April 19, 2023

Save the #BossBabes: MLMs, Get-Rich-Quick Schemes, and the Prosperity Gospel

Save the #BossBabes: MLMs, Get-Rich-Quick Schemes, and the Prosperity Gospel

Exploring the connections between capitalism, feminism, and religion.

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When Amazon Prime dropped the LuLaRich documentary in 2021, it was one of the first times the population at large got to peek behind the curtain at one of the largest multilevel marketing companies in the world—and boy, did it take internet voyeurs by storm.

The timing of (and snark generated by) such an explosive exposé was especially interesting, given the other pyramid scheme-y thing playing out in 2022: NFTs, shitcoins, and meme stocks.

It feels like we should’ve learned our collective lesson by now—but are the get-rich-quick schemes that plague our DMs and Twitter feeds evolving faster than we are? What’s a Boss Babe to do?

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Transcripts can be found atpodcast.moneywithkatie.com.

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Amanda Montell:It was this idea that you could have this entrepreneurial spirit without compromising your femininity, without having to leave your children behind and go to work. You know, it was sort of the best of both worlds. And then that pseudo-feminist, quasi-feminist energy continued to rebrand itself. So in the sort of Sheryl SandbergLean In, Girl Boss era of commodified feminism, you heard all of these companies from LuLaRoe to Beachbody promising the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a boss babe, to be a mompreneur, to be a SheEO, to make a full-time living with part-time work.

Katie:Welcome back to this week's episode ofThe Money with Katie Show, Rich Family. I'm your host, Katie Gatti Tassin, and this week we are talking about a slew of seemingly unrelated topics that coalesce to form a perfect storm of financial quackery intentionally designed to separate you from your money. To give you a preview of where we're heading, my guest this week is Amanda Montell, the author ofCultish: The Language of Fanaticism. So let's get into it. 

In 2021, Amazon Prime released an explosive documentary calledLuLaRich. It was one of the first times that the public at large got to peek behind the curtain at a multilevel marketing scheme, aka an MLM. The four-episode documentary series, which earned an unheard of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, chronicles the fascinating rise and fall of LuLaRoe, which is an MLM that I can only describe as a kitschy leggings company, and it provides this very unintentionally hilarious character study of the two founders, DeAnne Brady and her husband Mark Stidham.

So at one particularly humorous juncture, the producer asks the couple, who are being interviewed together, about why female empowerment was so important to the brand, and I ended up finding the clip and it's too good not to play. It's total poetry. 

Producer:What inspired the empowerment of women for you? 

Mark Stidham:Can I jump in there and then you can talk? 

DeAnne Brady:Yeah. Yeah.

Katie:Part of the reason the documentary was so interesting was because it interviewed women who got in early and did achieve extreme success. One woman who identified herself as the third person to join the company, she wouldn't even comment on how much money she made, though she admitted that she realizes it's impossible for the sellers that are coming in now to have an experience like hers because, you know, pyramid scheme and she's at the top. Another concluded the final episode by reassuring the interviewer that she is still excited about selling LuLaRoe, having just placed another order for more inventory. I found myself really empathizing with these women. All they wanted was an opportunity to earn some money, and it's clear that the early sellers did. We'll be right back after a message from the sponsors of today's episode. 

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Katie:So how did getting into LuLaRoe work? It cost $5,000 to buy in and become one of their salespeople. It's unclear to me still what exactly that got you, but I think it's your first load of product. So really, though, the $5,000 buy-in fee was the money that funded the bonus checks of the women in your upline. In other words, the people responsible for signing you up. In one scene from a LuLaRoe convention, a woman on a panel tells a cheering crowd that her last bonus check, so her cut of all the new recruits’ underneath her buy-in fees, was more than $300,000. Almost as an afterthought then, she adds that her sales for the same period—in other words, revenue from actually moving the product that they were purportedly in business to sell—was around $18,000. Murmurs and scattered applause went through the crowd, and DeAnne quickly moved on to the next panelist. 

