Saturday 7 May 2016

Stephen Butterfield - 'Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise.'

I was recently reminded of Stephen Butterfield's book about the 'MLM' phenomenon which, although published more than 30 years ago, is just as relevant today.

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Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise. Steve Butterfield, South End Press, 1985. 

Recruits are given special monikers within the organization and are promised salvation. Soon they find themselves sitting for 12 hours at a stretch at mass rallies, chanting thanks to the Leader for "teaching us to be free.' Contacts with parents and friends who aren't in the circle of the elect are cut off. Lectures, speeches, tapes and books indoctrinate them and incite them to fight for the Free World against Communism. They do not second-guess their superiors. They work long hours for little or no pay for the leaders who "love' them. 

Moonies? Close. These are the shock troops of Amway. 

Steve Butterfield, a Vermont English professor and onetime distributor for the mammoth corporation, tells how the peddling of laundry soap and breath freshener has been turned into a religious quest for half a million Americans. 

His tale is a chilling one. Amway somehow devised a method for brainwashing its eager legions into sacrificing their lives to line the company's pocket, all the while convincing them that they're crusading for something much different. 

Take the work ethic, for example. Once recruits are drawn into Amway, they enlist their own distributors through a pyramid scheme, much like a chain letter. You get rich by convincing those below you to give you money in the belief that by doing so they can get rich. So to make enough money through Amway to be able to quit your regular job, you have to dupe 100 others into becoming independent distributors on their own and buying overpriced Amway motivational tapes and books every week to "learn' how to earn a million dollars. While ostensibly pushing the work ethic, Amway lecturers teach you that the aim of the job is to retire and take ocean cruises while others do your work for you. 

The mind control is fearsome. Amway and the right-wing preachers and celebrities who address its seminars tell you that you're working to preserve family values while warning you away from friends and relatives who reject your sales pitch. Such losers, they say, do not deserve to get rich. 

The company maintains motivation through intimidation. Superiors visit your house unannounced to ensure that your family uses only Amway products. They check to see that you've cut out and taped to your refrigerator magazine photos of the items you dream of buying when your Amway fortune is made--Cadillacs and mobile homes are the icons of this gospel of wealth. Distributors who question the company's methods are cut off, and all "negative' books are trimmed from the Amway reading list. Mix in copious quantities of the rhetoric of free enterprise and competitive business and you have perhaps the grossest of caricatures of the American Way. 

But Amway didn't invent this extraordinary materialism. And it certainly is not the first to create such a herd mentality. Butterfield's book, like exposes of the Moonies and other cults, serves a valuable purpose in reminding us of how those instincts can be manipulated. Exposers of cults frequently aim to ignite crusades against individual cults. A more beneficial, though unlikely, effect would be to ignite a revolt against the misplaced values which provide the ready-made sales force for an Amway in the first place.

COPYRIGHT 1985 Washington Monthly Company
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.


  1. david,
    we miss you on seeking alpha...
    any thoughts on the outcome of HLF ? An FTC decision is imminent

    1. There is a very strong probability that 'Herbalife' will be treated in exactly the same way as 'FHTM.' More than 1000 'Herbalife' victims have filed complaints, and I believe only 12 people filed complaints against 'FHTM.'

      That said, the only truthful response from FTC officials would be to admit that the 'MLM' phenomenon has always been beyond their understanding, but something tells me that FTC officials aren't ever going to confront the full truth publicly.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Mark - have you had a direct personal experience of an 'MLM' cultic racket?