The Long Con

Mar 14, 2012

We can’t say with any authority when the first con artist found his mark. But we can trace the term “confidence man” to an article in The New York Herald in 1849. The Herald reporter urged citizens to stop by the city’s notorious tombs and peer at the suspect known as Samuel Williams. Many came to peer at the flim-flam man who described his effect on his marks as “putting them to sleep.”  The willingness to be duped, is of course, the genius of the con. The same optimism, individualism, and faith in the market that drive capitalism also drive the con. It was in making the investor believe they are in on the game that made Williams, Charles Ponzi, Enron and Bernie Madoff such successful swindlers. A new book proposes that counterfeiters, speculators and swindlers helped America prosper…and that America was, from its inception, a confidence trick.  Amy Reading is author of The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con.