People in Glass Houses

I came across an interesting blog post today by industry critic Robert FitzPatrick. On his blog he recounts the story of Lasdwun N. Luzes – a fanciful economist who is described as, among other things, “a lobbyist for the Direct Selling Association, a fierce critic of consumer protection and a fervent anti-regulation spokesman.” The fact that no such person is a lobbyist for DSA is only the first indication that the entire scenario is a carefully-crafted farce. It turns out this sham character dates back to a 2000 April Fool’s hoax Mr. FitzPatrick engaged in for a publication related to the printing industry. What I find most telling about this particular literary expedition by Mr. FitzPatrick is what it reveals about his position on ethics. In short, if you don’t have facts to support your theories – make them up! Oh, and don’t forget to present the fictitious ramblings without noting that they are satire – that way you’ll fool a lot of people into believing what you have said is true, but if anyone ever calls you on it, you can claim it was all a joke. Nice.

Ironically, it is exactly this kind of deceptive behavior Mr. FitzPatrick accuses direct sellers of engaging in.

Anyway, in the interest of setting the record straight, I’d like to propose a more realistic alternative – one that’s actually true. Meet Bjorn Boss. Bjorn works for a small consulting firm in Anytown, USA. Bjorn is also an independent seller for a direct selling company. He works about 10 hours per week on his direct selling business and makes about $200 per month. It’s not a lot, but it helps pay the bills each month. He joined the company about two years ago because he wanted to buy products he was already using at a discount. After awhile, others found out he was selling the products and wanted to buy them too – thus his business began to grow. Maybe someday he’ll build the business into a full-time endeavor, but for now, he’s enjoying the extra income and the flexibility to decide when, where and how he runs his direct selling business.

The defining difference between Lasdwun and Bjorn Boss is that Bjorn actually exists – in the form of millions of Americans who are direct sellers. Some get involved for supplemental income, some build a business, and some sign up as a seller because they want to buy products they already use at a discount. There’s no cookie cutter description for all the Bjorns out there. That’s one of the greatest attributes of direct selling – it’s completely customizable to each person’s unique goals.

Critics like Mr. FitzPatrick will try to lump all direct sellers into one big pot and suggest that no one succeeds because only a small percentage make a full-time income. Not only does that completely misrepresent the reality of direct selling, but it disrespects to the millions of people who rely on their modest direct selling income to pay the bills each month. I’d like to see Mr. FitzPatrick look those people in the eye and tell them they aren’t successful. It might give him a whole new perspective on what “success” means – and for most, that’s not a 6-figure income.

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