But there is a pattern that emerges amongst the former sellers who were interviewed. They were primarily stay-at-home moms who didn't have easy access to the traditional labor force. Our guest, Amanda, who as I said is an expert in cults and cult-related tactics, covers the extent to which stay-at-home moms represented the perfect demographic for MLMs to target. I asked her to illuminate some of the nuances for us. 

Amanda Montell:Social starvation is the number one quality that cults aiming to recruit—and most cults do aim to recruit—look for, and the type of social starvation that middle-class to upper middle-class white mothers who are staying at home with their kids endure is perfect, because it's not the sort of starvation that makes a person totally on the outs in life. They're not at their absolute last dollar. They are not in a particularly desperate situation, but they are feeling extremely lonely and isolated, perhaps. You know, they have plenty of resources. Perhaps they are admired or well-liked in the community, but they still feel this profound void, this sense of lacking in their life, because they’re home alone with their children all day long, which is a famously difficult and sort of stratifying experience. You know, American motherhood is not as easy as it could be. Motherhood has obviously historically been extremely challenging. 

Katie:You get this sense that because middle- and upper middle-class women who stayed home with their children were lonely but not without resources was a key reason why even from the beginning, multilevel marketing organizations found them to be the perfect sales reps. 

Amanda Montell:There was this woman named Brownie Wise in the forties who was involved with Tupperware. Everyone probably is familiar with Tupperware parties; that's a part of our American lore, and she partnered with this guy whose last name was Tupper and made, you know, kitchen storage. And she thought that not only would women at home really appreciate this type of kitchenware, but also they would make a powerful sales force. And so she really pioneered the multilevel marketing industry as we know it now. And the multilevel marketing industry has always used the sort of pseudo mainstream feminist rhetoric that was trending at the time. So Tupperware was promised to be the best thing that happened to women since they got the vote. 

Katie:It's interesting the way in which feminism and individualism are almost inextricably linked in this rhetoric, but still operating within a traditionally acceptable mode of femininity. It didn't pose any real threat to the status quo, right? It still kept women out of the traditional labor force. In that way, it didn't really solve the problem that many women with caretaking responsibilities still face today, which is achieving financial independence and economic autonomy. 

Amanda Montell:It was this idea that you could have this entrepreneurial spirit without compromising your femininity, without having to leave your children behind, and go to work. You know, it was sort of the best of both worlds. That pseudo-feminist, quasi-feminist energy continued to rebrand itself. So in the sort of Sheryl SandbergLean In, Girl Boss era of commodified feminism, you heard all of these companies from LuLaRoe to Beachbody promising the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a boss babe, to be a mompreneur, to be a SheEO, to make a full-time living with part-time work without having to leave your perfectly filtered Instagrammable little kids to go to the office during the day.

And now in a slightly different era, the sort of post-Covid era, a lot of MLMs are promising a sort of holistic, all natural, organic, mystical, magical, Gwyneth Paltrow Goopy kind of aesthetic. So the industry has just always targeted this population of people who were vulnerable because they were lonely, but also who believed that the American dream could be theirs for the taking. 

Katie:There are chilling clips of DeAnne and Mark just berating retailers in their motivational pump-up calls, mocking the very real issues that the sellers were having once there were 50,000 of them trying to unload defective inventory in towns glutted with other LuLaRoe retailers. It was in stark contrast to this kind of kumbaya, Girlbossy language that DeAnne used in her interviews in the series. 

DeAnne Brady:There were more retailers that were saying, “Well, I kind of wanna do that.” And I thought, “Okay, come along, let's do it together. It's gonna be so fun.” 

Katie:Both DeAnne and Mark relied heavily on language that emphasizes individual responsibility and hustle, coded in a thick, pink, sparkly layer of female empowerment. “You gotta work it!” is a favorite phrase that is repeated throughout the series. It's this very manifest destiny, your future is up to you, if you can't be successful with this, it's not because it's literally a Ponzi scheme, it's because you are insufficient in some way. Mark was even on the record comparing himself to Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, suggesting that they were both on a mission and they were both misunderstood in the beginning, which highlights that in many cases the LuLaRoe founders used language invoking religion and morality pretty literally. Today the internet is glutted with stories from women who have left the company for any number of reasons, but primarily because they found it just increasingly difficult to actually make any money. Here's one YouTuber named Sam D describing her experience.

