The Flim-Flam Men - With Artwork by Banzai7 Labs

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

The Flim-Flam Men


Cognitive Dissonance 


Artwork by WilliamBanzai7


I suspect if average Joe or Jane were asked to identify modern examples of ‘Flim-Flam Men’ most would point to Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford. Or even to a long list of Too Big To Fail bank CEO’s past and present plus various corporate, government and Fed officials who have graced our lives over the last ten or more years. And you know what? I wouldn’t argue with them for a second because they’d be correct. But do those examples really illustrate the deeper, more mundane meaning of the common street hustle or financial confidence game? And are we in denial of our own critical role in The Big Con?

Madoff and Stanford (and the Fed of course) would fall into the category of ‘The Big Con’ since they successfully roped hundreds, even thousands, of people into their web of deceit. More importantly they fleeced their ‘marks’ for years, decades even, and every single mark was smiling right up until the end. Why? Because everyone thought they were on the inside track to a sweet heart deal that paid better than average returns. In other words, they were ‘chosen’ (usually because of their own self described brilliance) and thus they had a leg up on everyone else. Something for nothing and the chicks were free. That is until reality rushed in to fill the vacuum left when their glorious illusion imploded.

What I wish to explore here is some of the emotional and psychological components of the common confidence game (professional money management subdivision, three-card Monte category) perpetrated on the public by the political and financial ‘industry’ in general and some of our local money managers/financial advisors in particular. It’s one thing to run a onetime financial con on an individual or small group of people and another entirely to do so consistently, ‘professionally’ and as an accepted member of society.

You really can’t fool all the people all the time, regardless of how dumb they may be or how brilliant the con man is. Yet many of us claim precisely this, that we were hoodwinked by Congress, the Fed, corporations and the bankers, all of whom are still busy screwing the fast asleep sheep. While this explanation may please us because it leaves all of us blameless, it simply doesn’t hold water and deep down we know it. Let’s spend a few minutes thinking about this and see what we come up with.

To pull off a financial con of this (global) magnitude many conditions must be met, not the least of which is the common desire of the mark to acquire something the Flim-Flam Man promises s/he can deliver. This of course would be the financial savvy to ply the dark waters of the rigged financial markets using inside info or just a better mouse trap for the benefit of the mark. But the active ingredient in any successful con is the mark’s desire to get an edge up on the herd and make ‘easy money’ or at least to stay even with the rest of the herd in their pursuit of the Promised Land of Milk and Honey.

The thing is that greed works both ways, something I see all the time in my clients. On the one hand, everyone loves to own the high flying stock or the 5 star mutual fund that killed it last year…..both of which will probably disappoint this year. When the champagne’s flowing, everyone wants to join the party and make it big. I can’t tell you how many times during my long career a client has come in waving the latest copy of ‘Money’ or ‘Forbes’ wanting to jump on the latest bandwagon. stands out in my memory as a particularly egregious example of herd mentality driven by greed, though it’s most certainly not the only one.

But greed also compels people to become nervous, upset and even angry if they think they’re underperforming the rest of the herd and falling behind. Think of this as reverse greed. If we know or even suspect the next door neighbor or coworker is making more on their investments, regardless of the risk involved, we feel cheated. The golden rule of greed is that there is no such thing as risk until it bites you in the butt, then suddenly you have way too much on your hands. Our greed always tilts the playing field to the advantage of the Flim-Flam Men.




For those who have seen the obscure 1967 movie classic ‘The Flim-Flam Man’, who could forget the performance of George C Scott as the wily Mordecai C. Jones, a rural con man roaming Cape Fear County, North Carolina with a young protégée named Curley. Part comedy, part love story, forever a study in our own self destructive greed, I highly recommend the reader take a walk down memory lane via YouTube where the movie is posted in 10 parts.

Soon after bumping into Curley (who is laying low as an Army deserter) Mordecai Jones begins to school Curley in the way things really work in the big bad world of greed. Asked what he does for a living, Jones explains that “Greed’s my line lad, greed. And 14 carat ignorance, they’ll never let you down.” Thus we begin to understand that the confidence game is very similar to Judo in that you use your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses against him to take what he clearly wants to give you in exchange for even more.

Curley is both fascinated by this strangely attractive character and wary at the same time. He’s heard of men like Jones before so he knows he’d better check to see if his wallet and wrist watch are still in his possession on an hourly basis. But still he’s drawn to the seductive Mordecai Jones and wants to hear more. The number one rule in running the con is to never let the mark think you need him, but rather the other way around. Never let them see you sweat or worry.

Flim-Flam Men (and increasingly today Flim-Flam Women) almost universally exhibit a high energy level along with charisma and disarming charm. Above all else they are easy going and unfailingly happy (at least in public) almost as if they haven’t a worry in the world. They prey on our openness, kindness and our tendency to trust well dressed self confident men and women who appear to have ‘made it’ in what can only be described as celebrity worship junior grade.

Mordecai begins to entice Curley into the life of the con man, carefully explaining that working as a team is much more effective than working alone. We all know that deliciously naughty feeling Curley is beginning to feel as he rationalizes his way into doing something he should not. In an effort to diminish his pangs of guilt, Curley feebly tries to ward Jones off, claiming he won’t get involved in anything dishonest. “I don’t hold with cheating Mr. Jones.”

But of course Jones has rationalized away his antisocial behavior a long time ago and has a ready answer to Curley’s protestation that he would harm no innocents. Mordecai assures him “Only the cheaters Curley, you can’t cheat an honest man”. With just a few words Mordecai has magically transformed himself into a slayer of evil dragons and the local bringer of truth and justice.

