Grifter Capital

Capitalism’s defenders pride their system on turning private vice into public virtue, but this depends on individual greed seamlessly becoming a motor force for investment in production and innovation. In this long read, Simon Hannah and Rowan Fortune ask, what happens when greed is pervasively channelled into grifts, frauds and lies?


Promoters of capitalism proport that their system is rational, if wild, and that if you have a good product and market it properly, you can ‘make it’. But behind the veneer of the CEO personality cults (running corporations to improve lives) exists a seedier world of fraud, lies, narcissism, manipulation and grift.

Capitalism has always boosted liars and manipulators who promoted get-rich-quick schemes as products – that isn’t new. Snake Oil salesmen have been with us for a long time, as have companies lying to investors and regulators. As long as there is scarcity and competition between humans, con artists have existed, too.

“Capitalism has always boosted liars and manipulators who promoted get-rich-quick schemes as products – that isn’t new. Snake Oil salesmen have been with us for a long time, as have companies lying to investors and regulators.”

However, today, the scale and centrality of fakery in the “normal” running of national economies need to be considered – especially in terms of the future of capitalist economics. One academic recently concluded that we live in the ‘age of fraud’ since “it is at high levels, institutionalised, at the core of ‘the system’ and part and parcel of the (re)production of contemporary society.”  

We live in an age where operating on a spectrum from misinformation to outright con is ubiquitous and institutional – the age of grift capitalism. To describe grift capitalism is to talk about a tendency within the economy, one that the current operations of capital actively encourage. It is an era of simulation, techno-anxiety, data mismanagement, global Ponzi schemes, people-as-commodities and social decline – essentially it is a core part of late stage capitalism.

The shift to grift

Capitalists like to think of themselves as Henry Fords, captains of industry revolutionising production and changing the world with innovative products (even as an antisemite sympathetic to the Nazis). Perhaps they have a photo of John D Rockefeller on their desk. Or maybe they consider themselves an innovator like Bill Gates with the PC. 

Sadly, careers as productive capitalists elude many younger wannabe members of the bourgeoisie. But it isn’t just capitalists; grift economics permeate all sections of society. Grifter capitalism has emerged as an increasingly dominant tendency from several factors at once, many emerging around the financial crisis of 2008. 

The grift is a tendency in an age where oligopolies dominate significant sectors, from transport to finance to farming. Too big to fail, corporate giants engage in high-level institutional book cooking, tax dodging and socially harmful speculative activities only to maintain their positions. As capital merges into oligopolies (a small number of companies dominating different sectors) it becomes harder to make a profit. 

“The grift is a tendency in an age where oligopolies dominate significant sectors, from transport to finance to farming. Too big to fail, corporate giants engage in high-level institutional book cooking, tax dodging and socially harmful speculative activities only to maintain their positions.”

The rate or profit for companies has been in steady decline for decades. This encourages more capitalists to look to the financial sector to make money – financialisation, but as a response to the crisis that deepens the problem, rather than its primary driver. This shift to financialisation has restructured the global economy and supply chains. It is required to maintain profit rates as the difficulty of developing lucrative products becomes more intense. 

The global economic crisis after 2008 showed the instability of this financialised economy. It also led to over a decade of depressed wages and austerity that has seen many people struggling to make ends meet. This coincides with the explosion of social media, propelled in large part by the arrival of smartphones. This combustible mix results in hustle culture and the grift, an economy dominated by get rich quick schemes, rentiers and confidence tricksters. 

Some of the grift is ‘legitimate’ insofar as it is so structurally entwined in legally defined capital it appears normal, part of the rules of the game. We might include the rampant tax evasion by major corporations as part of this, a way of selling profitability to shareholders and investors while avoiding social responsibility to fund public services. 

Other grifts are considered less legitimate, conducted by people outside the vicarious protection of the mainstream – these are the people who get caught, or use social media to scam ordinary people on a global scale. Some grifts do not even ostensibly generate immediate profits but anticipate new ways of manipulating consumers and, more vitally to capitalist interests, productive workers.

