Scamming Considered as One of the Exact Sciences: 19th Century American Literature Foreshadows Insights of Behavioral Economics
University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law
September 12, 2013
Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 13-37
Nineteenth century American literary masters Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain (with co-author Charles Dudley Warner) all examined scamming in their largely pre-regulatory time. These authors made two prescient observations of continuing importance: scammers carefully study their marks to find weaknesses to exploit with tricks and traps, and scammers’ subjective states of mind are often unfathomable behind masks in which they pose as legitimate and trustworthy. Furthermore, the moral hollowness of confidence men portrayed in 19th century literature provides a metaphor for contemporary businesses that exploit consumer misperceptions. The article argues that the humanities arrived much earlier at insights of behavioral economics recently used to develop consumer protection law, which now authorizes administrative regulation to prevent businesses from taking advantage of consumers’ lack of understanding. Literature thus provides a comparative perspective from which to evaluate and affirm the law’s new efforts to address scamming more effectively.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 36
Keywords: scams, behavioral economics, law and literature, consumer financial protection, consumer protection
JEL Classification: K12, K2working papers series
Date posted: August 23, 2013 ; Last revised: September 18, 2013
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