We can almost see the gears turning inside Curley’s head as he lies to himself “Well, I guess it’s OK if all we’re doing is cheating the cheaters”. It’s right about here that the brain releases natural endorphins into the blood stream which serves to reinforce our self deception by stimulating our brain’s pleasure centers. Naturally Mordecai Jones isn’t talking about you or me when he identifies the marks as cheaters because we’re honest…..for the most part.




At least that’s what we tell ourselves as we steal the stapler from the office supply closet or fail to inform the cashier when the item rings up $20 lower than it should. After all, what I’m doing is peanuts compared to the stuff those bastards are pulling down. Besides, everyone does it now and then so what’s the big deal? They’ll never miss it anyway. I’m just taking care of my own in this dog eat dog world. The justifications and excuses we use to do as we please are endless and ultimately immaterial.

Who among us hasn’t been offered a great deal on a TV, jewelry or whatever only to find out its ‘hot’, meaning its stolen merchandise? For many of us knowing its stolen actually makes the item that much more attractive, particularly if it’s new. Instantly we think ‘on sale’ at 70% off. Who doesn’t want to make a killing and pick up something of value for a steal? If we really want to look under the covers of our own self deception, all we need do is consider the language we use when discussing this subject.

A little later on in the movie, Curley objects to the method used in a scam Jones just pulled off with Curley’s help. “Diamonds? They’re just glass” he complains to Mordecai, clearly not happy to be involved in such a blatant subterfuge. Jones becomes indignant, claiming the high ground by parsing words. “I never said they wasn’t. Just signified they’s stolen, that’s all. You can sell anything on God’s green earth if the customer believes it’s stolen.” Notice how he sees the mark as a “customer”, making Mordecai just a simple salesman filling a person’s needs and desires, a wonderfully enabling lie that justifies his continuing to con.

We all justify and rationalize away our misdeeds and petty crimes in order to live with ourselves. Aside from the true sociopaths walking among us, the average Flim-Flam Man needs to do so as well. However, once started down this path there really is no crime too big that can’t be explained away. At one point in the movie, Jones pretends to be a “man of the cloth” and talks his way into the home of Curley’s future love interest. They proceed to steal a car with a reluctant Curley forced to choose between going along or staying behind and trying to explain to the authorities what happened.

Remember that Curley is an Army deserter and thus severely compromised, making him just another mark for Mordecai to use. By his own hand Curley is conflicted and vulnerable to exploitation, making it that much easier for Jones to manipulate him since Curley has something even bigger to fear if his complicity in the con is exposed, the very Army brig he was originally running from. That’s all the more reason for Curley to stop resisting (as if he ever really tried to begin with) and just go with the flow and take what he wants anyway. Well…..if you insist.

This is very similar to how we are all compromised by our need to live and work, not to mention maintain what we have already accumulated, within the very corrupt system we essentially allow to be perpetrated and (secretly) hope flourishes. Or should I say our parents allowed to be created because we certainly didn’t have anything to do with it. We are all just victims of circumstances and thereby blameless. It’s them, not me, who are responsible for this mess. Since we allow our own self interest to crowd out everything else of importance and the system encourages our own selfish behavior, who are we to resist or even question what is “natural” or even fair.




After leading the police on a mad automobile chase and thoroughly wrecking the car, Curley confronts Jones as he once again soft peddles the massive damage he’s done to people and property. Curley angrily shouts “What are you talking about? You walk into someone’s house and you steal their car.” Jones plays the wounded soul and immediately seeks the high ground by becoming indignant. “Nonsense, I’m not stealing anything.” Curley snaps back “Then what do you call it?” Jones has the ready answer. “Borrowing, that’s all. Just to get us some place where we can borrow another one.”

I assure you that this type of thinking is shared by some in the financial industry who have little regard for their clients and a very high regard for their life style and the need for a substantial income to maintain it. I can’t tell you how many times during my career, whether it was in the glass towers of big money management or inside the local bank where the financial advisors were running small money, that I’ve heard the so-called professionals speak in the same manner as Mordecai Jones, though with much more polish and a better vocabulary. After all, that’s what the Ivy League criminal finishing schools are for…..right?

Some of these well dressed professional Flim-Flam Men might never have taken this path under different life conditions. For some it was laid out at birth by family, for others it was a career they made a conscious decision to pursue, for still others they stumbled into it and saw the potential for self enrichment. While we can debate the “nature-nurture” argument until we are blue in the face, even though each Flim-Flam Man is uniquely different nearly all arrive at the same destination using similar self-deception and denial techniques. And so do us ‘victims’.

The principal commonality among the thieves is that each and every one of them, again excluding the true sociopaths, has at some point or another (and usually on a continuous basis) excused and explained away their behavior. The more egregious among them are borderline sociopathic, for while they still retain the capacity to care about certain individuals, essentially everyone within striking distance is considered a potential mark.


Flim Flam Street


While on a small local ferry crossing a river, Mordecai tells Curley about his own early moral development. “Well, that’s the whole point Curley. The world is full of them. Ours is an avaricious society.” Curley erupts in protest. “Everybody’s not like that.” Jones rationalizes again, dismissing Curley’s protestation with practiced ease. “Matter of degree. Every thermometer gotta register something.” Since I’m nowhere near as bad as those banking bastards I’m not responsible for any of this mess.