Sam D:When LuLaRoe first started, if you're not very familiar with it, they were mainly known for their leggings. So it was a way for them to get you to spend more money. So you get all of these clothes and nobody wants those; they want the leggings. So I ended up spending $4,925 and 75 cents to onboard and get my package, and that was the lowest package I could get, and I split it between two credit cards and a debit card. I saw this as an opportunity to make a ton of money fast and get out and get our house. That didn't happen. 

Katie:Did you notice how she said she figured it would be an easy way to make a lot of money quickly? This is a common throughline. The LuLaRoe tagline, “Full-time pay for part-time work,” was often spring-loaded with promises of quick returns. It's not entirely unlike the promises of pump-and-dump scams for shitcoins and meme stocks, because no, men are not impervious to the MLM model. You're not buying into a shitcoin because you believe in its long-term viability and value. You're buying in because you believe in the “greater fool” theory. In other words, someone else is gonna come along and pay more for it. 

Man:This entire fraudulent structure based on the endless chain, which is unsustainable, mathematically impossible, was obscured by simply a story about giving and receiving. In multilevel marketing, exactly the same structure: mathematically impossible, unsustainable, and so on, that will produce these massive loss rates, is covered over by a different story. It's the story that you are actually buying and selling products, that it's a business called direct selling. 

Woman:You've never been into a direct sales company. It's kind of hard to understand, but there is no comp plan out there that can beat it. 

Woman 2:Our guys are making triple and quadruple the money. 

Woman 3:You know your best friend that you've been best friends with since high school and she's struggling a little bit and you know her so well, like call her up. We are building so quickly here, and you can make some serious money.

Woman 4:And anyone worth recruiting will also see it as a relationship. 

Katie:But we can learn a lot from the language employed to recruit new salespeople. In a podcast about MLMs calledThe Dream, from which I pulled the clip we just played, hosts Jane Marie and Dann Gallucci emphasize the way MLM leaders use language that strongly stresses individualism. If you're not making money, it's not because a pyramid scheme is a fundamentally flawed way to structure a business, but because of your personal shortcomings, that your attitude and your beliefs are stressed as very, very important elements for your success. Though it's hard to dispute that MLMs in particular tend to target women. After watchingLuLaRich, I found myself wondering, would universal higher ed and universal childcare put the nail in the MLM coffin? Like if every person, regardless of background or family situation, had the opportunity to participate in higher ed and dignified labor with access to quality childcare, would the current sales pitch for MLMs lose its luster, or will there always be a market for shortcuts?

Sometimes I feel like a broken record, always positioning stronger social programs or economic incentives as a solution to most problems. But I think it's hard to deny that the lack of these resources does leave a bit of a vacuum that people like Mark and DeAnne can fill. Fascinatingly, Amanda came to a similar conclusion. 

Amanda Montell:The United States and cults just have this super consistent relationship, because even though we are a developed nation, we lack a lot of the institutional support enjoyed by places like Japan and Scandinavia and our neighbors up there in Canada. And that is not to say that these other nations don't have their own problems—they certainly do—but the fact that Americans are left generally existentially high and dry whenever they lose their job or get sick or confront something like a pandemic or even a personal tragedy, the fact that we are left feeling so very much on our own paves the way for these alternative fringe communities to step in and say like, “Oh, okay, the government isn't helping you; the healthcare system isn't helping you; you're not a Protestant anymore. Join my manifestation circle.” And not all of these groups are equally destructive. Some are net positive. We're living in an environment where you just really have to screw on your critical thinking skills, which is so difficult because we are superstitious by nature as a species, you know. We are sort of dreamy and mystical and very, very collective. So when we're left feeling socially unmoored or lonely, we're poor, we're sick, or we're just like not feeling ourselves, of course we're gonna become vulnerable to these groups. 

