The two most jarring events in the past decade of American life both had the whiff of a grand con about them. One was the crisis of 2008, after which a lot of ordinary Americans turned their attention to the financial-services industry and discovered something that looked, on the surface, uncannily like a classic bilking: There was a lot of hard-to-follow shifting about of who owned what and who owed what to whom, and in the end a lot of people found that their retirement savings had vanished. The other was the election of Donald Trump, who has always been fairly open about his talent for old-school hucksterism. To the very end, many people were convinced his entire campaign had been a long-game self-promotional exercise — a man wandering past real estate, casinos, reality television, mail-order steaks and wealth-building seminars to arrive at right-wing politics as a high-quality grift….
But it’s not just these two events. Grift is everywhere.
… it’s not exactly outlandish (or unpopular) for a modern person to note that many of the systems she encounters have been carefully constructed to extract maximum profits, to sustain themselves, to get what they can while the getting is good — not unusual for a modern person to suspect it would be easier to deal with an actual con artist than with Wells Fargo or a budget health-insurance company.
However, there’s hope:
… The opposite of a grift, you find, is creating things of real value, paying fair wages, asking what is right more than what is profitable. The opposite of grift is a square deal.
Grift is complemented by “bullshit jobs,” jobs that create no essential value. As defined by economist and writer David Graeber, an essential characteristic of the bullshit job is that the person who has the job knows that the work they do is worthless, but they need to show up to draw a paycheck. Hypothesis: Grifters hire people to do bullshit jobs to make the grifter look important.