cover image Selling the Dream: The Billion Dollar Industry Bankrupting Americans

Selling the Dream: The Billion Dollar Industry Bankrupting Americans

Jane Marie. Atria, $29 (320p) ISBN 978-1-982-15577-3

Peabody Award–winning journalist Marie adapts her podcast The Dream for a piercing debut investigation into the pyramid schemes underlying such well-known American brands as Amway, Avon, and Mary Kay—companies, Marie alleges, whose tactics enrich the few at the top of the pyramid while impoverishing the many at the base. Chronicling the early origins of these multilevel marketing companies, or MLMs, Marie describes how Tupperware began as a “Tupperware Wonder Bowl” that sold in retail stores until it was discovered by single mother Brownie Wise, who invented the “Tupperware Party.” Marie tracks how MLMs have since come to function like quasi-cults—encouraging sellers to target friends and family for conversion and promising financial independence and imminent riches while discouraging negativity and excommunicating the faithless. These companies now wield great political power, Marie shows, noting that former education secretary Betsy DeVos obtained her government position after $82 million in political donations to Republican campaigns and causes from the DeVos family, owners of Amway, while Donald Trump earned $8.8 million promoting an MLM called the American Communications Network. Most revealingly, Marie reports on how the industry’s lobby group, Direct Selling Association, has thwarted the Federal Trade Commission and defanged legislation intended to regulate MLMs. The result is an urgent and riveting exposé of the fraudulent tactics behind direct sales organizations. (Mar.)