This generation has a remarkable preoccupation with pyramid schemes.
The mails are filled with get-rich-quick plans that are always accompanied by an assurance they have been found "completely legal" by authorities (who are never identified).
Staff writers Rudy Maxa and Art Harris told about one of the latest of such undertakings on page 1 on Saturday.Its claim to legality is that the money is passed in face-to-face encounters, not through the mails, but this doesn't change the basic elements of the operation in the slightest.
It is still a pyramid. It provides no socially useful goods or services. It promises huge and speedy profits without commensurate labor. It is a simple appeal to greed, and anybody who loses money on such a proposition has only himself to blame.
Millions of chain letter "prayers" are also being circulated. In these, no money is involved. I received seven in Saturday's mail alone. Four of the seven were from people who enclosed critical comments.
One said: "I would like to express my contempt for the coward who sent me this anonymous 'prayer' that promises me riches and good health if I keep the chain going and financial ruin followed by sickness or death if I don't. The letter assumes that I am superstitious enough to obey. It is an insult to my intelligence."
Another accompanying note said: "The enclosed letter is threatening, sadistic and nasty. I am deeply ashamed and humiliated to admit that I made 20 copies, as the letter ordered me to do, and mailed them to people I know. The period after a heart attack is not the most rational in one's life, and this letter didn't make the recovery process any easier.If I were in normal health I would probably have thrown it into the wastebasket."
Several readers have recently suggested - probably facetiously, but perhaps not - that the United States Postal Service must be the originator of the major chain letters. "Who else could profit from them?" they ask. Their point is dulled by the fact that USPS often operates at a loss. One could therefore argue that the more USPS carries, the bigger its deficit is.
One chain letter that has suddenly swept the country advocates that a boycott against a certain oil company should begin on July 1. In the past 10 days I have received about 25 copies of this letter.
My first reaction was to ignore it in the hope it would die a quiet death, but the letters are arriving in increasing numbers instead. One just in has this note typed at the bottom: "This is on bulletin boards all over the Department of Transportation. What is your comment on it? Do you agree with the sentiments it expresses?"
The letter is too long to reproduce here. What is says, in essence, is that the gasoline shortage was artificially contrived by the oil companies for the purpose of jacking up prices. "There is absolutely no way we can take on all the major oil companies," says the letter, "so let's start with one." It then names its target and urges a boycott of the company and its products.
What do I think of that chain letter's sentiments? I think they are poorly reasoned and wholly unfair.
If the major oil companies have been involved in a scheme to create an artificial shortage, it is the responsibility of the federal government to root out persuasive evidence of this criminal conspiracy and to prosecute all the conspirators, quickly and vigorously. Guilty individuals should go to jail. Guilty corporations should suffer money penalties that make criminal activity costly, not profitable.
If there is no evidence of criminal activity, we ought to stop circulating charges based on vague suspicions and paranoia.
To boycott one company because of mere suspicion that about eight companies misbehaved does not seem to me to be either reasonable or fair.
This chain letter, like most, is circulated anonymously. Those who originated it and have subsequently given it wide circulation have not had the courage to identify themselves as the advocates of ruin for a company that employs thousands of honest men and women and is owned by thousands of innocent investors. Is that the American way to deal with a problem?
Harry Wender was telling me about how much work is involved when a professional man preparing to move to a new office must cope with the files and records he has accumulated in decades of practice.
"I've been working like a dog for two weeks," he said. A thoughtful pause followed. Then he added, "Now how in the world did that expression originate? When did you ever see a dog work?"
Good question. Some dogs do work, but the vast majority do nothing more vigorous than barking at letter carriers and trash collectors.