The United States has always proved an inviting home for boosters, sharp dealers, and outright swindlers. Worship of entrepreneurial freedom has complicated the task of distinguishing aggressive salesmanship from unacceptable deceit, especially on the frontiers of innovation.Read more...
The United States has always proved an inviting home for boosters, sharp dealers, and outright swindlers. Worship of entrepreneurial freedom has complicated the task of distinguishing aggressive salesmanship from unacceptable deceit, especially on the frontiers of innovation. At the same time, competitive pressures have often nudged respectable firms to embrace deception. As a result, fraud has been a key feature of American business since its beginnings. In this sweeping narrative, Edward Balleisen traces the history of fraud in America--and the evolving efforts to combat it--from the age of P. T. Barnum through the eras of Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff.
Starting with an early nineteenth-century American legal world of "buyer beware," this unprecedented account describes the slow, piecemeal construction of modern regulatory institutions to protect consumers and investors, from the Gilded Age through the New Deal and the Great Society. It concludes with the more recent era of deregulation, which has brought with it a spate of costly frauds, including the savings and loan crisis, corporate accounting scandals, and the recent mortgage-marketing debacle.
By tracing how Americans have struggled to foster a vibrant economy without enabling a corrosive level of fraud, this book reminds us that American capitalism rests on an uneasy foundation of social trust.
- ISBN-13: 9780691164557
- ISBN-10: 069116455X
- Publisher: Princeton University Press
- Publish Date: January 2017
- Page Count: 496
- Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.85 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-12-19
- Reviewer: Staff
Balleisen (Navigating Failure), associate professor of history at Duke University, explores Americas ambivalent attitude toward con-artistry in this colorful survey history of business fraud and the fitful attempts to suppress it. In American frauds 19th-century golden age, adulterated commodities, shoddy manufactures, counterfeit bank-notes, inflated stocks, Barnum-esque hoaxes, predatory sales contracts, and Ponzi schemes galore were mainstays of commerce. More recently, Balleisen reveals that the methods have kept pace with sociopolitical changes, as evidenced by Medicare fraud, credit default swaps, and more Ponzi schemes. He counterpoints the nature of the swindles with the growing formaland informalanti-fraud state of postal inspectors, government financial and trade regulators, criminal prosecutors, class-action lawyers, and muckraking reporters (who sometimes colluded with stock scams instead of exposing them). Balleisen shows how anti-fraud regulations were perennially weakened by Americans grudging admiration for clever con-men, industry lobbying, the doctrine of caveat emptor (the notion that buyers are responsible for avoiding scams), and fears that cracking down too harshly on fraudulent promises might dampen the investor enthusiasm powering the economy. Balleisens lucid, engagingly written mix of institutional and legal history, behavioral economics, and entertaining anecdotes illuminates this land of bilk and money. Illus. (Feb.)