Curley asks about Jones and his early life. “What about you Mordecai?” Mordecai contemplates before answering. “Me? I was idealistic as they come. More so than most. But it didn’t take me long to appreciate what really makes the world go around. And contrary to what the poet says, it ain’t love. And when I learnt that, it done something to me. I commenced to turn inside on myself, sour with resentment. Couldn’t enjoy nothing. Got mean. Terrible thing. Terrible.”

“One day it come to me. If everybody’s so determined to be greedy and to being ignorant, maybe what they need is a little liberalized education. So in order to teach them I qualified myself with an honorary degree. Mordecai Jones, M.B.S., C.S., D.D.” Curley jumps in. “What’s all that mean?” A big self satisfied smile crosses Mordecai’s face as he quickly abandons his self reflection. “Master of Back-Stabbing, Cork-Screwing and Dirty-Dealing. Hahaha. Ours is a society of goods and services and I think I’m performing a service. ‘Cause after meeting up with me….maybe they ain’t so eager for the edge next time. Son, you’d be amazed at the hundreds of satisfied students I’ve matriculated over the last 50 years.”

Mordecai’s monologue almost brought tears to my eyes and I’m not being completely sarcastic. At its basic level all con men and women are actors, telling you and me exactly what we want to hear so we will do exactly what they want us to do. But Mordecai Jones is still a good case study in how a person becomes the distorted and twisted antisocial bastard we all love to hate.

In his monologue Jones claims he really did wish to be a good boy early on. But after being savaged by both his idealistic and sensitive nature and bloodied by the world, he bravely decides to harden his heart and jump onto the gravy train to get all he can while the getting’s good. Rather than do the really difficult work of self reflection and introspection when the world slaps you side the head, the coward’s way out is to join in the rape and pillage. It certainly makes the pain go away for some and helps the pocketbook as well.

Can you say ‘Buy the fucking dip’ right about here? Hey, if you can’t beat them you might as well join them. This applies to non professionals as well folks. Anyone playing in this cesspool of a market can’t claim to be pure of heart and deed including myself. It all comes down to how we rationalize playing the game. Most of us defend our actions as purely defensive. I need to protect myself from those savages. Sounds a little like Mordecai Jones, doesn’t it? After all, we aren’t hurting anyone else except the (other) crooks, liars and thieves, right?

Once again Jones takes the cheaply bought high ‘moral’ ground by claiming he’s doing honest work by wising people up and helping his flock of sheep learn their life lessons. Once we understand what’s going on here we begin to see that Lloyd Blankfein really does believe he’s doing God’s work. Who knew God’s work paid so well? Will someone please inform those priests they’re on the wrong path to salvation? Never underestimate the lengths to which we can and will take our own denial and rationalization when it serves our self interest.

If you listen carefully to Jones and believe in his methods, then having a moral and social conscious is a total disability that should be covered by Social Security. Thankfully all he’s doing is placing a healing hand in each marks pocket and spreading the intellectual wealth his way. Of course, it takes two to tango and the fact that greedy self centered people help Mordecai educate themselves exonerates Jones from direct blame, at least when it comes down to the fact that Jones has already learned his own life lesson perfectly well. Do unto others before they do unto you and live well in the process.


The Family Reunion


Near the movies climax Curley back slides a bit and begins to question his short life of crime, asking Mordecai where it all leads to and how one can live a life without something to believe in. Curley makes an impassioned plea to Jones, saying in effect that what may work for Mordecai just doesn’t for Curley. In essence he wishes to save his soul from the disease of unbridled greed and self interest.   

Curley says it all in just a few sentences. “It’s just that lately I’ve been wondering if there’s such a thing left in this whole world as one plain honest man. I’d of said that I was and I know I ain’t. I’d say most people were honest enough. And every single time you show me what they is really like. Mordecai, I gotta believe in something. Something better than greed.” It sounds like Curley isn’t graduating any time soon from the Mordecai Jones University of Hard Knocks with a PhD in Flim-Flam. And he looked so promising.

Alas we find that poor Mordecai does have a bit of a conscious after all when he worries about Curley........which in the real world is not a liability to a con man as long as they don’t let it run wild. In fact, if the con man lets it peek out a bit now and then it actually helps endear the mark even further to him. This pays off near the end when Curley actually commits a major crime in order to free Mordecai from jail. I suspect Curley was just doing some penance to free himself from his guilt. There’s nothing quite like a little Christian guilt to free us from our Christian guilt.

If you want to know how the movie ends, fire up the YouTube link. If you want to know how our modern day version of the Flim-Flam Men ends, well........that’s gonna be a bit more difficult. There’s no video of the end game as of yet, though I can assure you real time viewing is more exciting. The facts about our present day global confidence game remain too complex to ignore but very easy to deny.

We, you and I and me and us, are all complicit to some degree or another in The Flim-Flam Men’s confidence game. There simply cannot be a con without two opposing but cooperative parties involved. And both sides need to expect to get something out of the deal, regardless of whether it happens or not and despite all the facts not being known by one or more of the parties. While there may be varying degrees to our complicity, just as there are degrees of guilt, responsibility and intent in any other crime, no matter how much we diminish our role we are still involved in our own victimization.




A little over two years ago I spent a Saturday afternoon listening to YouTube interviews and lectures by Catherine Austin Fitts. About half way through one of them Catherine said something that hit me like a ton of bricks. She was describing a talk she had given many years earlier to a group of concerned citizens in which she was trying to explain how intertwined the corruption was within our own individual decisions and lives. She said tough choices needed to be made and until we were ready to do so, we would make little progress towards throwing the bums out.

