Question: My bank is trying to loan me money that I don’t really need, offering me all sorts of free stuff. Is there some sort of hidden catch here?
Let me tell you a story about the legendary Jewish town of Chelm, a village of fools.
A guy from Chelm, let’s call him Shmuel, went to his wealthy neighbor to borrow a silver spoon. “My daughter is having a rich suitor come to visit and I want to impress him.” The neighbor lent him a nice spoon. The next day, Shmuel returned the spoon with a smaller silver teaspoon. “Your spoon gave birth in the night,” he explained. The neighbor thought Shmuel was a fool, but he wasn’t about to turn away a free spoon. Just think, a free spoon!
A week or so later, Shmuel wanted to borrow a pair of silver candlesticks. “That rich suitor is coming over for Shabbat. We really need to impress him now!” The neighbor, remembering what happened last time, eagerly complied.
The next day Shmuel went back to the neighbor empty-handed and sorrowful. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but… the candlesticks died.” Furious, the neighbor berated Shmuel, “That’s preposterous! Candlesticks don’t die!”
“If spoons can give birth, then candlesticks can die,” Shmuel replied.
This story recurred to me right after someone ripped me off once, using a con that was pretty much exactly like the story. They asked to borrow money, and returned in within a week or so. Then they wanted to borrow a lot more… and skipped town. It was just too good to be true.
I think a lot of other standard business deals work exactly like this: bait-and-switch, social media enticements, and even investor-bait companies like Theranos. Theranos, you may remember, had some amazing but very secret new blood-testing technology and raised huge amounts of capital. They had a billion-dollar valuation, a female CEO, and a deal with Walgreen’s, but no actual test results that proved their technology worked. After lying, threatening, and weaseling for months, they finally were forced to fess up by the lone journalist who didn’t buy into the hype.
(My research department tardily informs me that the story originated in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s collection of stories titled “When Shlemiel Went to Warsaw” and the original story was “Shrewd Todie and Lyzer the Miser”. I do remember this book from my childhood and recently re-purchased it… the stories of the town of fools seemed too appropos for today’s world.)