Katie:We'll be right back after a message from the sponsors of today's episode.

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Katie:So most of us think about MLMs and other predatory “get rich quick” schemes as pretty obviously phony and exploitative. The modern iterations of pyramid schemes, famously exemplified in a 1980s movement called the “airplane game,” relied on ideas from a spiritual movement called New Thought, which prescribes a positive attitude and confidence in right thinking as prerequisites for attracting good things to yourself—also known as the law of attraction. Now the airplane game was an innocent-sounding but very real sham that primarily involved recruiting new players who had to pay a steep buy-in fee. In a matter of days, you'd rise through the ranks, you'd collect your $12,000, and, quote, “retire.” Of course the game relied on new members and new money always continuing to join, because if the newest recruits could not find fresh blood, the money dried up and left those new recruits out of pocket.

And if it sounds like something that would never happen today, think again. In 2021, the Blessing Loom, which was a social media scam that made its way into the Better Business Bureau's scam alert page, basically took place in the DMs of platforms like Facebook and Instagram, where you'd buy in with a $100 payment and then all you'd have to do is recruit a few more people to begin to see a huge return on investment. The BBB has received 68 scam reports on Blessing Loom scams in the past year, and consumers report losing from $100 to $700. One victim from Atlanta, Georgia, remarked, “I thought this was a legit social media community looking to help others in a time of financial crisis like this. However, I was sadly mistaken.” 

Did you pick up on the word “investment?” We've been using it a lot. “Investment” is another very common euphemism used across the MLM industry and in these types of scams in general, as it's used to prey on the average person's lack of financial literacy or knowledge of what actually constitutes an investment and what's a scam. But to me, this overall promise, this attitude that hard work and individual merit is the solution, it's going to unlock these riches that are right around the corner, they are already yours to claim. It's all pretty obviously related to the concept of the American Dream, which got me wondering, where exactly did the American dream come from? Because I always assumed that it made its way over on the Mayflower, one of the earliest branding exercises in hope and prosperity. But no, the American Dream as a coined concept is less than a hundred years old. It originated in a book published in 1931 calledThe Epic of America, and the author, James Truslow Adams, described it as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” 

And of course, it is quite difficult to separate the American Dream as a concept from capitalism as a construct. The means by which new wealth is created and free markets separate the winners and losers. Individuals and companies that are competing to offer the best product or the best service can lead to innovation and improvement. And if the system is working properly, drive down costs for end consumers. But hustle culture, or the most mainstream version of hyper-individualism as a means of getting ahead, calls on some of this same language and morality. It looks and feels secular, but its fundamental if implicit teachings about the right or wrong way to live and work are rooted in ideas that first took hold in the Protestant Reformation. Here's Amanda again. 

Amanda Montell:The Protestant Reformation and Calvinism really planted the seeds of what we now conceive of as the American Dream. That is what established the Protestant ethic, which connected ideas of labor with religious ideas. And that evolved to signify the idea that when you work hard and you make money, that is pleasing to God, which is really contradictory to the sort of “blessed be the poor” messaging. But at the same time, wealth and holiness have been connected for quite some time with the building of extravagant churches and such. However, the Protestant Reformation and the Protestant ethic really paved the ground for the meritocracy idea, the bootstrapping idea, that if you can just put your nose to the grindstone and assume some personal responsibility, then you can achieve anything you want. And so the sort of self-reliant entrepreneur and the pious, devout, good Protestant became sort of inextricably linked. And the most famous and extreme example of this would be the Prosperity Gospel. 

Katie:The fact that businesses like LuLaRoe have been so forwardly religious in their speech in business contexts sometimes raises eyebrows, because I think many of us generally see red flags when there are obvious combinations of private or public enterprise with explicitly religious themes. But the same throughline: core beliefs about worthiness, individual aptitude, and salvation, is the very bedrock of our Protestant work ethic-infused American capitalism. After all, you don't have to go back very far in history to discover the moral and even afterlife implications of hashtag #grindset. InReligion and the Rise of Capitalism, Benjamin Friedman, a Harvard professor, argues that we often ignore religion's powerful influence on the way that our economic system developed, that we typically think of modern economics as this secular product of the enlightenment. But in actuality, Protestant religious beliefs are deeply encoded into its norms. These origins actually preceded the United States of America.

