Phishing for Phools

Phishing—as defined by George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller in their book Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception —happens when one economic participant, Party A, knowingly takes economic advantage of another participant, Party B, in a voluntary free market transaction that is specifically harmful to Party B’s financial best interest.  

Example: Party A sells cheap knockoffs at inflated prices online. Who is party B?

Phools—as per Akerlof and Shiller—are those who find themselves being “phished”, or anyone who winds up being the target or Party B when Party A comes around with an offer, product, service, etc.

Example: Party B is approved more credit and encouraged to spend in excess of their earnings. Who is party A?

Capitalism, or capitalism-as-usual (since our goals here revolve around dismantling capitalism-as-usual in the name of something else more equitable), thrives on phishing and phools. Both parties are absolutely necessary, are a wheel and cog in the American economic way of capital life, i.e. life as we know it. 

Phishing for phools represents itself openly in almost every available nook and cranny of capitalism-as-usual. It is a feature of the environment. The act of phishing is a particularly insidious and pervasive element of our American economy due to the overwhelming lack of financial education among the masses, the every person, and the most unwittingly innocent individuals (but how innocent are you really when it comes to the responsibility one holds for his/her/their own education, after a certain point in maturation, not including those historically oppressed by systematic racism, poverty, etc.?) It’s difficult to make educated financial decisions when one has no financial education, and this financial illiteracy is extremely profitable for the purveyors of capitalism-as-usual.

Despite whether or not phools are innocent, the prevalence of phishing is anything but innocent, and the perpetuity of phishing attempts will never go away as this strategy can be easily seen and readily fueled by American hyper-consumerism, keeping-up-with-the-Jones-ism, and a wide host of psychological functions that are broadly exploited by corporate marketing agencies. Phishing and its phools define a core component of capitalism-as-usual, also making possible such phenomena as the seemingly endless variety of options for some utterly worthless products. 

The entirety of the American capitalism-as-usual commercial apparatus is constructed and designed to sell, to part the consumer from his/her/their money, the hard-earned money they receive from jobs for which they get paid too little

Example: A Big Tech conglomerate spends borrowed money to hire a low-cost international manufacturer to produce a rose-tinted phone case to sell to a teenager with an hourly job for $700 (of mom’s money, as allocated by her husband according to a plan provided to him by his new financial advisor).  Who are the phools?

In its most common form, phishing convinces the unwitting consumer that they need, truly need something that they actually do not need, such as paying $1000 for an online “expert” to register your business for you, a filing action that averages less than $125 across the 50 states. If a service exists that convinces you that an expert is needed when an expert is not needed, phishing is the only way to convince a consumer to buy. If you buy, you are a phool. By default, phishing demands that there be a winner and a loser, a side that manipulates the other into spending their money on something that will benefit the seller while creating a financial loser.

Another obvious version of phishing is the scam phone call or email. Some entity has made an obvious attempt to reach you in order to convince you that something is either wrong or not right and your action is required to solve the problem. Any number of examples come to mind, surely. An entity throws out a line, trolls a lure behind the boat for a while, and then, eventually, a phool will mistake the lure for something real or meaningful and bam!, you’re hooked; you’re the phool who has been parted from your money by someone phishing for exactly that, your money. At its most basic, phishing is a scam.  

Seemingly innocuous versions of phishing can be seen within and throughout the fast-food industry, which feeds off the addictive quality of fast-food production. There is basically nothing good for the human body in fast food, and yet, the relentless phishing for our attention, so that we can think of nothing else except the perfect fulfillment of bodily delights, has facilitated an epidemic of obesity and chronic illness related to poor eating habits. 

Other versions of phishing can be seen in the relentless promotion of new technology, the ever-present adulation of the newest, hottest, best piece of tech that will change your life. Nobody needs the newest smartphone every time the next version launches, and yet, technology makers want, nay, need growth day after day, quarter after quarter, year after year in order for capitalism-as-usual to survive. (Or else, haha!, you might think that corporate executives, heeheehehe, the very same executives with compensation tied to regular growth, heheho, will be able to keep their jobs if they let the shareholders lose market value, hahahah!, oh hohoho!, haha!, hoooo! But that’s laughable. You don’t think that. You understand how public companies work.) You do not actually need to purchase a new smartphone every time a new one is released, but the phishermen are heavily invested in you feeling so desperately as if you do. That’s phishing; you’re a phool. Not only do you not need to spend money you don’t have on new technology you don’t need, but also, the creation of that technology is destroying the very world in which you live and that you need in order to live. The hyper-consumption and mindlessness of technological use is disastrous for the environment, which means that nobody really wins in the end. Some progress is being made on this front through ESG efforts, but we as a species are only beginning to address the issue in practice.

More insidious forms of phishing pervade the critical systems and institutions that maintain whole economic sectors, such as banking and real estate. The dishonesty of systemic phishing is frequently employed as a method of racial discrimination that has crippled or shackled generations of Americans and whole civilizations of Native Americans. 

All of this discrimination, favoritism, resource extraction, knowing harm, and relentless advertising exists within the economic and financial system of everyday life in America. Those who phish make money hand-over-fist while making the world and everything in it worse off for everyone else, especially the phools.

This is pure capitalism. The majority of Americans spend their hard-earned money on ultimately non-permanent things, stuff, nonsensical, eventual landfill trash that extracted resources from the natural environment in order to be produced. The contemporary manufacturing process returns net harm to our natural environment, delivering death to the indigenous populations from which the resources were harvested, leaving wasteland in its wake. To consume is to destroy. To phish is to manipulate you into thinking that all that shit you buy is not really shit but rather, something precious and fulfilling. Though it may be profitable for a few select capitalists in the short term, phishing is a devastating practice that highlights specifically the most economically harmful aspects of capitalism-as-usual. 

We’ve all experienced buyers’ remorse, and if we really think about how terrible mass manufacturing is for our planet, we would do well to practice a little discipline, wisen up to the lies of anyone attempting to sell us something we simply do not need. Take inventory of the stuff in your home for which you exchanged your hard-earned money. The amount of that stuff that will inevitably disintegrate into trash should make you feel disgusted, not proud. We could all do with a lot less consumption. In the meantime, understand that you’re being phished nonstop, all day, every day, and the goal of the phisher is to part you from your money. We think all this matters, that is, unless you think markets are perfectly efficient and “people know better” and always make good financial choices, but then what are you doing here reading all this freethinking nonsense? Plus, you’ve already got your own future already figured out, huh?

If financial freedom is your goal, be not the phool. Spend wisely. Spend frugally. Be unconvinced that you need anything more than what you need.

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