She then asked for a show of hands among those in attendance. Who wanted the corruption in Washington, on Wall Street and in corporate America to end here and now? Catherine reported that she received a unanimous affirmation to stop the insanity and begin to heal our communities. We all wish to believe there is some button to push or switch to flip that will end this insanity. Believing this allows us to remain on the sidelines and not take a stand.

Catherine then asked for a show of hands of people who were willing to risk the very real possibility that by ending the insanity everyone’s private and government pension, government benefits such as Social Security and Medicare, 401(k), IRA’s and even individual investments might be severely diminished and possibly even completely lost. If I remember correctly, Catherine said just a few people put their hands up. Based upon my personal experience talking to my clients I would say that’s about right.

I just described the confidence game as an agreement between two opposing but cooperative parties who expect to get something out of the deal, regardless of whether it happens or not or if all the details are known by both parties. In her interview, Catherine just described that deal in all its ugly simplicity. We are more than just dependent upon the corruption to maintain our daily lives. You and I are depending upon the corruption to fund our retirement and other self interests. This makes us complicit in the con because our own self interest depends upon and feeds The Big Con.

Our nest eggs, pensions and most of our personal wealth were amassed by way of involvement and cooperation with the con men that both run it and sell it to you and me. And as much as we don’t wish to admit it, we’ve known this for decades and have kept our mouths shut as long as the stock market went up, our IRA’s and 401(k)’s increased in value and our pensions continued to be paid out. Now that the system is coming apart at warp speed, we claim we were bamboozled or fooled. Nope, this little charade doesn’t wash with me.

For the last 20 or 30 years the public has been reading and hearing increasingly dire warnings about fiat currencies, unfunded Social Security, Medicare and government pensions promises, never ending wars of empire and expansion, resource exploitation, corruption and so on. While the entire picture might have been deliberately obscured, it could not have progressed to this point without the mostly silent, but most assuredly the willing, participation of you and me.

To say otherwise just kicks the responsibility can further down the road. Until we the people accept that we are part of the problem, that’s the only thing we’ll be kicking down the road. The Flim-Flam Men will not stop on their own volition. As long as we offer ourselves up as easy and complicit marks, they will continue to rape, rob and steal. It’s time we grew up and recognized that fact.



Cognitive Dissonance


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velobabe's picture

great day, in the M A N  cave.

use it or lose it†

Tenma13's picture

@CD kept thinking about this quote from the Matrix while reading this:

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."

 Now the apart about people being the enemy is slightly on the harsh side, the 'many of them are so injured' part is spot on. Recent examples of the 'average' American arguing against a universal healthcare system which would directly benefit them, or rabidly holding onto the notion of the American dream. A notion which is so far from there reach makes me think that things will have to get much much worse before people will listen. 

 let Rome burn 


Palisade's picture

Thank you CD for this article. I appreciate the depth to which you have explored this topic. I have heard Catherine Austin Fitts many times as she has a weekly segment on Community Business my local station here. When she asked the listeners these same questions, it made me also realize my complicity in this corrupt system she refers to as a tapeworm.

Keep up the great work - you have inspired more people than you may realize.

johnQpublic's picture

reading the comments on this piece and what we ought to do, brings to mind great men who have tried to change the system and thoughts of little people who have tried to escape it.

jfk,mlk,rfk, the family at ruby ridge, the folks at waco.Most of them are dead.

so my only choice is to leave the country?

seems to me that if this type system isnt in place elsewhere, it will be.

destination moon?

or maybe i should head to egypt where the people are already making a stand?

but what will they get from their cute little revolt?

more of the same only different?

it all seems quite naive. or perhaps i am a fatalist.

let us all rise up against the powers that be, their roads,schools,grocery stores,electricy et al. power to the sheeple.

we've been debating this as a species since at least platos time.

Who will watch the watchers?

methinks we are fast approaching hubberts curve, ....peak bullshit approaches or is already here...perhaps we ride upon the bumpy plateau Now.

anyone have an actual solution, i want to hear it.Go ahead and solve for pie while yer at it.

Bob's picture

Best case: No perfect solutions on God's Earth.  Perhaps even for the mega-wealthy.

Wish I could remember which old philosopher summed it up something like "Even the birds are chained to the sky." 

johnQpublic's picture

Best case: No perfect solutions on God's Earth.  Perhaps even for the mega-wealthy.


but Bob, what if this IS the perfect solution to the right group(mega-wealthy?)?

not to go off the reservation, but theres no disputing that we can not and do not know our true history. Have we been here before?

Is this the solution?

someones been working this agenda for a while. how long exactly is anyones guess.

and i believe your great philosopher was bob dylan.

"now shine my god damn shoes"

Bob's picture

Good question.  It isn't like they wouldn't do it if they could.

This is what concerns me about the "we're all to blame" philosophy.  It lends itself to an extravagantly disabling diffusion of responsibility. 

I say let's sort out the little shit once the mega-criminals are brought to justice.  When I'm an unarmed peaceful protester in Liberty Square and goons are pitching molotov cocktails at me off the tops of adjacent buildings is not the time for me to pause for some quiet self-examination . . . regardless of how overdue it might be.

fallst's picture

WB, Mr. 7, please make the Kleptocracy Board Game...with daily QE2 klepmoney fedexed to Bank.


Wait, that could raise all the prices, so new boards would be shipped with new rents every month.

anony's picture

For a counterpoint recommend viewing, "The Invention of Lying", by Ricky Gervais.

Lest we think, instead, that there are ways to live a life alternately by being honest and forthright, upstanding, telling the truth always, at all times, this movie should put that nostrum to rest as well.