The father of economics, also known as the father of capitalism, Adam Smith was born in Scotland in 1723. And per Friedman's book, beliefs about God-given human character, the afterlife, and about the purpose of our existence were all under scrutiny in the world in which Adam Smith and his contemporaries lived. So by the 1800s, an evolved version of this Protestant work ethic had reached the Americas. Riches weren't thought of really as a gift from God, but as a reward for independent achievement and a sign of your good character. So in that way, hustle culture is really little more than a 21st century rebrand of the Protestant work ethic.And in sociological theory, this concept kind of suggests that there's actually a direct link between one's hard work and efficiency in life and their access to heaven. 

Amanda Montell:Blessings and being hashtag #blessed are one and the same. You know, we use religious rhetoric in our secular lives all the time, and we don't often realize how the context of that religious language often has to do with money. Hashtag #blessed; ringing the sacred stock market bell; in God We Trust. We take it for granted that being devout and pious and receiving rewards from God for being a good person and being wealthy, successful, having the Norman Rockwell dream that we've been conditioned as Americans to want, are not inherently connected.

Katie:Now that's not to suggest that your favorite hustle bro Twitter account is firing off threads that explicitly claim you've got a better shot at a killer afterlife if you can just secure venture funding for your new side hustle. But that when you peel back the layers, there is a bit of an inextricable relationship between hard work and morality in this rhetoric. It used to be even more explicit, though. Per the Encyclopedia Britannica, German sociologist Max Weber, inThe Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, written 1904, held that the Protestant ethic was an important factor in the economic success of Protestant groups in the early stages of European capitalism, because worldly success could be interpreted as a sign of eternal salvation.

Part of what makes this language so powerful is that it absolves the system of any fault. In the LuLaRoe world, that meant telling sellers that if they couldn't cut it, it was due to a personal failing, not because they were at the bottom level of a house of cards. There is a reason Mark, DeAnne, and MLMs in general hit the individual responsibility language so damn hard, because it's a distraction from the fact that the business model within which these individuals are operating is illogical—not to mention questionably legal—and it's around this time that I feel I have no choice but to point out the most literal example of this connection between worldly riches and eternal salvation. That's right: megachurch pastors conducting large-scale Prosperity Gospel grift. A YouTuber named James Jani breaks it down.

James Jani:The wealth of these preachers, they're not seen as gross or hypocritical. In fact, they're seen as proof that the teachings work. It's seen as them actually practicing what they preach. The extravagant lifestyle, that's not a mistake or a flaw; it's a feature of the Prosperity Gospel. 

Katie:Now, I was raised Catholic. I attended 12 years of Catholic school, which meant I went to an hour of religion class every weekday. So I've spent approximately 2,400 hours in Catholic religion class. Regrettably, I did not ever take a geography class, which might be the reason why I could rattle off a lot of obscure facts about Papal history, but thought that Spain was in South America until I was 13.

Anyway, there's a biblical verse that comes to mind: It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. You also might be aware of, you know, “blessed are the poor.” Now I'm no theologian, but I did learn over those 2,400 hours that Jesus was not exactly rolling in it. His teachings were pretty explicitly pro-meek and pro-downtrodden poor. So I'm not entirely sure how we went from “blessed are the poor” to “God has blessed me with this tax-exempt Gulfstream PJ.” Regardless, the modern day grifty practice of “sowing seeds” has suspiciously familiar ties to the Middle Ages practice of selling indulgences.

And in fact, here's where we come full circle with the religious lesson. The church's decision to sell indulgences, which basically allowed a sinner to buy forgiveness and supposedly shave a few years off their time in purgatory, was what inspired Martin Luther to post his 95 theses on that fabled church door in the first place, kicking off the Protestant Reformation. So questionable practices wherein God's grace was for sale kicked off the process that we are talking about now, which clarified, “No, no, no, fam, you gotta earn that love.” 

