Tuesday 26 September 2017

Christine Richard reports 'Herbalife (HLF)' racketeering lawsuit.

Statutory Warning

More than half a century of quantifiable evidence, proves beyond all reasonable doubt that:
  • what has become popularly-known as 'Multi-Level Marketing' is nothing more than an absurd, cultic, economic pseudo-science.
  • the impressive-sounding made-up term 'MLM,' is, therefore, part of an extensive, thought-stopping, non-traditional jargon which has been developed, and constantly-repeated, by the instigators, and associates, of various, copy-cat, major, and minor, ongoing organised crime groups (hiding behind labyrinths of legally-registered corporate structures) to shut-down the critical, and evaluative, faculties of victims, and of casual observers, in order to perpetrate, and dissimulate, a series of blame-the-victim rigged-market swindles or pyramid scams (dressed up as 'legitimate direct selling income opportunites'), and related advance-fee frauds (dressed up as 'legitimate training and motivation, self-betterment, programs, recruitment leads, lead generation systems,' etc.).
David Brear (copyright 2017)

Herbalife's Events System Might Violate The FTC Consent Order

By Christine Richard


A lawsuit filed in Florida last week accuses Herbalife and its top distributors of racketeering.
Plaintiffs say they spent and lost thousands of dollars attending events described as “the guaranteed pathway to attaining life-changing financial success”.
The event system, as revealed in the complaint, also violates the FTC Order in numerous ways – we start with three: Subsections II.D, I.F.1, and I.F.2.
These violations occur even before distributors walk through the door.
Every month, Herbalife Ltd.’s (HLF) top distributors organize events called Success Training Seminars (STSs). Held in airport hotel ballrooms and convention centers across the US, STSs bring distributors together for what top recruiters claim is training, mentoring and motivation. These monthly events are part of a continuous series of events – called "the Circle of Success" – which includes weekly Herbalife Opportunity Meetings (HOMS), quarterly Leadership Development Weekends (LDWs) and annual Extravaganzas.
The Circle of Success became the subject of a racketeering lawsuit filed in Florida last week, which you can read here. Rodgers v. Herbalife describes what it says is “a corrupt organization of individuals and entities who act together, using misrepresentation and deceit, to sell access to a series of emotionally manipulative live events.”
The message from top recruiters is consistent, according to the lawsuit: Attendance at events is critical for any distributor who expects to succeed at Herbalife.
“For those of you serious Herbalife Distributors in Miami, I’ll tell you like we tell our team; Events/Trainings are non-negotiable!” defendants Jorge and Disney de la Concepcion are quoted in the lawsuit as saying on their popular Instagram feed, ahead of the May 2017 STS.
Plaintiffs include former Florida distributors Jeff and Patricia Rodgers: “The Rodgers rarely missed an event for the duration of their four-year involvement with Herbalife; attending more than fifty events, sometimes at a rate of two a week, and doing everything President’s Team members told them was necessary to achieve financial independence. Even though they were losing money every month, Jeff and Patti continued to attend monthly Herbalife events where they were exhorted to double down their efforts with the guarantee that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was just within reach.”
Here’s where the problems begin.
Event Costs Not Disclosed
A Consent Order imposed by the Federal Trade Commission on Herbalife’s business in July 2016 requires Herbalife to disclose all information material to participants concerning the business opportunity, such as “the total costs to participate, including trainings, brochures, and sales aids; any material restrictions, limitations, or conditions on operating the Business Venture; or any material aspect of its performance, efficacy, nature, or central characteristics.” (Subsection II.D)
Yet, Herbalife doesn’t disclose that Circle of Success event attendance is a critical part of the business nor does it provide an estimate of the cost of attending these events.
In fact, Herbalife’s contract with distributors states: “To become an Herbalife distributor, succeed in the business, advance in the Sales and Marketing Plan, or receive upline training or support, you are NOT required to buy any amount of materials, products, or services, either those produced by Herbalife or by a party other than Herbalife, or to attend any seminars, meetings, or events.”
All eight plaintiffs describe a constant push by their uplines to attend events.
Plaintiffs Mike LaVigne, a veteran of the U.S. Army and the IT director for an Ohio county, and Jen LaVigne, an emergency services worker attended every scheduled event over one and a half years; the lawsuit lists 19 events in total.
"At every event, Mike and Jen were told that they must attend every event. Business opportunity participants who wanted to be successful were instructed to plan their lives around the Circle of Success event schedule."
Minimum Purchases Imposed
Rodgers v. Herbalife also alleges that event expenses go beyond ticket purchases and travel costs. According to the complaint, distributors buy Herbalife products ahead of events in order to qualify for special training and visibility at the event.
STSs frequently include special training or mentoring sessions – but only for those who can show that they or their immediate downline distributors have purchased a minimum level of volume over a period of months. "Supervisor School," for example, is typically limited to distributors who can prove they or their immediate downline distributors have purchased 2,500 volume points a month for the last three months. That's more than $3,000 worth of Herbalife products.
Distributors also are pressured to qualify for VIP treatment at events. Sitting in the VIP section sends a message to a distributor’s downline and to any potential recruits he may have brought to the event that they are following a winner into the Herbalife business. VIP treatment also requires proof of minimum purchases; this month's STS in Miami, for example, requires proof of 9,000 volume points, or more than $4,000 of Herbalife products purchases, in August.
