The Greatest Con Game in Modern History (& How It’s Being Played on You) by Umair Haque

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It’s the greatest con game of modern history, it’s happening right under your nose, and you’re the mark. It goes like this.

They’ve convinced you that using the machinery of the state to kidnap little kids and put them in concentration camps isn’t any of the following: Nazism, fascism, authoritarianism. They are men in suits, and men in suits do not do such things. Do they? Those are scary words! Ah, you see — you are afraid already. And you must be for a con to work. But I’ll return to that.

What, then, is kids-in-camps-by-way-of-institutionalized-supremacy? What kind of political economy is it building? What kind of society is it creating? You don’t know it, but by being afraid, you’ve already begun to fall for this greatest con game in modern history, my friends — and fall for it you continue to do, every day, even the wise men of the land, if I’m honest…but I get ahead of myself. First, the game. The con game goes like this.

Maybe these people are so dumb they’ll settle for mere kleptocracy. Let’s intimidate them into it. OK! We’re sorry! We’ll only put families in camps — not little kids by themselves. Phew, you say, relieved. Everything’s better now, isn’t it? Such horrors make the kleptocrat’s game — selling favours, selling elections, clientelism, transferring control of a nation’s assets to cronies, selling off little bits of democracy, piece by piece, to the lowest bidder — look tame, timid, harmless, like a relief. Hey, what’s a little kleptocracy — when the alternative is concentration camps? Phew — let’s settle for that.

That, my friends, is abuser logic. The abuser places you in a terrible dilemma — and it’s your fault. At least I’m not hurting you. You didn’t make me — good. But note how our perceptions of relative good and bad shift: by not committing the hardest of abuse, we see the abuser as more decent and kind than of course he is, if we are in the cycle — and we are the bad ones, whether, consciously, we know it or not. Our whole worldview has been skewed and twisted. We have been manipulated into believing that pretty terrible is decent, normal, and reasonable, because the alternative is unthinkable. And that is the first part of the con game being played on you, too.

Now consider the other alternative. Maybe these people really are dumb enough to fall all the way into institutionalized supremacy. That’s the best business on earth, my friends. Privately built and run concentration camps net you a huge profit — and when you can fill them up with people working for free, then you are something like a king. Running vast bureaucracies of secret and not-so-secret police whose job is to repress and subjugate people — all that costs titanic sums of money, to the state — but that means that titanic sums of money are earned by those who can provide all that. And so on.

Supremacy is a much better business than mere kleptocracy. More profitable, longer lasting, and, frankly, easier to control. The kleptocrat is something like an auctioneer: he sells off a bunch of existing assets, from parks to energy grids to schools to hospitals, that were once called “democracy.” It’s a shaky business — at any time, buyers can renege. And eventually, he runs out of things to sell, though — and so he must move on to new countries to raid and deplete. That is why kleptocracy, though it is a good business, is not the best one of all, for a predator.

Supremacy is. The supremacist is not just selling off existing assets, though there is plenty of that to be done. He is building whole new assets to profit from, and profit richly. Camps. Police forces. Armed forces (Space Force!!). Paramilitaries. Government institutions, like Departments of Racial Purity. All these are whole new profit centers — and unlike the business of selling off existing assets, they do not run out of resources to sell. These institutions, in soft and hard ways, put some to work, seize the savings and incomes and possessions of others, sometimes both. And so the supremacist has a constant pool of resources to use and abuse — labour, time, effort, work — all of which means money pouring in forever. And a little bit of that endless money, if the supremacist is wise, can be spent in such a way as to give people the illusion that the con game is not a con game at all.

Do you know why the good German loved Hitler? It wasn’t just because he delivered fervently nationalist speeches. It was because their lives actually got better. But they did not want to know why. Their lives were getting better because other people were being expropriated, dispossessed, and put to work — Jews, Roma, minorities. The wages of those people — if there were any left — crashed — and so the average German’s income, for the first time in a decade, began to rise. He had barely been able to afford to feed his kids — and now he had enough money to vacation. He hadn’t been able to afford a new home — but now that the homes of Jews and minorities stood empty, prices suddenly seemed much, much cheaper. His standard of living rose explosively, finally.

Hurrah! The good German cheered! Things were getting better. Thank the heavens for these wonderful saviours, who had lifted him up to live a decent life again! To be able to feed and shelter his kids, to be able to belong to a proud nation, not an impoverished, broken people. How wonderful!

Who were the people that had saved him? What had they really done? They had set the wheels of ruin in motion. Because a nation cannot grow for long in such predatory ways. It is eating the seedcorn of its own civilization. It can only regress — from democracy into barbarism, savagery, war, and atrocity. And so all that is exactly what happened next.

The good German did not know all that. So he did not think his saviours were bad and terrible people. Quite the opposite. He thought they were wonderful, noble, and decent people, for lifting him up from poverty. The good German never understood the con game being played, nor that he was the mark — nor that the Jew, minority, scapegoat, was the victim, the cost, the resource used up to make this terrible game go. Not, at least, until it was too late.

That con game is being played again. On you. You are the marks. Not the victims, mind. Just the marks. When we say “it” is happening here, that is another facet of the “it” that we mean, but struggle to fully grasp — that fascism is the greatest con game in modern history. It is an economic trap which creates the illusion of wealth that leads nations to ruin.

And what a game it is. There they are, using the machinery of the state to kidnap little children, and put them in camps, for the purposes of racial supremacy. Just don’t call it fascism, Nazism, or authoritarianism — those are scary words!! How easy it is to settle for mere kleptocracy, when one is inimidated by the alternative. What a relief that seems, in comparison.

One can even then say that one was better than the good German. And so that you are just foolish enough to choose the lesser evil in this con game of your own ruin — that is the optimistic case, my friends.


Umair Haque is a consultant, author & economist. He earned a degree in neuroscience at McGill University, and his M.B.A. at London Business School. He started his PhD at the University of Oxford in 2004, and he is the founder of Bubblegeneration. Currently, he is the Director of Havas Media Lab, and is a columnist for the Harvard Business Review. Haque has written several books most notably being ‘The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business.‘ 


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