To the editors:

As every con man knows, the best way to hook the mark is by convincing the mark of what he himself, the mark, that is, stands to get out of the con. That way the mark will be more likely to let his guard drop. And the second he does–bingo! The con man’s hooked him. But good.

Thus if you want to con people generally, you have to convince them (1) that your motives are altruistic and even pure; and (2) that you’re mainly concerned with doing what’s right for them.

These preparatory remarks about the fine art of the flimflam lead us to a consideration of “Al Hofeld and the Litigious Society,” Daniel John Sobieski’s letter of March 13.

“Litigiousness . . . has burdened our economy and made it uncompetitive,” Sobieski warns. He seems particularly miffed with liability lawsuits–and especially those in which the plaintiffs are individuals, and the defendants, major U.S. corporations.

In fact, Sobieski’s letter equates the major U.S. corporations with “our economy.” It is their competitiveness, their profitability, that he wants to guarantee. What makes their competitive juices flow is good; what impedes their competitive juices is bad.

Thus the message of Sobieski’s March 13 letter is crystal clear. Labor, personal liability claims, litigation–how dare the rights of individuals burden “our economy” (i.e., major corporations), and make it (i.e., them) uncompetitive! Don’t working stiffs know that the major corporations have rights that mere individuals do not share?

Much as Vice President Dan Quayle’s recent attacks on the legal profession per se, Sobieski’s attack on what he called “spiraling litigation” is a cover story for a deeper attack on the rights of the American working class in an “age of diminished expectations,” as the title of Paul Krugman’s recent book captures so very well.

Notice the deceptiveness and the extremity of Sobieski’s rhetoric. “In industry after industry,” he writes, invoking cold war-like horrors, “America’s competitiveness is at risk because liability exposure forces innovators to discontinue product lines or face millions of dollars in legal expenses. These costs raise consumer prices and put U.S. companies at an overwhelming disadvantage against our overseas competitors.”

Yeah, right. Like the dilapidated state of the U.S. economy has anything at all to do with “liability exposure”!

In case the reader (as well as the Reader, for that matter) hasn’t realized it yet, the motive of Sobieski’s March 13 letter is class based. Since the benefits of a rollback of consumer and personal safety rights and laws would flow disproportionately to the major corporate power centers of U.S. society–whose needs Sobieski believes should be put ahead of everyone else’s–the “litigious society” must be attacked.

However, the con man in Sobieski (much as in President Bush or Vice President Quayle, I might add) prevents Sobieski from coming right out and saying it. So what does he do? He tries to con us into believing that it’s in the best interests of “our economy,” rather than of their corporations, to support such a rollback.

What a carney! Enough already.

Ruth Andrea

N. State