The FTC Consent Order specifically prohibits Herbalife from imposing minimum purchase requirements. Under “Limitations on Thresholds, Targets and Requirements,” the Order states: “Business Opportunity participants shall not be required to purchase a minimum quantity of products, except that Defendants may require Business Opportunity Participants to purchase an initial start-up package or its equivalent, provided that no Multi-Level Compensation is generated or paid on the Purchase.” (Subsection I.F.1)
Yet, the complaint alleges a pervasive scheme to tie product purchases to event attendance and to promote event attendance as the road to success, and it does so with Herbalife’s complicity.
Plaintiff Cody Pyle, who attempted the Herbalife business in Oklahoma, spent thousands of dollars a month to qualify for full participation in these events: “Diligent attendance at every event was not delivering any success for Cody Pyle. And at each of these events, speaker after speaker touted the necessity of qualifying VIP for events if one truly wanted to have life changing success with the Herbalife business opportunity. Attendees were told that there would be a direct correlation between VIP qualifications and the size of their Herbalife paychecks. Over Cody’s two-year involvement with Herbalife he averaged 2451 in personally purchased volume points per month. But for three consecutive months beginning February 2016, Mr. Pyle purchased almost triple that amount of volume in a conscious effort to ‘qualify for everything’ at events as per instructed.”
Payment of Commissions on Ineligible Volume
It’s not surprising that top distributors push their organizations to qualify for everything, given that all this qualification volume stands to benefit them in the form of commissions, bonuses, and advancement in the marketing plan.
The complaint describes a President’s Team member urging her downline to go to the Extravaganza: “On that call, Defendant Dani Edwards states that Extravaganza attendance ‘completely transformed’ her life, allowing her to build up what she called ‘legacy’ wealth in just five years. She says she knows many people are ‘putting together every single penny that they have,’ to be able to attend the event. She claims it will be worth overcoming any ‘excuse’ not to attend, including; insufficient funds, an unsupportive spouse, a job, or the need to take care of children. Whatever a person’s financial or emotional position, Defendant Dani Edwards claims that, `it is vital that you do whatever you have to do to get to this event.’ ”
This do-whatever-it-takes message from the top may contribute to another violation of the FTC Order by encouraging distributors to falsify the purchases they make as “Documented Volume.”
One of the conditions of the FTC settlement requires Herbalife distributors to specify whether their purchases from the company are “Documented Volume” or “Undocumented Volume.” Documented volume, which counts toward figuring commissions and other benefits, is volume purchased by “Preferred Customers,” individuals who sign up with Herbalife just to get a discount on the products for their own consumption, and volume purchased by a distributor that is later sold in a profitable transaction to a retail customer. Distributors must show proof of these retail sales by sending receipts, with identifying customer information, to Herbalife.
But how does a struggling distributor – who lacks Preferred Customers and Retail Customers – manage to qualify for training and VIP treatment to jumpstart his business? He’s not eligible for success training because he doesn’t have enough volume. He doesn’t have enough volume because he has not been to success training. It’s a Catch-22.
The Circle of Success system, as described in Rodgers v. Herbalife, appears to encourage distributors to buy the necessary qualification volume themselves and then to falsify receipts. If distributors are doing this, then Herbalife’s business violates the FTC Order by rewarding upline distributors based on ineligible volume.
The Order states“To the extent the [marketing] Program requires that a Participant meet a threshold or target in order to (A) obtain or maintain a level or designation necessary to receive any particular type or amount of Multi-Level Compensation; (B) qualify or become eligible to receive Multi-Level Compensation; (C) otherwise increase the Participant’s amount of Multi-Level Compensation; or (D) obtain, maintain, increase, or qualify for a discount or rebate on Product purchased for resale; such threshold or target shall be met exclusively through Profitable Retail Sales and Sales to Preferred Customers.” (Subsection I.F.2)
Qualify for Everything
According to the complaint, Herbalife ceded much of the operation of the STS system to top distributors in 2009. Yet, it continues to control the events behind the scenes – by providing a standardized itinerary, approving speaker comments in advance and receiving summaries of every event.
The complaint suggests Herbalife knows or should have known that its distributors were being bombarded with messages about the importance of event attendance. It is easy enough to find distributors pushing the “never miss an event” creed and the “qualify for everything” mantra across the Internet. It seems unlikely that Herbalife’s compliance department has missed these messages.
To summarize: Herbalife’s events system, as presented in Rodgers v. Herbalife, raises questions about Herbalife’s and its top distributors’ compliance under the FTC Order. These include:
  • Is Herbalife failing to disclose upfront that regular event attendance is treated as a “non-negotiable” part of the business by its top recruiters? Is it then failing to disclose an estimate of the cost of attending these events?
  • Is Herbalife allowing its top recruiters to impose minimum purchase requirements as a condition of obtaining training?
  • Are these minimum purchase requirements resulting in the payment of commissions on ineligible volume?
If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then Herbalife’s Circle of Success may be violating FTC Order in at least three ways – and it's doing so before distributors even walk through the door.