Man:I'm more interested in how the money is generated, and it doesn't get more unethical of a promise than it does with the Prosperity Gospel. 

Preacher 1:If you are accustomed of giving $10, go to $20, go up to $70, $80, $100, raise that amount and watch what God will do, because…

Preacher 2:Don't you stop showing offerings. “Well, they won't let us go to church.” Well, he made it in there, text and give or something. 

Preacher 3:You get that tithe in that church, you get that offering in that church, and then you go home and you do what you're supposed to do. 

Katie:The suggestion is pretty clear: The more money that you give to the church, the more God will bless you, often with more material wealth. Now Amanda writes about cults, so she does analyze most things through the lens of behaviors that cult leaders frequently use, but there are, surprisingly, unsettlingly wide-ranging applications.

Amanda Montell:The best cult leaders are relatable but extremely aspirational. They create this impression that “you can be just like me if only you follow in my footsteps.” It works, because as Americans, we are all baseline conditioned to equate holiness and morality with wealth. But also, it suggests to everyone going to that church, you know, if you just keep praying hard enough and keep donating your money as much as you are, and remain steadfastly loyal to this institution, well, then, you could follow in this man's footsteps. 

Katie:Now, we've touched on a few scams designed to separate unsuspecting, vulnerable people from their money and the rhetoric used to do so, but we haven't quite unpacked the Law of Attraction piece as fully yet. And in doing so, we are going to find—surprise!—yet another subset of this scam, because this is where I think it becomes obvious that there are degrees of susceptibility. For example, someone may never get involved in an MLM, but might subscribe to the Law of Attraction or believe in manifestation. And frankly, this is where my own experience with the woo-woo comes in. And the problem is that these beliefs are just patently unfalsifiable. I can't prove that my woo-woo goal-setting and manifestation attempts didn't impact my outcomes, but I also cannot prove that they did. And the whole point of manifestation practices is a faith that something is already yours, and conveniently, doubt in your own ability to generate outcomes using your mind is considered a disqualifier. If you don't believe it, it won't happen. Well, it's pretty hard to challenge that, no?

There are manifestation coaches all over social media claiming to hold the secret that'll help you unlock the life of your dreams. And one such coach that I found charges an “investment fee” of $4,400 for six hours of one-on-one time. There's that word again: investment. They claim they can help you make more money, attract your soulmate, and even get pregnant. I would love to know the logistics on the last one. This coach boasts that they won the Law of Attraction award from lawofattractionleaders.com. Sounds legit.

Here's the thing: Who am I to say this shit doesn't work? I don't know. I have a vision board on my wall. I'm not saying I'm above the woo-woo, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around paying someone else thousands of dollars to teach me how to adjust my vibration. And I think a healthy level of skepticism should be applied to anyone who is primarily in the business of selling hope. Because, make no mistake, that is what's for sale. 

Amanda Montell:We are obviously in a really interesting place in the zeitgeist regarding mental health. Our collective mental health really tanked during the pandemic, and at the very same time, conversations surrounding psychology and well-being, et cetera, were becoming more accepted and encouraged. And that was all a double-edged sword, because at the very same time that more people who could really benefit from, say, cognitive behavioral therapy and certain mental health pharmaceuticals were able to access those things for the first time. You also had anybody and their mother hopping on TikTok or Instagram and YouTube claiming some kind of, not just medical but spiritual authority, blending the rhetoric of both those disciplines. So they might talk about borderline personality disorder, anxiety, trauma, and the Akashic records all in the same sentence. And then now you might have people being overdiagnosed, misdiagnosed, because they're self-diagnosing on the internet based on a parasocial relationship with an overconfident manifestation guru who is not only telling followers what they want to hear or confirming beliefs that they already hold, but these algorithms—I mean it's literally called your “For You” page—are further serving you exactly what you wanna hear.

