This summer I put together a three-part series on American conservatism and its passion for “Multi-level marketing” (MLM) systems like Amway—pyramid schemes, in so many words. I promised a fourth part as a conclusion but never got to it—other issues pressed. (A wingnutologist’s work is never done….)
Here was part one, on how MLMs (don’t) work.
And part two, on how the Bush administration crushed the regulation of Amways et al by hiring one of Amway's lawyer to the post in charge of regulating Amway.
And part three, on how MLM fleecers saturate conservative politics, buying off, for example, the state attorneys general responsible for (not) prosecuting the frauds.
Allow me to return to the series, belatedly, for part four—on why this all matters for understanding the American right as such. It might not seem topical, now that conservatives in Washington are so busy preparing the next chapter in their project to bring the nation once more to the brink of fiscal apocalypse unless their lunatic vision of the American economy is given full rein. Indulge me, though: that is why understanding the right-wing affection for pyramid schemes is so important right now. It helps explain where those lunatic economic visions grow out of: the fantasy about how the world works that beats in right-wingers’ hearts, from Main Street all the way to United States Capitol.
I’ll start with a story. When I was in Tampa, Florida, reporting on the 2012 Republican convention for The Nation, I happened upon a nice fellow, a Mormon, named Walt. (Utah has the most network marketers per capita by far; “MLM,” Utahans joke, stands for “Mormons Losing Money”; Mitt Romney is implicated in the hustle from his Mormon head to his Mormon toes.) He spoke of his affection for Romney and the Republican Party (he’d seen my press pass, and asked how he, a lowly cellphone salesman, could get inside the convention); he talked about Obama’s passion for giving free money to lazy, shiftless slackers (“That’s Obama’s thing: entitlement.”). We reached an impasse when I tried to argue him out of his Fox-fed propaganda, and we started talking about taxes instead. That was when he told me, “Anyone who doesn’t have a home-based business is ignorant.” I asked him what kind of home-based business he had, which was when he revealed himself as a passionate MLM devotee.
Ignorant? Oh, really. As I quoted in part one of my series, according to a study of 22,281 distributors for an MLM company called Trek Alliance, “Under several optimal scenarios in which the distributors do exactly what is needed to obtain the rewards proposed by the Pay Plan, approximately 98.8 to 99.6 percent fail to achieve any earnings,” and “in all likelihood more than 96 percent of Trek distributors experience business failure.”