Christine Richard (copyright 2017)

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Counterfeits - 'Multi-Level Marketing & Crypto Currencies' - the 'economic bubbles' of the 21st century.



Image result for charles mackay madness of crowds

In 1841, a Scottish journalist, Charles Mackay, published 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds.' In this, he described the three most notorious economic bubbles known up to that date - the 'Dutch Tulip Mania' of the early 17th century and the 'South Sea' and 'Mississippi Companies' of the early 18th century. However, Mackay's book contained various other chapters, including one on 'Alchemy.'

Image result for cryptocurrency bubble


Last week it was announced that 'Bitcoin had peaked above $5000 for the first time.'


This week it has been announced that 'Chinese regulators have launched a crackdown on individuals and firms raising funds by offering their own digital currencies.'


Certain senior Chinese regulators, and legislators, seem to have worked out that so-called 'digital currencies,' or 'cryptocurrencies,' or 'altcoins,' aren't what their instigators would have the world believe them to be, and that, if this rapidly-expanding (but effectively-unregulated) financial genie is not challenged immediately, it might soon be too late to put it back in the bottle. 

In the light of this news from China, all of a sudden around the world, large numbers of observers (including financial regulators and journalists) are again applying common-sense and asking: 

Hang on, aren't these 'digital currencies' just like pyramid schemes?

One of the most-obvious red flags flying over 'digital currencies' is the fact that the technical explanation of them has been written in a mystifying jargon (stuffed with neologisms) which cannot be readily understood. This elaborate bullshit has obviously been designed to shut-down the critical, and evaluative, faculties of unwary persons. Classically, this thought-stopping nonsense has been constantly-repeated by the jargon's authors, and then by journalists and even regulators - making the truth increasingly difficult to find, let alone face.


A Blog reader sent me a link to the main Wikipedia 'cryptocurrency' page and asked me:

What does all this mean in plain language?

cryptocurrency (or crypto currency) is a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange using cryptography to secure the transactions and to control the creation of additional units of the currency. Cryptocurrencies are classified as a subset of digital currencies and are also classified as a subset of alternative currencies and virtual currencies.

"Bitcoin became the first decentralized cryptocurrency in 2009. Since then, numerous cryptocurrencies have been created.These are frequently called altcoins, as a blend of bitcoin alternative. Bitcoin and its derivatives use decentralized control as opposed to centralized electronic money/centralized banking systems.The decentralized control is related to the use of bitcoin's blockchain transaction database in the role of a distributed ledger."
I replied that relying on this page for an explanation of cryptocurrency, is the equivalent of going the Wikipedia equestrian pages expecting to find an accurate explanation of a Trojan Horse.


Meanwhile, the rest of the pernicious 'digital currency' fairy story as been very easy to understand, because it has been designed to spread like a virus:

Once upon a time, some very clever, but nameless, wizards created millions of magical coins (out of thin air) - the magical coins constantly rose in value and, thus, only those people who were clever enough to buy them and keep believing in them (without question), lived happily ever after.

The lie which is fundamental to all 'rigged-market swindles' (commonly-referred to as pyramid schemes) is that anyone, and everyone, can earn financial reward by first contributing their own money to participate in a legal, and viable, money-making opportunity.

