Casinos have a term for their customers. It’s not nice, so the term isn’t used in polite company. But the folks who give away their money at slot machines and dice tables and roulette wheels, the folks who tote around their Player’s Card and receive complimentary buffets and tickets to the magic show, are affectionately known to the trade as suckers.
Mr. Phineas T. Barnum believed there was one born every minute. His estimation might have been ungenerous. It’s probably more like every second.
The revelations emerging daily from Washington and Wall Street of “financial abuse” perpetrated by Goldman Sachs and friends are old news to those who have long posited the financial markets as the world’s largest casino. (It’s also the most fun casino, since participants usually get to play with other people’s money.) The shenanigans, ranging from the development of new games of chance to outright larceny, seem shocking. But what’s really hard to accept isn’t the venality of the money movers in lower Manhattan. It’s how utterly willing we were, and still are, to “invest” in things that don’t really exist, how eager we were, and still are, to step right up, buy our ticket, and watch the Wizards of Derivatives turn water into wine.
Are the Goldman gang a bunch of lowlifes? Sure. They can’t flourish, though, without the tacit approval and active patronage of a whole bunch of otherwise decent folks who desperately wish it was possible to glean something from nothing, folks who convince themselves that something is true because they really, really want it to be.
There’s a term for that kind of person.