Katie:And it's not like there are many redundancies in the system designed to ensure that people aren't algorithmically shuffled into corners of the internet that may be well-intentioned but ultimately harmful. 

Amanda Montell:It's actually quite hard to hold people accountable for disseminating bad advice. That doesn't even touch on how difficult it is to institute checks and balances when you're talking about mental health influencers. And these authority figures, quote unquote “authority figures,” are incentivized not to share nuanced information that is personal to everyone watching. How could they possibly do that? They're incentivized to share the information that will be most engaging, and the most engaging information is going to be the information that sounds the most novel, and the most novel-sounding information is probably going to be negative, is probably going to be slightly conspiratorial.

And I would count manifestation as a sort of conspiracy theory, because it's the idea that big pharma, the government, but also your own mind, are conspiring to keep you unwell. And if you follow this influencer and if you sign up for their $25 a month workshop and if you do the crystals and buy the powder and whatever else, then eventually you can manifest your way out of that trauma. 

Katie:LuLaRoe was not selling leggings. They were selling hope for a better future to vulnerable stay-at-home moms. Centimillionaire megachurch preachers who insist that your donation will unlock more material blessings because “God wants you to be rich” are not selling a system of faith or Christianity—they're selling you hope. Manifestation coaches are not selling a knowledge of quantum physics. They're selling hope. Just listen to this language from the aforementioned coach’s sales page. It's too good not to share. “Because I want you to know that the success, love, money, and abundance that you seek will not come from looking outside of yourself. It will come from changing from within, because the minute you change your inner vibration, your outer reality must change to reflect that. It is universal law.” 

Again, pretty unfalsifiable. If you are a single mother of two making low wages and you change your vibration and your reality doesn't automatically shift around you, well, you must not have done it correctly, right? And as the coach claims, your current efforts clearly aren't getting you the results you want, quote, “you have to invest to show the universe that you're ready.” 

The point is, any belief system, really, can be exploited for material gain. And these things exist on a spectrum. For example, if your worldview or faith emphasizes the power of your mindset, I don't think that that's inherently dangerous. But effectively, any belief system, whether it be the law of attraction, the Prosperity Gospel, hustle culture, or even the Boss Babe industrial complex, can be exploited by gurus or leaders or teachers who claim to hold the keys that you need. Any of these belief systems can be wielded to manipulate you and separate you from your money. And in almost every case, they're preying on desperation. They offer a seemingly easy way out of the challenges endemic to life itself: money, love, business, self-esteem, or relationship with a higher power, even. And not by teaching you legitimate skills or breaking down real barriers like unequal pay or a racist or sexist hiring practice or a lack of systemic support for families, but through get-rich-quick methods and empty promises. 

We saw young men experience this at scale in 2022, after a series of rug-pulls in the crypto world. Charismatic crypto leaders had emerged and convinced other young men about which coins were going to the moon. Everyone from Roaring Kitty, the YouTuber, who helped pump GameStop while posting anonymously on Reddit’s r/wallstreetbets forum because he had a massive position in the stock, to Atlas Trading, a group of young men who would post about stocks they liked and urge their followers to pour more and more cash into them, only to sell their own shares once the price had been sufficiently pumped. They promised their followers it was an easy investment to get rich quickly, and people lost their shirts when the rug was pulled out from underneath them. 

All I know is that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and unchecked greed left completely untouched by regulatory measures can lead people down pretty exploitative paths. The idea that you can become an entrepreneur without any of the risks, or give money to a church that will ensure God blesses you with more material wealth, or pay $4,000 to a stranger you met online who's gonna help you attract your soulmate—they're all variations of the same promise, that there's a shortcut you can take to getting what you want, and that someone else has the secret…for a price. 

All right, y'all, that is all for this week. I will see you next week, same time, same place, onThe Money with Katie Show. Our show is a production of Morning Brew and is produced by Henah Velez and me, Katie Gatti Tassin, with our audio engineering and sound design from Nick Torres. Devin Emery is our chief content officer, and additional fact checking comes from Kate Brandt.