Many plucky upstarts, faced with an insurmountable obstacle to gain any market share, routinely lie, deceive and dissemble to secure investments or attract customers. It is an era when fake companies with made-up senior managers are set up and employ people until someone realises the ruse. (Jobfished: the con that tricked dozens into working for a fake design agency

Meanwhile, the gulf between fiction and fact, between what a company is and what it pretends to be, has also accelerated. Capitalism is in an era of cognitive dissonance and unreality. Uber is a taxi company without taxis, and Airbnb is the world’s largest hotel chain with no hotels. Netflix is not an entertainment company but a tech company (and listed on the stock market as such to increase value for investors). 

Many dominant household brand names are the corporate equivalent of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter margarine – to pilfer one of Slavoj Zizek’s timeworn jokes. Grift, fraud and lies are rife in the business world; “The Forbes 30 Under 30 have collectively raised $5.3B in funding. The Forbes 30 Under 30 have also been arrested for frauds and scams worth over $18.5B. Incredible track record.” as tech entrepreneur Chris Bakke noted in the summer of 2023.

Silicone Scams

The Silicone Valley cult of genius is partly to blame. The grifter cannot be understood outside the context of the widespread cultural obsession with the ‘genius’, the often eccentric, socially awkward (nearly always male) tech guy that disrupted the industry with some amazing new product – move fast and break things. The list of names is familiar: Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Travis Kalanick, Mark Zuckerberg. 

Our society exalts these entrepreneur geniuses, some of whom were once inventors, others just good business people promoting a new app. They secure cult followings of mostly young men who admire and look up to them. But this obsession with the next genius who has disrupted the market (alongside an assumption that the possibilities of ‘tech’ are limitless) has led to many catastrophic grifts by others trying to replicate their success. It is also worth noting that labelling someone a genius is often an excuse for bullying, lying and systemic deficiencies.

Take WeWork, which rented out office space and, for this simple business function, was valued at a staggering $47 billion in 2021. Its charismatic and self-promoting CEO, Adam Neumann, turned out to be a rampant bully and fantasist, wanting “to be elected president of the world, live forever, and become humanity’s first trillionaire”. The New York Times described him as “a start-up demagogue who aspired to be a demigod”. 

WeWork created a cult-like movement around itself, with summer music festivals and videos showing 20-somethings who either worked for the company or maybe rented its desks partying as if it was the rapture. By the summer of 2023, its stocks were worth almost zero and it issued a bankruptcy warning, after Apple TV made a series about Neumann as if WeWork actually mattered as something artistic.

Partly, the issue is savvy marketing men convincing investors their company is a ‘major disruptor’ that will change the basis of the market. Uber did that with taxis, driving smaller firms out of business. WeWork did that with office space before it was toppled by the realisation that Neumann was out of control and his company was worth far less than its valuation – then COVID hit, and office space was no longer lucrative. 

Uber is famous for its cavalier attitude to regulation and its ‘’move fast and break things’ motto. It is a shining example of Blitzscaling – find an industry that doesn’t make much money, take over that sector through sheer scale offering cheap rides, spend years not making money but eventually scale the company to the point where it turns a profit. Uber is a household name that struggled for 14 years to make a profit (only turning a profit in the second quarter of 2023), making $400 million against $32 billion in losses since then. Uber kept investors interested by promising big returns in the future, but they have had to increase prices considerably since their early days and are facing increasing pressure in many countries to recognise Uber drivers as workers and not ‘self-employed’ – a serious challenge to their exploitative business model. 

Uber, Deliveroo, TaskRabbit – all the apps that were launched as part of the ‘sharing economy’ promised to provide services for customers and a bit of extra money for people to do ride sharing or deliver food on a bike. This model was always an illusion, a piece of fakery that served as an excuse not to treat people as workers with associated rights. The valuations for these ventures are as fictitious as the core claims made by their guru founders. They are based on assumed future profits. Uber has a massive valuation not based on its assets or profitability but on what profit it might generate in the future. 

