Stock-bubble as Big Con

Commenting on the WSJ's revelation that analysts and investment banks colluded when evaluating stocks, Dan Gillmor writes:

The wink-wink, nudge-nudge culture of Wall Street in the late 1990s wouldn't have given this e-mail a second thought. After all, didn't everyone know that the investment bankers were in bed with their supposed "analysts" of companies paying them millions in fees?

No, not everyone knew. Only the in-crowd knew. And the way they acted was disgraceful — not that people like this appear to have any fundamental notion of shame, of course.

The people who didn't know were the general public. Yes, the small investors got greedy, but they were led into it by the sharks who have pocketed billions.

In traditional "Big Con" grifts, the roper and the inside man work to convince the mark that by participating in some bit of harmless larceny, he will become immensely wealthy. The mark gets sucked into the scam and is eventually fleeced of every cent he can lay hands on.

Con artists say, "You can't cheat an honest man," because every mark believes that he is participating in a scam — and he is, only it's not the scam he thinks he's participating in. An honest man, with no interest in ripping off a bank, or a betting parlor, or a rich, foolish stranger, or a small stock-exchange, will never be roped and never be suckered and never lose a nickle to the players.

This is the same specious rationalization used to describe the small investors who "got greedy." Analysts, bankers, VCs and snake-oil salesmen created an enormous con — Enron even had show-rooms filled with fake traders that they staffed when the press came on tours — that led millions to believe that there really was money to be had in playing the markets. And there was — their money. They got had, and the grifters did the having.