I'm afraid the conditione humane, is one of eternal conundruminess.  There are no solutions to the very simple fact that while we have shed most of our hair, possess only the vestigial remains of a tail at the end of our spine, and have developed the rule of law, we are only a few inches removed from our state of original sin. At root we are merely animals with a forebrain that while we have, a very few of us, invented some of the most wonderful products to make life less of a burden and have no downsides like the fingernail clipper, the Snuggler, veg-o-matic, and flushing toilets, we have also managed to have a guy, who couldn't do his maths, invent the atomic bomb, 1000X leveraged derivatives, and breast implants.

I don't see human beans ever changing into some form of wholly benign life forms. 

I've found the miracle cure, though:  Dramatically Lowered Expectations. Life isn't so bad living it as a complete cynic. I've developed an angular curvature/wrinkle above my left eye on my forehead that signifies this permanent state of being. I've found that less people try to fool me as that signifier has deepened.  

I've not found it completely frustrating to realize that I need to do 6 X as many pushups and pullups at 45 as I did at 16 to achieve a similar result in muscle mass and strength-building.  It was a revelation when I was told that the reason a hundred situps no longer gave me a 6-pack of abs is the disappearance of elastin in the soft tissues due to getting along in years. Now I would have to do 600, a clearly impossible task if I wanted to get something else done. So good bye 6-pack.

Now I will BTFD if it ever happens, and go long Soy beans, cotton, cocoa, and sugar.

chindit13's picture

Apropos of nothing and undoubtedly in bad taste, but every time I look at a picture of Lloyd Blankfein now I cannot help but see Jared Lee Loughner's Evil Twin. I suspect that even within the sacred walls of Goldman Sachs a few of their more waggish employees have considered the very same thing.

Sometimes the Universe has a sick sense of humor.

radsz's picture


Stupid typing mistakes.

It should say immorality instead of immortality.

It should also say give *up* your citizenship.

Sorry for that.


radsz's picture

Dear C.D.

It is a beautiful article. I will be sending it to at least one person who is certain that he can game the system. What is sad even Robert Kiyosaki, who has wrote many financial education books operates on the principle the system is wrong, lets play the system to our own advantage. Overtime, I found it more and more visible and therefore more and more annoying.

Catherine Austin Fitts in her speach said that there was only one hand in 100 which would end the insanity in the society no matter what the consequences.

There was also an article by Gonzales Lira about complicity of the middle class in USA and that this means the end of USA.

I asked myself a question about this red button Catherine was mentioning. I would push it gladly. ;). You can be even rational about it, not just having a moral stand. If the fraud/immortality is allowed to run wild in the society it will transform it even further into unjust society. At some point the adjustment will happen because everybody will be trying to con everyone else and society true productivity will go so low that the standards of living those con mans are used to are no longer sustainable. The society as a whole is then destined for an extremely rude awaking. All the pains which have been postponed because nobody pressed the red button earlier will hit at once. The crisis of 2008 was the last attempt of the big game of WallStreet/USA when Americans had to con the whole world (even Norwegians towns) in their MBS/CDS/... scam. The game is over, the world has learnt the lesson (in sufficient numbers) and the USA is left to rot because there is not sufficient number of suckers left. USA is running out of time.

I somewhat feel relieved knowing that USA is quickly heading for such reset. The Americans truly deserve their wake up call for all the hardship they caused around the world for the last half the century. They simply deserve it. Any American  who will attack me for this statement. Remember, in the worst case, you could have always left the country, give your citizenship to avoid paying taxes and deny it your hard work, so that is not used to cause hardship to other people around the world. Enough is enough.



Bob's picture

Having had a chance to give it further thought (while I slept) and waking now in the middle of the night still thinking about it, there is much truth in what you say, but as others have noted, there are indeed degrees of complicity and guilt. 

While it is fair enough to say that there are few--if any--people who are morally pure, there is nonetheless a continuum of morality.  It is not a dichotomy where you're either guilty (because you are not "pure") or innocent. 

Interesting, to me at least, is that to fall victim to this error is to embrace the view of the flim-flam man.  From a pure logic perspective, that process leading to this error reminds me of Zeno's Paradox of Achilles and The Tortoise.  While the argument contains enough fundamental truth that applying it in such novel fashion seems to be a deeply probing process, it leads to an absurd conclusion.

I would have to say that the vast majority of those who have made a living in the FIRE economy have spent far more time in the more unambiguously wrong region of the continuum than the common man.  I hope this essay inspires the appropriate soul-searching.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Bob, I was very careful to acknowledge that there are varying degrees of complicity.

We, you and I and me and us, are all complicit to some degree or another in The Flim-Flam Men’s confidence game. There simply cannot be a con without two opposing but cooperative parties involved. And both sides need to expect to get something out of the deal, regardless of whether it happens or not and despite all the facts not being known by one or more of the parties. While there may be varying degrees to our complicity, just as there are degrees of guilt, responsibility and intent in any other crime, no matter how much we diminish our role we are still involved in our own victimization.

Bob's picture

I know you did, CD, and I believe that it was more than once.  But I think by the end it had lost its effect.  In any case, you clearly overstate the case when you assert that "we are still involved in our own victimization"  in the above passage.  Sometimes we are involved only as victims, pure and simple. 

I can't say that I have ever been a pure victim myself, mind you, except perhaps vis a vis my appropriate expectations of my government, but there are millions of people who don't have my level of capacity, i.e., no way to know better, who certainly have been in a business context.