In reality, pyramid schemes are centrally-controlled, economically-unviable fakes, due to the fact that the (alleged) 'money-making opportunities' used to front them have been rigged by their all-powerful instigators so that they generate no significant, or sustainable, revenue other than that deriving from their own powerless participants. The instigators and an insignificant minority of shills always make fortunes, but the overwhelming majority of participants are condemned to lose.

Rigged-market swindles can only be sustained so long as their catastrophic results remain hidden from new victims and no existing victims complain.

For more than 50 years, 'Multi-Level Marketing' racketeers have been allowed to hide in plain sight, dissimulating some of the most-extensive rigged-market swindles of all time, by offering endless-chains of powerless losing victims (arbitrarily, and falsely, defined in their contracts as 'Distributors, Independent Business Owners,' etc.) various banal, but effectively-valueless commodities, and/or services, in exchange for unlawful investment payments (based on the false-expectation of future reward), but laundered as lawful 'sales' (based on value and demand) to 'customers and end-users'. However, since no gang of 'MLM' racketeers has ever proved that 'MLM' wampum has actually been regularly re-sold to the general public for profit in significant quantities, tens of millions of losing 'MLM' participants have, in fact, been peddled infinite shares of their own finite money.


There have been a significant number of 'MLM Income Opportunity' racketeers who have hidden their criminal activities behind claims to be selling valuable coins, and/or precious metals, and/or gemstones, which will increase in re-sale value.

More recently, 'MLM' racketeers have updated their pernicious fairy story to fit the spirit of the times, and they have begun hiding behind 'cryptocurrencies.'

In the final analysis, other than their ephemeral external presentations, internally there is no real difference between all rigged-market swindles; for any alleged 'opportunity to make money,' wherein (when challenged, and/or rigorously investigated) the instigators are unable immediately to provide independent quantifiable evidence to prove that their alleged 'viable commercial scheme' has had a significant, and sustainable, source of revenue other than its own participants, is a fraud.

Should anyone begin printing or minting pounds, dollars, Euros, Yen, etc. they would be committing the criminal offence of counterfeiting. However, although it doesn't seem possible, the growing number of unoriginal economic alchemists behind the 'digital currency' phenomenon, have demonstrated that, to date, anyone can create, and peddle, an apparently revolutionary new means of exchange in the form of  an unguaranteed currency, provided enough uncomplaining persons continue to buy it using guaranteed currency, because, obviously, such individuals have every reason to believe that their coins have exchange value and will increase in value.

Readers, might be interested to learn that a team of so-called 'financial experts' working for the European Central Bank, looked at 'Bitcoin' several years ago and concluded that:

 'Bitcoin' exhibits some, but not all, of the characteristics of a Ponzi scheme.

Consequently, even the European Central Bank was unable to inform the public as to whether the so-called 'Bitcoin system' was fundamentally fraudulent and dangerous. However, these demonstrable dunces with diplomas seem to have forgotten that a counterfeit banknote might be 99.9% perfect, but the bit that is not, makes all of it worthless. They also failed deduce that, despite its up-dated camouflage, what lurks behind the 'digital currency' craze is neither original nor unique and, consequently, it cannot be fully-understood in isolation  

My first advice to any regulators/law enforcement agents is to stop using all of the mystifying jargon which the instigators of these absurd financial fairy stories keep constantly-repeating, and try to describe what has been occurring using only accurate deconstructed terms. I would also encourage all regulators and law enforcement agents looking at 'digital currencies', to ask the following common-sense question: 

What exactly is it that a greedy minority of crooks always keep trying to do, when corrupt, and/or na├»ve, political leaders fail to identify them as being dangerous to the majority, and allow them to steer nations' monetary policies in whatever profitable direction they want? 

The rather obvious answer to this important question has been known for centuries; for, even before the Industrial Revolution (let alone the Digital Revolution), central banking systems and many of the other so-called essential structures, and instruments, of free-market capitalism (which have produced today’s dodgy global-economy) were already being installed in England, but without the slightest independent regulation.

In 1694, a ‘joint-stock’ company, the ‘Bank of England,’ was created. A Royal Charter granted its Governor the monopoly to act as the English Government’s banker. Until this time, the ancient concept of money had been based on the intrinsic value of the precious metal content of a sovereign State’s coinage, but the ‘Bank of England’ was also given the monopoly to issue paper money (guaranteeing bearers payment on demand, in gold). However, thriving merchant banks, insurance and securities markets, and a stock exchange (turning over millions of pounds of business annually on promissory notes) were expanding rapidly in London at the dawn of the ‘Age of Enlightenment.’ By 1707, the United Kingdom of Great Britain had been created by the union of Scotland with England.