The relentless laws of capitalist economics will always transform the sharing economy into the precarious struggle of the gig economy. Big money for CEOs based on other humans struggling to make ends meet delivering pizzas. It is all part of the brave new world of a capitalism that must extract more and more from workers, even if it undermines its own basis.

Forbes Fraudsters

On the other end of the spectrum is outright fraud. The biotech firm Theranos, run by CEO Elizabeth Holmes, claimed to own the tech to run blood tests for everything from genetics to cholesterol on a single pinprick of blood instead of the normal phial. The company rapidly rose to prominence with significant funding from investors, leaving it with a valuation of $9 billion. It was a lie, the results faked. It raised $700M before whistle blowers contacted a journalist who exposed it all. Even then Holmes still threatened the journalist with lawyers to shut them up.

In the competitive market of electric vehicles, a company called Nikola (after Tesla) attempted to fool investors by releasing a video of an electric articulated lorry moving at speed along a road. This was sold to investors as proof that the company had developed the tech to allow an 18 wheeler to run on hydrogen and electric engines. It turned out that the lorry was merely rolling down hill, they had tilted the camera to make it look like the road was flat. We aren’t dealing with geniuses here. The CEO was convicted of fraud.

There are many smaller examples of badly managed companies that flew like Icarus before crashing down. Markus Braun, former chief executive of Wirecard, Germany’s answer to PayPal, was a self-styled visionary whose company collapsed spectacularly in 2020. He is on trial, while his COO is on Interpol’s most wanted list. In 2019, Renault Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn fled charges he faced in Japan by smuggling himself out in a musical instrument case.

Or Zenefits, a start up that produced an app to automate HR functions and was caught breaking the law and selling insurance without proper permission. Federal investigations revealed a lot of concerns over poor management and law breaking at a company that went from start up to $2bn valuation within 5 years. There are others too numerous to mention. 

It transpires that while moving fast and breaking things can lead to new industry breakthroughs, is it also an unstable way of running an economy. As the promise of massive profits attracts huge investment the stakes are raised to ridiculous levels for companies that either don’t have a product or are simply good at convincing investors to part with money. 


It is in the world of online cryptocurrency and NFTs that the cons have achieved the apotheosis of absurdity. NFTs were a pyramid scheme that made a handful of people incredibly rich but lumbered thousands of others with useless images or other worthless, if ‘unique’ files. 

Crypto was a currency intended to bring down governments and create a new libertarian dream of currency outside of the control of the Fed or the European Central Bank. Blockchain was supposed to be a revolutionary new tool that would transform the world economy. 

It remained mostly smoke and mirrors, an unrealisable promise. There was a brief period when you could buy things like cars with Bitcoin, but now most retailers won’t accept it and bitcoins value only exists in relation to what it can be traded for; it has no underlying value apart from the value people who are into bitcoin are willing to give it. 

No wonder two major trading platforms, Voyager and Celsius, went bankrupt in the middle of 2022. Celsius misappropriated $4bn in investors money. The price of crypto crashed massively in November of that year, then again in the summer of 2023, wiping billions of ‘value’ from a market with no intrinsic value. 

Even a mainstream bank like Santander still limply promotes blockchain. On its website, it admits it is mainly used for Bitcoin transactions, but it can also be used to keep records of documents like education certificates and intellectual property. The vision of decentralised, immutable storage held across millions of computers worldwide is attractive to some, but the overheated servers Blockchain requires now use as much electricity daily as Argentina – just to keep techbros happy.

Any new technology prided on being largely beyond government control will be subject to rampant corruption. Fraud destroyed FTX, a major crypto trading platform set up by Sam Bankman-Fried, heralded as a wunderkind of business with his face on the front pages of Forbes and Fortune (headline: “The next Warren Buffett?” Answer: No, he wasn’t.) He amassed a personal fortune of 26bn within a couple of years thanks to FTX, but it turned out most of FTX’s money was syphoned into a company called Alameda Research run by Bankman-Fried’s partner.