Perhaps I misread your use of "we," however.  Given that you're using it at ZH, is it meant to speak to the finance community?  That didn't seem to be the case when you included social security and pensions as an example of no righteous victims.

Hey, CD, I loved the piece.  It was transcendentally eloquent.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Victim or learned helplessness?

Bob's picture

Taught helplessness?  Good faith reliance upon reasonable assurances and guarantees?  Appropriate expectations of the Rule of Law?

Financial crime is no different from other crimes . . . does every victim meaningfully share blame because it was nobody's face but his own that got beaten when he had it in the wrong place at the wrong time?

How about this:

A few weeks after he started working at Ameriquest Mortgage, Mark Glover looked up from his cubicle and saw a coworker do something odd. The guy stood at his desk on the twenty-third floor of downtown Los Angeles's Union Bank Building. He placed two sheets of paper against the window. Then he used the light streaming through the window to trace something from one piece of paper to another. Somebody's signature.

(sorry, I couldn't get rid of the bold font . . . )

I would guess that your analysis holds powerfully true for the "investment" community that you have served, however.

Kassandra's picture

Thank you CD. Thank you WB. Reading this, including all the comments, has been an experience in common reality. I appreciate all you are doing.  

I am finding it difficult to express my feelings after reading this; I find I am more confident that we are better..can do better..and will.  


Jasper M's picture

I arise in (apparently fairly lonely) dispute: I deny complicity. 

I do not ask the system for handouts (though I do use the roads my gas taxes pay for). And I have been taking reasonable steps to apply friction to The System, where I spot an opportunity. For example, I refuse to move the bulk of my money out of safe, near-0 return investments, into what the nonsense the Fed wants me to put it into. I am betting heavily on the system's fairly prompt (5 years) demise. I pay cash for almost everything. And I try my best to convince those around me to do likewise. 

I will cheerfully see the 401(k)s, stock and bond markets, real estate, MBS, and all those insolvent banks burned to the ground, because I saw the corruption, and I am Not There. I encourage everyone else to, likewise, be Not There. 

I mostly hide from evil. Just because I do not confront evil, and try to slay it all by my lonesome, does not mean I've made a deal with it. Hiding from an armed mob, and waiting for them to disperse, might make one a coward to some, but it does not make one their accomplice.  

i.knoknot's picture


it is hard to read something general written about 300 million people and not feel attacked as a reader.

one of the things i like most about ZH is the level of self-esteem that permeates the best writers (and your well-thought contributions qualify). of course, some take it over the top, but what fun would it be without our (often articulate) extremists.

my point is that anyone reading this piece need only look at most their neighbors or folks-in-traffic to know who CD is *really* writing about. while this sounds arrogant, it's anything but, as i'm not so long from that place, and i truly hope *they* soon see what we're beginning to see. elitism has no such wish.

take heart. CD is very likely *not* thinking of *you* if you care enough to read his work...

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Thank you for speaking for me so eloquently. How could I have been thinking about anyone in particular here on ZH when I wrote this piece since I don't know anyone except by ID?

So often an author is writing to the audience that should be reading the piece, not to the audience that is. You can bring a horse to the author but you can't make him read.

Speaking only for myself, when I feel personally attacked while reading something, my emotional reaction is telling me I have some personal work to do, that I have been triggered and I need to examine not only the trigger but the underlying reason why I'm sensitive.

i.knoknot's picture

"So often an author is writing to the audience that should be reading the piece, ..."

 indeed! how funny and obvious, once you put it that way.

"... when I feel personally attacked ... I have some personal work to do ..."

i assure you, that is *not* the typical reaction. cheers.

williambanzai7's picture

But a nickel in a cup for the junks everyone. When the cup is full take the nickels and give them to a person in need.

WaterWings's picture

Most excellent article. Most excellent comments.

Hey, CD, if you build it they will come!

ebworthen's picture


The other completely crucial cultural complicity is that of religion.

The religion that says "Render unto Caesar..." etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

I am sometimes convinced that the money changers made certain that was slipped into the Bible so as to ensalve the Goyum.

Please.  A kingdom in Heaven is one thing, but a Hell on Earth quite another.

The complcity of the populace lies in their complacency; their yearning to accept the status quo and meke out happiness with bread and circuses.

The flim-flam of the con-men and con-women is simply the role of a prostitute; willing to be paid to debase morality in order to make a buck.

Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, Barney Frank, CONgress, the Judiciary, Wall Street, Washington, and the Elites of the Kleptoligarchy are all too willing to throw their brethren to the lions; rationalizations and self-delusion are cheaper than a fifth of whiskey, a dime of pot, or a spot of crack.

All Hail Caesar!

(and God Bless Us, every One)


Ted Celeste's picture

Yet another reason why this site is so great is the pairing of CD and WB7.  Whether one agrees with "all", some or "none" of what they have to say, these are two great minds and talents.

To each his/her own, but to me it seems there are three primary (and yes, moral) choices one can make when they come to an understanding of how they fit into this system (aka, The Big Con).

1. Remove yourself totally from it (i.e., 'go off the grid')

2. Attempt to remove yourself as much as possible from the negative elements of this system and try to do "good" within it (good will mean different things to different people, depending on their talents/perspectives/values)

3. Party like it's 1999 (somebody on this site recently had a funny/interesting comment that perhaps Charlie Sheen had been posting here under the ID of "Mako")

(Lest anyone need help, I'm not saying that beating up chicks is moral - but enjoying the time we have here in the face of all this madness is.)

Not that anyone needs to care, but I personally choose Option #2.  That means something different to me than it does to CD or WB7.  However, those two are inspirations and I have great appreciation for their work. 

