Greed and power-lust, to be sure. But also something larger, more desperate. Americans have, after all, worked progressively longer hours since the Vietnam War; and job insecurity is a hallmark of our E2020 future. Amway promises to transcend the excesses of capitalism by wholeheartedly indulging them. At a time when realistic, collective solutions are off the docket, it’s no surprise that people are turning to miracles. In this way, Amway is not so different from other mutations of the American Dream: the notion that grassroots entrepreneurs will save the urban poor, that the stock market will save Social Security, that casinos will fund our schools. All of these schemes offer salvation while preserving a core myth of capitalism: that the instruments for distributing wealth are also responsible for creating it. Or as Double Diamond and Überparasite Greg Duncan put it at Dream Night in a talk about Washington bureaucrats dividing up the social pie, “I make pies!”
Amway is a direct-selling business that has been in business for more than 50 years, operates in more than 100 countries, and claims to have helped more than 3 million Independent Business Owners (IBOs) “forge their own path to success.” The company claims to accomplish this by offering a large, exclusive line of products, extensive training opportunities, complete customer support, and more.
Amway’s founders also created a cult-like environment within the company and among its distributors. Combining evangelical undertones and self-help motivation, they have managed to sell their idea as much as their actual products. Distributors are strongly encouraged to attend seminars and events that can cost thousands of dollars. Both DeVos and Van Andel are best-selling authors and have inspired copycats across the country.
What this simple example tells us is that it is difficult to keep appointing more and more distributors. This is similar to a Ponzi scheme, where for the scheme to keep going more and more newer investors need to keep coming in, so that the older investors whose money is falling due can be paid off. The trouble of course is that that the number of people is not infinite, as the above example shows us.
The club recently underwent a $1 million renovation: new roof, redecorated dining hall and casual-attire bar and grille, revamped golf shop, locker rooms, fitness center, renovated driving range and greens. It closed for an extended period of time over the summer so that they could replace the greens and restore them to their original Tom Fazio PGA Tour–quality design. They use only Champion Dwarf Bermudagrass because, as the turf farm’s website says, ‘even among the ultradwarf cultivars, there is no other grass capable of producing the incredible ball roll of a well-maintained Champion green.’
Whether there is more emphasis on referrals or sale of products is very debatable. It pretty much depends on the individual IBO involved. In the Amway gathering I went to, the IBO making the presentation stressed the prospect of saving through the “discounted” prices on the hub rather than trying to sell us the idea of making a lot of money. Some IBOs might try to sell you the idea of making a fortune right away. Some are pushy, some are nice people.