Sold, Not Bought

If you want to understand our current financial woes, skip the economists and go directly to the premiere analyst of the Great Depression, James M. Cain.  His 1943 novel Double Indemnity (originally a 1936 serial that ran in Liberty) explains far better than spreadsheets the moral origins of our present financial misadventure.

Cain once remarked that he wanted to register America as she was, rather than as she should be.  To that end, he portrayed the nation in the 30’s and 40’s as a land of little people ruled by predatory capitalists and their bought politicians.  He was especially interested in how this arrangement affected the souls of these little people.  In Cain’s world, the little guy more often than not possesses a soul parched by cynicism.  He’s concluded that happiness can only be obtained by imitating his overseers’ cold-blooded determination to capitalize on the weakness of others.

Double Indemnity is about one such little man, Walter Huff, an insurance agent who sells what he calls “stuff” to the unsuspecting.  Huff, as his name implies, is the salesman as the big bad wolf.  He comes to blow your door down with a line of gab that promises great rewards for just a little money down.  “To move this stuff,” he explains as breezily as any pre-2008 investment banker, “you’ve got to get in.  Once you’re...

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