Bankman-Fried exemplifies how it is not only the far right that facilitates politics as a grift. Part of the con-act for the rise of FTX was rooted in his partnership with the Centre for Effective Altruism, which he co-founded with senior research fellow at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, the philosopher Toby Ord.

Effective Altruism is a liberal utilitarian philosophy aimed at evidence-based generosity, and its use by Bankman-Fried shows that for those with more accumulated wealth than sense, these types of grift can appeal both to philanthropic as well as (in those who build lucrative careers as right-wing culture warriors) vulgar chauvinistic impulses.

Again, the issue is that with modern technology and the excessive cult of entrepreneurship around things like Blockchain currencies, you can turn a basic multi-level marketing Ponzi scheme into a massive con. 

OneCoin was a fake cryptocurrency finally revealed to be simply a pyramid scheme, it made over $4bn, and the co-founder, Ruja Ignatova (known as Cryptoqueen) hasn’t been seen since 2017. BitConnect was another fake cryptocurrency that sucked up $2.4bn before it went under – its founders had links to corrupt officials within the Indian state.

Do Kwon Terraform Labs raised $200 million in investment, sending the value of Luna skyrocketing to $40bn. Some were sceptical about the technology behind Luna, but Mr. Kwon dismissed his critics, saying, “I don’t debate the poor.” This inevitable collapse highlights a chilling instability that defines capitalism – in a single blow, Terra/Luna wiped $30bn from the value of various markets. 

Reaction as Product

Three names are emblematic of how this culture of grifting dovetails into the wider and much commented-on problem of the rightward trajectory of so many nation-states. Donald Trump, Elon Musk, and Jordan Peterson are all expert grifters who indulged in various cheap, money-making schemes, and all tied their ventures directly to political personas that advance far-right beliefs.

Ex-US President (at the time of writing!) Donald Trump is a shining example of the modern grift. A consummate populist who knows how to speak to his followers, selling them their own reactionary ideas. Back in 2015 he had a medium-sized empire selling his own merchandise to the Trump faithful. In 2022 he sold NFTs for $99 each to followers. At the height of his popularity he sold several products with his name or face – including a urine testing kit!

Perhaps more sinisterly, Trump became a figurehead for the fascist QAnon movement, which had a messianic belief he would become an absolutist leader and arrest all the Democrats who were secretly farming children’s blood for a mysterious substance called Adrenochrome. It goes without saying such a ridiculous movement had its own grifters, not just those promoting ideas on 4Chan and other websites for personal fame but also with merchandising opportunities.

When former national security adviser Michael Flynn (who had run intelligence operations in Afghanistan) used a QAnon phrase Digital Solider in testimony to Congress, he became another folk hero to the fascist conspiracy movement – something he must have counted on when he trademarked the phrase Digital Soldier and started selling branded t-shirts.

It goes without saying that QAnon people are into blockchain and crypto, it also goes without saying that they have been the victim of crytpocurrency scams from their own community as they gullibly buy into patriotic pump and dump scams and rug pulls. While we don’t weep over fascists losing money, it is indicative of how the grift mindset dominates within an online political culture where you only think about yourself.

There are plenty of examples that are not fraudulent but certainly point to an immoral grift in exchange for money. Elon Musk’s Tesla car company is a prime example. It was pitched as electric vehicles to help solve the carbon emissions crisis by revolutionising transport away from the combustion engine, but for years it made no profit from its (not very good) cars, it made money from selling regulatory carbon credits that allowed other car companies to pollute more.

Essentially each company receives a certain permit to pollute but if you pollute less you can sell your regulatory credits to another, making money while they get to pollute more. Because Tesla enjoyed lower emissions from electric vehicles, they sold these credits to General Motors and others so they could produce more combustion engine vehicles. Nothing about that was illegal, but it points to the disconnect between how companies pitch themselves and what they do. 

