Monday, August 2, 2010

Preying on the American Dream

(side note, this is my 100th Blog Post. YAY!)

I have a friend who was very unhappy in her job. She felt discriminated against due to her age, race, and gender, felt like she was always at odds with her bosses, and had multiple run-ins with management. She applied for promotions and did not get them. She made improvements to her work system and instead of being appreciated as useful innovations, they were slapped down.

Then she learned about a miraculous new company that could make her dreams come true. It was based on a co-operative marketing model, so that there was no one to hold her back. No bosses, no management, no need to apply for promotions. With their system and their fail-proof product, the sky was the limit. She could be getting $10,000 checks every week. Her race, her gender, her age would no longer work against her because she would only be working for herself. If she just has the right attitude and drive, she can attain everything she has dreamed of but been unable to manifest until now.

She jumped in with both feet. She was giddy with excitement. She told us all about this marvelous can't-fail product, how it sells itself. She gave us samples, practiced sales pitches, tried to get us to come to meetings. After a few weeks, she realized that the real money was not in selling the product, it was in selling the opportunity to sell the product. She started trying to recruit us as sellers. Slowly, after a month or two, after she had quit her job in a flurry of assertiveness, her enthusiasm began to wane. It was not the dream she had thought it would be. The promises turned out to be rather empty.

I could hate them for their sales. Co-operative marketing is really a modified and repackaged pyramid scheme, and they have a bad reputation for a reason. They sell a dream, the American dream. The dream that says most of the world is unfair, but if you come to us and join our system, you will suddenly make as much as you are truly worth and have all the wealth you have dreamed of but never had the opportunity to earn. The dream that says these inequities of discrimination can be bypassed and you can have your economic justice just this easy. The dream that says everyone else is hurting, but there is a way for you to prosper, and then you can bring in your friends and family and they can prosper, too.

They always seem to hold up a local leader, someone much farther up the pyramid but presented with a fisheye lens so they seem to be much closer. This person makes an awesome amount of money, tens of thousands of dollars each week. They are now your hero. They are now your role model--you, too, can be like them, live in a house like theirs, have success like they have success.

What gets left out is the unlikelihood of being like them. You are too late, you are already too far down the ladder. And you are probably not going to be all that successful at selling your mother, your brother, and your two next door neighbors this dream. This kind of marketing is a great way to lose friends. This kind of marketing sacrifices your relationships for your chance at the brass ring, even as the company touts it as a relationship enhancer because you are going to help everyone get rich.

It makes me angry because it preys on people's dreams. It takes advantage of the anger, the frustration, and the longing for economic success that many of us feel in the workplace. And I am sad when someone else in my extended circle of contacts approaches me about another can't-miss-this opportunity. They always have fabulous personal reasons for why it is such a great endeavor, and my heart breaks. I wish them the best of luck, but I will not be joining.

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