Deception and Disillusionment: Fast Money Schemes and the Moral Middle Class of Papua New Guinea

Event details

SSGM Seminar Series

Date & time

Tuesday 18 February 2014


Lecture Theatre 2, Hedley Bull Centre (130), corner of Garran Road and Liversidge Street, ANU
ANU Canberra


John Cox


Louana Gaffey
+61 2 6125 8244

Since 1998, €œfast money schemes€ have defrauded more than PGK500 million from hundreds of thousands of investors. Like Ponzi scams elsewhere, they spread through personal networks, including churches, workplaces and ethnic groups. Investors were lured with the promise of doubling their money in a short space of time or by stories of others who had already been paid. Some scams, such as U-Vistract Financial Systems, the largest of the fast money schemes, developed elaborate rationales that drew on modern Papua New Guinean imaginings of national development, global finance and transnational Christianity, particularly the Pentecostal €œProsperity Gospel€.  However, this is not a simple story of credulity and greed.  Indeed, those who contributed the most to such schemes were members of PNG's educated middle class. This paper presents recent PhD research that argues the longevity of schemes like U-Vistract was due to a moral engagement with €œdevelopment€ that investors found ethically compelling.


John Cox commenced as a Research Fellow with SSGM in November 2013. His PhD on fast money schemes in PNG was completed at the University of Melbourne and was awarded the Australian Anthropological Society's Prize for Best PhD Thesis 2012. John has published several articles on this subject and is now preparing a monograph for publication with Indiana University Press.

John has nearly twenty years of experience working in the Pacific Region, beginning as a volunteer English Lecturer in Kiribati and subsequently managing volunteer programs across the region. He has worked as a consultant for AusAID, UNCDF and Australian Red Cross in Solomon Islands. His future program of research with SSGM will focus on the growth of the middle classes in Melanesia and on local interpretations of development, particularly the rubric of €œcapacity building€. 

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