Musk’s continued moves to the right and criticism of government bailouts and handouts also show a massive hypocrisy on his part as his companies only survive on such government contracts or subsidies. But for Musk the grift is that he is this self made richest man on Earth and he must posture as a libertarian anti-government, anti-woke prince of capitalism for his niche audience. 

The pseudo-Jungian guru Jordan Peterson began his meteoric self-help career by lying about a trivial piece of legislation that, under normal circumstances, would have barely merited many people’s attention. The C-16 Bill added basic provisions to Canadian law to protect transgender people from hate and discrimination, which Peterson claimed would result in outlawing all instances of misgendering. Claims that legal professionals comprehensively rubbished.

But the substance of his rise to fame was itself a distraction; it gave him the attention needed to write self-help pop psychology aimed primarily at alienated young men facing mental health crises, a demographic that can be drawn to the kinds of reactionary beliefs Peterson then sneaks into otherwise harmless if asinine advice (such as to tidy your room or focus on self-development). 

Peterson promoted his lobster theory of alpha and beta males as part of a dogmatic view of evolutionary psychology that advocate for individualism, male aggression and rigid social hierarchies born out of ‘might makes right’. Suffice to say the philosopher pretending to be a biologist has been routinely debunked by anyone who knows anything about the natural world and the complex realities of human society.

While Peterson is obsessed with opposing trans liberation and life, the larger focus of his philosophy is reinforcing common misogynistic grievances against cisgender women. (Showing, once again, how hatred of women and hatred of trans people are often entwined.) He talks of a need for “enforced monogamy”, speculates suggestively about women wearing makeup in the workplace, and defends the notion of rape as a property-crime serving as a better defence against rape than “only” treating it as a violation of women’s autonomy.

The result of this career, according to analysis, is Peterson’s net worth rising from a respectable $120,000 in 1995 to around $15 million today. He continues to frequently deploy vulgar tricks in aid of self-promotion, as has recently been widely pointed out regarding an embarrassing set of out-of-context book cover quotes that grossly distort the views of those being cited. 

On the heels of Trump, whose fake university has resulted in a string of allegations of fraud and ended in high-profile litigations, Peterson has begun an “academy” he claims is about ‘culturing people’ and countering alleged left-wing biases in other (read real) academic institutions. As this venture is new, it remains to be seen how the latest of his many grifts materialises, but many will likely regret their dealings with Peterson.

Alongside these examples sits the incessant grift for podcasters, YouTube ‘personalities’ and others to get clicks and money from joining the ‘war on woke’. Deluging the internet with rants about transpeople, hating on refugees or calling for outright civil war against the woke left (which apparently includes the US Democrats?) is a particular grift that can be profitable for a particular corner of the internet. Selling T-shirts and baseball caps for the growing far right movement is pretty lucrative marketing ploy. Russell Brand’s career move from TV comedian to YouTuber generated far more revenue when he started interviewing COVID conspiracy theorists.

Social Media grift

One important development of the grift endemic in modern capitalism is connected to the massive expansion of social media. Complete fraudsters can be promoted directly to millions (billions?) online, providing a huge audience of potential investors, customers or marks for the scam. Social media has not amplified innovation so much as it has boosted elaborate frauds aimed at large-scale, mass investors in society’s middle strata.

Anyone on Facebook, Twitter (X), TikTok or Instagram for any length of time will be exposed to grift. It can take the form of a random message from someone offering a chance to get in the ground on a new crypto craze, or it could be a seductive video by a fitness guru about how you can shed pounds in no time, without even dieting.  The key asset is people-as-commodities, or personal branding. This is the social media influencer in all its different forms, you are the brand, you are a walking advert for a lifestyle or product.  

This grift is specifically aimed at people who are struggling with low wages and under employment. No serious wage increases for millions of people leaves a whole layer of society ripe to getting sucked into a scam just from scrolling on social media.

YouTuber Dan Olsen describes the modern internet as awash with “Hustle culture, passive income, work from your garage, goulash of multi-level marketing, investment scams, crypto currency and business guru nonsense”. It is a small army of (mostly young) people promising to help you make money using a method or a money hack “that literally no one else is talking about.” Olsen’s investigation into one example shows the shallowness of the scams involved.