In 1711, the incorporation of a ‘South Sea Company’ was proposed by two London merchant/ stockbrokers, George Caswall (of Turner Caswall & Co.) and John Blunt (of the ‘Hollow Sword Blade Company’). What they initially offered, seemed to be a perfectly viable investment scheme linked to profits generated by Britain’s growing overseas trade. As such, at first glance, the ‘South Sea Company’ prospectus closely-resembled that of the ‘East India Company’ which itself was based on a variation of the theory of insurance (i.e. the off-loading of financial liability held by the few, onto the many). 

In 1708, the directors of the ‘East India Company’, supported by their political allies, had, in exchange for lending the government approximately £3 millions, legally-acquired the hugely-profitable (temporary) monopoly of British trade with the ‘East Indies.’ The government's £3 millions debt to the East India Company (upon which annual interest was paid via tarifs imposed on goods imported into Britain by the East India Company), was then carved up and resold to private investors in the form of ‘East India Company’ stock (the value of which was subject to market forces). Dividends were only paid to share holders on the East India Company's actual net-trading profits. 

Completely contrary to what they initially claimed to be doing, the instigators of the ‘South Sea scheme’ progressively circumvented the ‘Bank of England’s’ juicy monopolies, by deliberating creating an insolvent corporate trading-front behind which lurked another profitable, but unlawful, national bank. Unlike the 'East India Company,' this mystifying, legally-registered corporate structure would first agree to pay dividends to share holders only on net-trading profits, but then make no significant net-profits from trade; instead, the 'South Sea Company' would hide in plain sight unlawfully paying dividends to its share holders derived from the government's annual interest payments whilst peddling more and more people an exclusive financial product derived from carving up more and more government debt. In simple terms, the so-called 'South Sea schemewas a dissimulated closed-market swindle without any significant source of revenue other than its own participants. As such, it was based on the crack-pot economic theory that: never-ending recruitment + never-ending payments by the recruits = never ending profits for the recruits.

Edward Harley (1689-1741)
Robert Harley (1661-1724)

It is now generally accepted by historians that the entire 'South Sea scheme' had been largely-devised by Edward Harley, the younger brother of Robert Harley (Britain's new Chancellor of the Exchequer), and John Blunt. 

When the wider picture is examined, Robert Harley is revealed as being a classic target for swindlers. In simple terms, the politician who enthusiastically helped to drag the Trojan Horse  'South Sea Company' inside Britain, had such a high opinion of himself, that he was certain that he could not be deceived. Furthermore, self-righteous, Nonconformist Christian and leading member of the Whig party, Robert Harley came to office in August 1710, at a time when government debt was spiralling out of control due to previous mis-management of the nation's finances, combined with Britain's ongoing involvement in the vastly-expensive ‘War of Spanish Succession.’ Thus, desperate to find cash to keep paying the Duke of Marlborough's army fighting in Europe against Spain's allies the French, under the influence of his brother, Edward, and John Blunt, the new Chancellor's first move was to turn away from the Bank of England. 

John Blunt of the 'Hollow Sword Blade Company' (a bank), along with a private banking consortium including Edward Gibbon and George Caswell, were given the right to sell £100 tickets for a national lottery. This offered all players a minimum (net-loss) 'prize of £10,' but a few lucky players would get maximum prizes up to £20 000. However, the winners soon discovered that their prizes were not paid out as lump-sums. In this way, more than £1 million was raised within a few months. Blunt, Caswell and Gibbon (along with friends and relatives) pocketed huge commissions and 'expenses' for promoting the lottery and selling the tickets. It seems that these events further convinced Robert Harley that he was destined to go down in History as a great man.  

Whilst the Lottery was in full swing, Robert Harley headed a parliamentary committee (including his younger brother, Edward, his brother- in-law , Paul Foley, and John Aislabie who led a group of 200 members of parliament known as the 'October Club). The committee was appointed to investigate, and calculate, the national debt. In reality, the Chancellor already knew this to be approximately £9 millions.