Best wishes to ALL reading this!


williambanzai7's picture

Option 2 is the preferred route. But it is a hard road if you really understand what is happening now. It is impossible to pretend that it is not happening before our eyes..

ebworthen's picture


Thanks to CD and WB7 - great post - most excellent.


rlouis's picture

A number of years ago I was given an essay that reduced all law to the following:

Respect others in their person and property.

Do what you say you will do.

[The essay also revealed that Lincoln's D.C. monument chair has his hands resting upon 'fascia' - bound bundles of wheat, which the Roman army would carry at the front of the advancing legion. The fascia communicated that either your with us ... or mowed down (something like that).]

William - a couple of months ago you did a 'tree of life' of either Wall Street or the Mortgage fraud.  I don't remember which, but I thought it was great and would like to buy a poster. Good to see your on-line store.  


williambanzai7's picture

That one is going up shortly.

AccreditedEYE's picture

Gentlemen... in a word: Fantastic. (William, I will be making a contribution to the cause.)

williambanzai7's picture

Tnx AE, pick something that cheers you up.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Unfortunately Banzai7's web site doesn't take Gold or Silver.......yet. But those dirty filthy Federal Reserve Notes are still welcome. :>)

i.knoknot's picture

i'm sure WB7 knows a little paper alchemy...

bravo to you both for great collaboration.

Shameful's picture

While I agree mostly with the idea that the victim is willing it leaves out the purely ignorant.  We can debate if such ignorance is self deception or just a lack of knowledge but a lot of people who get taken in are ignorant.  Hell look at the people throughout history who have gotten killed by inflation.  Odds are they did not think their money was going ot get more valuable, they just held on to it out of ignorance.  People today are probably not leaving money in savings accounts or low yield CDs out of greed. 

So what we are dealing with is certainly part conman, but its also equal parts Attilla the Hun,  Rudy Havenstein, and Nero.

The truth is in a system of lies we are all gambling.  We can't not, even buying gold is speculating on the future actions of governments and their central banks.  Holding cash or bonds is a bet on deflation.  Stocks is a bet on the Pigmen's ability to keep the ponzi going.  We really can't stop gambling because every investment choice with capital is a gamble at this point.

Aristarchan's picture

Even holding capital is a gamble....but some gambles one has to take in order to remain financially viable.

Shameful's picture

That's my point.  We all live in a giant casino, and naturally the casino is full of rigged games.  We study the game of our choice and try to beat the odds.  Makes capital formation rough when it immediately has to go on the table and be wagered with or disappear into the ether.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

We really can't stop gambling because every investment choice with capital is a gamble at this point.

I would agree with this statement if you added that you wish to maintain your current or potential future lifestyle, thus you are locked into the system that provides that lifestyle. The only reason we are trapped is because we want what the system promises. The is the agreement, the deal, that I talked about in the article. But the promise is a false illusion.

Remove yourself from wanting what the system promises but rarely delivers and suddenly you are no longer forced to dance while the music plays.

Shameful's picture

How could you escape the system?  By having no capital or savings one would be at the mercy of getting their wages or their government cheese.  Living on the land is not really an option due to rules about public land and property taxes. 

As far as the promise of the system the biggest promise is the threat of force.  We cannot overlook the guy in the room holding the gun on all of us.  Break out of the system and actually try to live and you break his rules.  Uncle Thug does love using that gun to enforce order.  I have 0 hope of seeing any of the money I've kicked into the system for SS or Medicare, I know the pillage will be total.  However I don't think the answer is to burn my money ala the Joker to stick it to the man (If anyone does this, pics or it didn't happen!).  If it's gamble or die, I think most everyone is going to choose to gamble.

That holds true so long as there is a monopoly of force.  But the idea of that being an acceptable monopoly is so enforced in our culture I strongly doubt it could be shaken in less then a few generations at best.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I respect your opinions. You are always careful and thoughtful with your comments. I also understand that when immersed within the system it always appears to be impossible to find an exit. Thus we say we have no choice but to dance the consensus dance. I mean no disrespect with what I'm about to say. But it's time we grew some balls.

The sheep has no control over it's environment nor is it ever responsible for the pasture to which it is turned out to graze in. The sheep has only one function and that is to graze, to consume what it is given and fatten itself up and to provide wool for it's shepherd and master/owner.

Citizens on the other hand................ 

DavidPierre's picture

Cog Dis:

Thank you for this very insightful and well written article.

This Citizen took the northern exit off the USSA's fascist highway forty years ago to live a very local and minimalist lifestyle in the outback of British Columbia. 

We all have choices.  

What do you really NEED?  

LESS is MORE when living in wilderness!

Peace brother!  

Shameful's picture

There is an exit, but it involves taking on the system.  To do so one would have to be able to remove oneself from it.  Naturally then the shepherd will use force to reclaim his wayward sheep and to show the flock that running off or standing up against him will not be tolerated.  The sheep would need to withstand the staff of the shepherd and the bite of the sheep dog.  This is made more troublesome since the shepherd can gain from simply killing the renegade to try to further demoralize the rest of the flock.  The real tragedy is the flock will blame the wayward sheep for taking a stand not the shepherd for leading them to be sheered.  Takes a lot of courage to face nearly certain death, as well as the ridicule of one's fellows.