He followed a programme from the Mikkelson twins who promise to get you rich from doing almost no work. The victim (‘customer’) who follows the programme is told to hire someone in the gig economy to write a short story using keywords trending on book buying websites (romantic mystery, werewolves, etc.). Then, they are instructed to hire a jobbing (gig economy) actor to read this story and convert it into an audio file where you can charge people money to download it in the lucrative podcast/short story section of the popular website Audible. 

This is pitched as a promise of passive income, often based on exploiting workers somewhere to make something for you that you then sell. This is the rise of the ‘contrepeneurs’ – con artists because they promise more money then you will ever get, while they make more money from you then they will ever let on. 

All of these schemes play on financial anxiety in a world in which wages haven’t kept up with inflation for most, where underemployment is a major problem and automation of jobs is having an impact on many workers. The online grifters run a mix of websites, self-help books, podcasts and targeted ads to reach people in precarious financial situations. 

One investigative journalist concluded, “It’s not surprising that the [self-help] book was a hit for anxious 20- and 30-somethings like me who felt trapped by modern economic conditions. It speaks to a specific type of insecurity and offers a tempting escape route: the fantasy of owning a business that can be operated from a remote location, allowing you to travel the world while working four hours or less per week.”

It isn’t just contrepeneurs selling a lifestyle, there are global networks of misinformation and fraud that operate primarily through targeting people on social media. Many of them are making money through scams, convincing people to hand over money for fake products or even through elaborate forms of blackmail. 

Between 2021 and 2023 the Federal Trade Commission calculates that $2.7 billion has been lost to online fraud, but they acknowledge that most fraud is unreported. In truth, this estimate is likely to only be a fraction of the full amount. The FTC warns:

“After investment scams, reports point to romance scams as having the second highest losses on social media. In the first six months of 2023, half of people who said they lost money to an online romance scam said it began on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. These scams often start with a seemingly innocent friend request from a stranger followed by love bombing and the inevitable request for money.”

The misogynist grifter Andrew Tate (selling the kind of anti-woman garbage that Jordan Peterson does) made money primarily by running webcam sites where trafficked vulnerable young women would perform sex acts but also ask the men who watched them for money. These women would then claim to need cash to escape abusive boyfriends or for some other emergency. 

Journalists found examples where young men (themselves also often vulnerable) would pledge to hand over money from their recently deceased parents’ wills because they had developed a psychosocial relationship with the women over webcams. All the while Andrew Tate and his brother were racking in cash from exploiting the women and their young male followers.

The rise of the rabble

When, in the spirit of a proto-Keynesian, Hegel wrote about the dangers of revolutionary crisis for the capitalism of his age, he warned especially of what he called the rabble. His presiding concern was of the impoverished rabble, but he simultaneously hit on the idea of the dangers of the rich rabble, too. In his book In the Long Run We Are All Dead, Geoff Mann characterises Hegel’s rich rabble in the following terms:

Like the poor rabble, a product of modern political-economic dynamics, the rich rabble are also a postrevolutionary variation on premodern feudal-aristocratic parasitism: the rentiers, those who live off the wealth of civil society but contribute nothing to it by their labour. In other words, today we would call the rich rabble “finance capital,” and if Hegel were alive, its growing influence on bourgeois civil society might have caused him great concern—if nothing else, it certainly would have surprised him. He expected the dialectic of modernity to lead—and to be led, by the ethical state—in a different direction.

As contemporary Marxists we should alter a concept such as a rabble, at least grounding it (as Mann would also insist) in an analysis of capital that reflects on the types of class agency that become relevant in revolutions outside of Hegel’s scope. However, the coming to the fore of a parasitic social layer or caste of rentier-capitalists should alarm us as much as it would have Hegel. These are people with often fantastic wealth and deeply reactionary politics. Moreover, they might reflect a loss of historical agency.

