Game Theory.

Retail investors also sell near absolute bottoms, marking the lowest level of confidence. That’s when brokers buy, buy, buy.

Con artists.
Economists.
So dark the con of the economy.

The players of Game Theory control the stock market, epitomizing the very definition of con-men: exploiting characteristics of the human psyche such as greed, both dishonesty and honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, naivety.

We the People are the marks, and this is the ultimate con-game.