Being citizens itself is a bit of a crock.  Social contract theory holds that I'm bound to a government because of the place of my birth or the birth of my parents.  So that very same government has rights to my wealth and if it so desires my very life for it's own self aggrandizement.  The problem is the state.  You want to think outside the box imagine a world without the state, that's the only world that has a chance to be free.  We keep the state and at best we fight a revolution every generation against a new set of tyrants or just roll over and keep with the flock and wait our turn to be sheered.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Citizens are not beholden to a government, but to their nation. This is not "my" government, it doesn't represent me but instead a small elite. Citizens are responsible for holding the government to task, to demand accountability. Being a good citizen is NOT nationalism. Being a good citizen is being contrary to any person, entity or government that steps over the line.

We as a citizenry have grown cowardly. This is precisely why the government has become tyrannical in exactly the same why a two year old will consistently throw a temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store because mom and dad do nothing to discipline the child. We haven't disciplined the government child in so long that we have allowed ourselves to be enslaved.

And courage is what is required. Like I said we need to grow some balls. Someone must take the first baby steps. I and many others like me are beginning to take those steps. At this point it is the collective we who are fighting with ourselves, with our inner fear and conditioning, not with our government. No one is doing anything against the government, thus no one can claim to be fighting the government. That is changing.

While I am sensitive to what others say about me, as is everyone, I will not remain quiet just because I'm surrounded by moral cowards. If people wish to hide, that's fine. If they wish to attack me because I choose to resist, that's fine as well. If they stand in my way because I'm rocking the boat they will be pushed aside. I'm tired of having my nuts handed to me. I will not participate in my own genocide.

htp's picture

Excellent discussion gentlemen. In these times of great change we are each forced to make a choice, a choice that'll ultimately reflect our individual characters.

From a historical viewpoint, no corrupt system can last forever. Corruption has a builtin mechanism that guarantees decline.

As wealth increasingly concentrates in the hands of a few, the elite will find it harder to pacify the sheep. They'll have to look overseas for new targets to loot. At the same time, a corrupt system tends to promote the toady and incompetent type to management positions. On top of declining domestic cohesion, these factors combine to weaken the empire, just like what happened to Rome.

In our time events develop a lot faster than two thousand years ago. I don't think we need to wait very long before international competition heats up to the point that it forces the hand of corrupt rulers everywhere.

The masses are always the last ones to wake up, but once they do they can't be stopped.

Shameful's picture

What government has ever represented the mass man?  Ever early in the founding of the US immediately it was seized by special interests.  I do not believe that the nature of a forced monopoly on something so dangerous as force will ever result in good.  Some men might be less bad wielding it but still the state exists to benefit some at the expense of others.  Power corrupts, and even should we find ourselves ruled by angels their successors would be devils.

The citizens are cowards, I'm admittedly a coward.  When one looks the devil in the eye it's natural for a chill to go down the spine.  See a group go nuts drenching itself in blood, slaughter, and looting and the natural response is to be afraid when they look at you.  Now how to discipline the government?  Will we go to government run courts and ask permission to sue them?  Or perhaps use their system of voting to swap out the current thieves for a fresh set of legs?  The system itself is the problem.  The system will also defend itself from the inside and out, and it cannot be changed from the inside.  The insiders have far to much to lose.  I hope the people will figure that out by 2012, that voting sadly is meaningless at least on the national scale. This is not a 2 year old throwing a tantrum.  This is a hardened killer holding us at gunpoint.

It will take a lot of courage.  On the plus side we have some ability to talk to people without being locked up.  I'm all for education.  If the mass man knew that the government was only interested in pillage that would be a great step forward.  As it stands people play left or right and pretend that their elected thief will do something.  But as you pointed out in the comments, the mass man still gets bennies from the system.  So the knowledge will have to battle self interest, until the state goes into total pillage mode anyway.

I have no wish to insult you and if you going to publicly grapple with Leviathan beyond a war of words and education, God bless!  It's an incredibly difficult and courageous thing.

I Am The Unknown Comic's picture

There is another way to approach this.  I left the USA several years back and now have dual citizenship.  I was and still am shocked by how much money and effort it took for me to escape the talons of my shepard.  In retrospect, I feel like I had to pay off the US "Uncle Sam" shepherd just to buy my freedom.  It really did feel like I was "taking on the system."   Two years and 4 months after I left, my attorney informed me I was being audited by the IRS.  For WHAT I asked?  Well, the original claim was less than $200 for "inaccurracies" but with penalties, fees, and charges it had snowballed to over $14,000.  I spent another year fighting it with my accountants and tax lawyers, and eventually settled for $2,400 even though I was not guilty of anything.  Unbelievable.   However, I am free now, as of the time of this writing.  Who knows what other tricks my motherland has up their sleeves.  Hell hath no fury like a mother shepherd scorned. 

In short, the best way to be free is to have multiple passports.  This establishes a competition amongst the shepherds for who gets to own you as a sheep.  You can choose the better of the shepherds versus being a slave to only one who owns your ass.  If you can manage to divide each year amongst 3 or more shepherds, then none of them owns your ass because you have not lived in any of them for more that 6 months.     

It is unbelievably difficult to successfully leave the USA and stay gone.  I strongly recommend to anyone who is contemplating doing better get to work on it now becuase it will only get more difficult as mama USA needs her tax money...

Shameful's picture

Good advice.  I'm trying to hatch fevered schemes to get out of the US for employment long enough to get another passport or to figure out another way to pick one up.  To poor to buy one and despite a plummeting population and huge expat pop the place my grandparents emigrated from will not accept duel citizens at the moment.

The search did turn up some interesting things in my family tree on my mom's side.  Hear the claim that family is from one place but ask for the documents and learn it was from another, and then other skeletons leaping out of closets at you :)