Daniel Defoe

In the face of political opposition, what appeared to be Blunt and Caswell's prospectus for a ‘South Sea Company,' was supported by Robert Harley, who was so certain of its authenticity, that he personally organised a campaign of pamphlets and editorials in newspapers. Notable poet and collector of antiquarian manuscripts himself, Robert Harley employed his literary friends as propagandists. They were some of the most talented English prose writers of the day, including Daniel Foe (a.k.a. ‘Daniel Defoe’) and Jonathan Swift. As a reward for his efforts, Robert Harley was made Earl of Oxford and promoted to the post of 'Lord High Treasurer.' Secretly, members of the British government (including Robert Harley) were already in peace talks. Consequently, rumours were rife that the 'War on Spanish Succession' was about to end and that the 'South Sea Company' was going to make all its investors rich.

Behind all the pretty words and exciting images, the reality of the ‘South Sea Company’ was somewhat different. Although the instigators knew that their company was destined to be the front for an unlawful national bank (which would not make its real profits from trade), the 'scheme's' covering 'commercial' activity was intended to be the purchase of kidnapped humans in W. Africa to be transported and sold into slavery in the Americas. This horrific racket was a perfectly legal business at the time; it was falsely justified by the convenient, contemporary belief that negroes were subhumans and, therefore, no different to farm animals. After discharging their surviving human cargo, the 'South Sea Company' slave ships (which each would have a Christian Minister on board) were to be used to transport goods to Europe.

Share certificate of the South Sea Company.

In 1711, a joint-stock company (i.e. a corporate structure with a specified commercial purpose, initially financed by capital raised from the public sale of shares in its declared assets and projected trading profits) was legally- incorporated by Blunt and Caswall. In return for a future monopoly of British trade with South America, the ‘South Sea Company’ was permitted, by Act of Parliament, to assume liability for a portion of the British National debt. Private holders of a recent issue of government securities (with a guaranteed face-value), were obliged, by the same Act of Parliament, to exchange these for ‘South Sea Company’ stock (with a nominated value). The initial rate of exchange was determined by the government, but, thereafter, the value of the stock became subject to market forces. The company was permitted to raise extra working-capital by borrowing against the security of the future debt-repayment due from the government. The government agreed to pay the ‘South Sea Company’ 6 % annual interest (in perpetuity) on approximately £9 millions value of the national debt (fixed at the moment of exchange). However, stock-holders had no rights to a share of the approximately £568 000 annual interest and 'expenses' payments to the company. Officially, dividend payments had to depend solely on the company’s actual trading profits. Unfortunately, South American ports had been closed to British ships since the start of the war in 1703, but the government intended to fund its interest payments to the ‘South Sea Company’ from tariffs on the millions of pounds worth of goods which the company was(theoretically) going to be importing once the war was successfully concluded.

As predicted (by Robert Harley and his friends), the ‘War of Spanish Succession’ soon ended. However, as enormous international tensions remained, the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) granted Britain only limited trading rights with Spanish colonies. 

Image result for 18th century ship
Just one solitary British ship, carrying not more than 500 tons of cargo, was allowed per year. A further clause in the Treaty of Utrecht, specified a maximum annual British quota of 4800 slaves. Consequently, an immediate boom could not occur. In fact, the ‘South Sea Company’ only conducted its first, allotted slave trading during 1717, and this represented a net-loss. As they had always intended, to increase income, the company’s officers took on a further £2 millions of national debt to be converted into stock, but they now unlawfully increased the market-value of their existing stock-issue by paying dividends to share-holders using capital which they’d legally borrowed against the security of the government’s future interest payments. During 1713, the market-value of (what should have been) the technically insolvent ‘South Sea Company’ was artificially-increased by 40%. Despite the fact that, to achieve this the company officers had wilfully breached the terms of an Act of Parliament, no private investor had cause for complaint, and independent financial regulators didn’t exist. Although relations between Britain and Spain were on the slide, supporters of the ‘South Sea Company’ steadfastly denied this bleak reality, insisting that long-term prospects for future earnings were excellent. 

George I

In 1718, another war with Spain broke out. South American ports were again completely closed to all British ships. Therefore, the South Sea Company’s’ specified commercial purpose disappeared overnight. Since the company’s officers were only authorized to pay dividends using actual trading profits, the shareholders had become the contributing participants in an unviable system of economic exchange without a sustainable source of external revenue. Whilst the war continued, the company couldn’t conduct any trade. Self-evidently, there could be no actual profits to divide. In reality, the pieces of paper printed as ‘South Sea Company shares’ had become fake securities, because they had long-since lost their guaranteed face-value. Therefore, any unqualified ‘commercial’ vocabulary used to describe the subsequent criminal activities of the officers of the ‘South Sea Company’ should be considered a misleading use of language. Obviously, it was now impossible for everyone involved to face reality. To maintain confidence, Robert Harley and his friends had encouraged King George I to become ‘Governor of the South Sea Company.’ For a period, Britain’s Head of State was the unwitting front-man for what was soon to become one of the most convincing, and extensive, closed-market swindles in history.