We should be clear: some of the grifters do get very rich; the schemes can work for a few. But so many are based on bullish sales pitch multi-level marketing that they only really work for the person at the top; the rest sucked into the scheme struggle with little reward or even lose money. 

Does this point to a healthy system, which is the best that humans can manage? Blockchain is destroying the planet with increased carbon emissions, open misogynists such as Andrew Tate have racked up money from webcam romance traps whilst people on the front page of Forbes regularly turn out to be liars. That this characterises capital during a period of escalating ecological crisis points to a chilling loss of control.

Conspiracy theory is often the very substance that the most reactionary grifters utilise in their cons, but it is also, perversely, a by-product of a world in which human agency is increasingly deficient when set against the greatest perils our species has ever faced. And while the bosses fail to project any vision that overcomes such dangers, the working class have been decimated by neoliberalism and autocratic anti-labour regimes. 

“Conspiracy theory is often the very substance that the most reactionary grifters utilise in their cons, but it is also, perversely, a by-product of a world in which human agency is increasingly deficient when set against the greatest perils our species has ever faced.”

In places like the United States and the United Kingdom worker organising is severely curtailed with legal restrictions for strikes strong enough to effectively defang unions, often limiting them to one day strikes. Worse still, elsewhere workers have found themselves completely obstructed by government repression. For example, in China the farcical All-China Federation of Trade Unions operates to the will of the ruling capitalist party, effectively banning independent (genuine) trade union organising. 

However, the capitalist class, while instinctively able to strike out at workers, lacks the cohesiveness or capacity to address the cataclysmic threat of global warming. The United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP, has been an ongoing process since 1994 and has conclusively failed to arrest soaring temperatures or bring a halt to fossil fuel extraction. The capitalists are insanely wealthy, running a system that is literally eroding the basis of life on this planet. The leaders of a death cult that they set up and cannot escape. 

The capitalist classes’ interests within nations in the modern age leaves them hopelessly divided. To take just the UK, our capitalists are split between a retreat into nationalist bunkering (exemplified by Brexit) and quixotic attempts to reposition in a multipolar geopolitical world (seen in vacillations between cosying to the US or China). The political caste that represents capitalism’s interests is in visible decline, as made apparent by three sitting prime ministers in one parliament, one of whom held office for just 44 days.

Acutely aware of historical contingency, Marx in The Communist Manifesto warned of the possibility of the mutual ruin of the contending classes. However, as neither the current working class leaders nor the bourgeoisie is able to project a coherent vision of the future, we are now approaching the mutual dissolution of the contending classes, not through the realisation of a new society not organised according to class, but in one no longer organised whatsoever. 

“However, as neither the current working class leaders nor the bourgeoisie is able to project a coherent vision of the future, we are now approaching the mutual dissolution of the contending classes, not through the realisation of a new society not organised according to class, but in one no longer organised whatsoever.”

In this space, a capitalism that lacks political confidence set against workers who lack class organisation, we see the people cling to the illusion of coherency provided by Conspiracies. And we see capitalists become peddlers of illusions rather than investors in their own system. 

Grifter capitalism provides a false hope for capitalists as profitability declines, but also simultaneously trades in and worsens a world of political falsities for everyone, a moralistic existence in which reactionary opportunists sell the lie of personal salvation in the form of supplement pills, dating strategies, new media tech, easy money and philanthropic ventures that will also – somehow – make you obscenely rich. 

Eventually, the grift will fail. That is why we need a mass socialist force across the world that can offer a vision of a better world, a stable economy run by producers and consumers, consistent with human needs within a sustainable relationship to other life forms and the environment itself. 

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Rowan Fortune authored Writing Nowhere; edited the anthology of utopian short fiction Citizens of Nowhere; and contributed to the collaborative book System Crash. It writes on utopian imagination, revolutionary theory and trans* liberation.

Simon Hannah is a socialist, a union activist, and the author of A Party with Socialists in it: a history of the Labour Left, Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay: the fight to stop the poll tax, and System Crash: an activist guide to making revolution.

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