Dangerous speculation

The appeal of pyramid schemes in rural Siberia

in Focaal
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The people of Aga, a small district in southeastern Siberia, have in recent years become managers, missionaries, and victims of a wave of pyramid and Ponzi schemes. The schemes come with the promise to make people rich. In reality, they benefit only a small minority of investors while increasing financial difficulties for the majority of participants and causing severe social conflict. This article deals with the local manifestation of these economic forms. Based on the ethnographic investigation of a pyramid scheme, I discuss techniques of make-believe in order to show how ordinary people become involved in a financial hoax. My discussion provides insights into the ways in which speculative thinking shapes imaginative horizons, pervades social logics, and impacts economic realities in a post-Soviet environment.