John Aislabie

By 1719, Robert Harley had fallen from royal favour and the new ‘Chancellor of the Exchequer,’ John Aislabie, was again facing a rising national debt. This time, it was already over £50 millions. John Blunt and his ‘company cashier,’ Robert Knight, again offered salvationIn the face of competition from the ‘Bank of England,’ they proposed what they arbitrarily defined as a ‘larger joint-stock, investment scheme’ where private holders of a new issue of approximately £31 millions of government securities (with a guaranteed face-value) could voluntarily convert these into ‘new South Sea Company shares’ (with a nominated face-value). Without a full explanation of the source of their finance, Blunt and Knight offered to pay the government an immediate £7.5 millions fee for the privilege. To sweeten the deal, the pair even promised that the government would only have to pay 5% annual interest on the new debt, and that this would be lowered to 4% after 8 years. Knight then corrupted approximately 50 members of parliament and numerous friends of the King. The (freshly-Knighted) Sir George Caswall had been elected to parliament, 2 years earlier. The bribes comprised valueless pieces of paper, elaborately printed as ‘new company shares,’ but which would acquire a market-value only if the proposed ‘South Sea stock-conversion’ was voted through parliament.

James Craggs the Elder
James Craggs the Younger
The Duchess of Kendal

Recipients of the bribes included: Charles Spencer (First Lord of the Treasury), Charles Stanhope (Secretary to the Treasury), James Craggs the Elder (Postmaster General), James Craggs the Younger (Southern Secretary) and the Duchess of Kendal (the King’s favourite mistress).

In the Spring of 1720, parliament duly passed another Act which agreed to Blunt and Knight’s so-called ‘investment scheme.’ In order to finance the new debt-acquisition, the ‘company’ was given official permission to increase its number of existing ‘shares.’ However, to pay the £7.5 millions fee, the government’s own securities needed to be exchanged for ‘new South Sea Company shares’ at a nominated rate already different to the securities’ guaranteed face-value. There were some common-sense objections at the time, but, incredibly, the South Sea Company directors’ were allowed to set their own rate of conversion. Obviously, the greater the nominated value of the new shares’ at the moment of exchange, the greater the profits were for the directors’ and for everyone whom they’d bribed. In the end, the exchange-value of the bribes alone totalled over £1.2 millions. In effect, the Parliamentary Act was a license to print, and launder, a form of counterfeit currency. Once the conversion was completed and the government was paid, the counterfeiters began to use various ruses to drive-up the market-value of their ‘new shares.’ Again, using pamphlets and newspaper editorials, exciting rumours were started about ‘secret, future trade agreements and the unlimited value of future trade with the Americas.’ When this ‘positive’ propaganda tactic worked, and share prices rose steeply, the counterfeiters then sold further issues of ‘new stock’ and started to lend cash (via their own Bank, the ‘Hollow Sword Blade Company’) against the artificially inflated market-value of their previous issues, but only to enable individuals to purchase the subsequent issues. There was a veritable mania to buy - a contagious mass-psychosis, akin to gambling fever, began to spread throughout the land. In the end, there were more than 30 000 reality-denying believers - all convinced that they couldn’t lose. 

In January 1720, ‘South Sea Company shares’ were trading at approximately £130, by the end of May 1720 they were over £500. Not surprisingly, dozens of copy-cat swindles began to appear. Frustrated members of the public who felt they’d missed the boat, and who now couldn’t afford ‘South Sea Company shares,’ fell over themselves to get in on the ground floor of any ‘new prospectus’ that sounded speculative. The most infamous of these was presented as:

‘A Company for carrying on an Undertaking of Great Advantage, but nobody to know what it is.’

One morning an enterprising young man circulated a ‘prospectus’ in London’s financial quarter for a joint-stock company’ that required £500 000 capital to be raised from 5000 shares to be sold at £100 each. Subscribers were to pay a £2 deposit per share which would entitle them to an annual dividend of £100 per share. The source of all the profits was to be kept an absolute secret at first. After one month, subscribers would have to pay the remaining £98 per share - only then would they be given the full explanation. An office was opened in Cornhill (opposite the Royal Exchange) at 9 o’clock the following morning. By 3 o’clock 1000 shares had been subscribed for, and the £2 deposits paid. The young man promptly closed the door of the office. He caught the first available mail-coach to Dover, and was never seen again.

The even less-sustainable ‘joint-stock’ swindles were popularly known as ‘Bubbles’. They led to a temporary weakening in public confidence in the entire London stock-market, and demands for independent regulation. In June of 1720, the ‘Royal Exchange and London Assurance Corporation Act’ (or ‘Bubble Act’) obliged all ‘joint-stock companies’ to have a Royal Charter compelling their officers only to engage in ‘authorised trading activities.’ This was not enforced for two months, but confidence returned temporarily. Predictably, the loudest supporters of the legislation had been the ‘directors’ of the ‘South Sea Company’ and their corrupt political allies. However, in order to pay-out some profits, and to maintain their own more-sustainable, but essentially identical swindle, the ‘South Sea Company directors’ needed to keep raising more capital and to keep the market-value of their ‘shares’ increasing. Since there were no external trading profits being generated, the public were merely buying infinite shares in a finite quantity of their own cash.

Apart from all the pseudo-economic mystification and ‘commercial’ shielding-terminology, the factors which fooled almost everyone, were that:

- the ‘South Sea Company’ was associated with the King and the government
- it had a Royal Charter
- its directors were now some of the most wealthy and famous Christian gentlemen in Britain
- all holders of the original share-issue had received annual dividends for 9 years

Some profits were taken when some private ‘share-holders’ re-entered reality and began to realise that it was all too good to true. When the ‘South Sea share’ price hit the psychological barrier of £1000 at the end of June 1720, public confidence finally began to crack. An increasing number of people, including the instigators themselves, then began to sell-out in a panic. The bubble started to deflate. By the second week of September, ‘South Sea stock’ had lost 33% and it was still in free-fall. Fearing that the British economy might collapse, the directors of the ‘Bank of England’ (who managed about 8% of the national debt) offered their silver reserves to underwrite and stabilise ‘South Sea shares' at £400. Many grabbed this offer, but the ‘stock’ continued to plunge. On the September 24th the ‘South Sea Company’s’ own bank stopped redeeming South Sea stock.’ The directors of the ‘Bank of England’ now withdrew their previous offer, creating even more panic. Many depositors became convinced that the government’s bankers didn’t possess sufficient reserves to meet their obligations. Tens of thousands queued to withdraw their savings, and/or convert their paper money into gold. By the end of September 1720, the market-price of ‘South Sea stock’ had collapsed to approximately £135. Several thousands people (including many aristocrats) were ruined, five banks had failed. There was some rioting in London streets, whilst an unknown number of bankrupt victims committed suicide. Parliament was recalled in December and the government was forced to form a committee to investigate and report.

In the Spring of 1721, the labyrinth of lies and corruption was only partially unveiled. Many of the guilty parties remained isolated from liability. Some, including Charles Spencer and Charles Stanhope, were impeached. James Craggs (the Younger) dropped dead before he could be held to account, whilst his father (probably) committed suicide. The Craggs’ vast profits and estates were confiscated from their heirs by the Crown. John Aislabie was imprisoned. Robert Knight, had already run away to the Continent with bundles of cash. John Blunt, was arrested and put on trial. His profits and estates, along with those of his fellow company officers,’ were also confiscated by the Crown. The new, First Lord of the Treasury, Robert Walpole, saw too it that these seized funds were used to relieve the victims. ‘South Sea Company’stock was divided between the ‘Bank of England’ and the ‘East India Company’ and new directors were appointed. The restructured ‘South Sea Company’ continued to trade in times of peace until the 1760s, but its principal role remained the management of government debt. It was finally wound up in the 1850s.

To give some idea of how convincing the ‘South Sea Bubble’ was at the time, the ‘Master of the Royal Mint’ and Britain’s leading mathematician, physician and astronomer, Sir Isaac Newton(1642-1727), was asked for his mathematical opinion on the rapid rise of ‘South Sea Company’ stock. Newton apparently replied that he ‘could not calculate the madness of people.’ However (according to his niece), Newton lost £20 000 himself. Ironically, he also owned one of the world’s largest private collections of antiquarian books on the subject of ‘Alchemy.'

According to the ‘South Sea Company’s’ accounts, over a period of 25 years (1717-1742), 96 triangular trading voyages were undertaken and a total of 34 000 humans were purchased in W. Africa. At least 4000 (11%) did not survive the nightmare journey across the Atlantic.

David Brear (copyright 2017)