How would like to have your last name turned into a verb that refers to an action so down on the scale of human behavior, we didn’t even have a word for it until you came along to show us all how it’s done? How would you like to have your own name made into a term of derision?

Scam became a verb a long time ago, so we already have a term for that kind of lying. Scammers persuade people to do things they would never do if they knew the truth. The lie works to the scammer’s benefit, and to the victim’s detriment. The purpose of the lie is to fool the victim, for the scammer’s gain.

How does grubering people differ from scamming them? Grubering differs from scamming on three points: scale, sales success, and smugness. Here’s what I mean:

Scale. Scams are generally small scale. You think of a confidence man on the street, conducting one con at a time, with one person at a time, for fairly small change. A gruberer is far more ambitious. A gruberer lies to millions and millions of people all at once. He convinces them to do catastrophic things, such as turn over the keys to their own health care, to people who have no intention of keeping their word. A gruberer risks a public policy gotterdammerung for every person, and every institution, caught in his gigantic deception.

Sales success. A confidence man is well named. He wins your confidence in order to cheat you. He operates with the sociopath’s tools of sympathy, hope, and suspension of disbelief. A gruberer, on the other hand, operates with conceptually sophisticated tools to snow people. He also uses devious language to mislead and manipulate. The latter point applies to a scammer as well, but in the gruberer’s case, the devious language is embedded in a program of propaganda that reaches the whole nation. You can’t tailor the sales fraud to an individual victim.

Smugness. Alright, a scammer is likely to brag to his fellow con men about his successes. A gruberer, however, brags about his successes in public. He wants other people – even honest ones, even the ones he grubered – to know that he lies for a living! How do you figure that? You can only conclude that gruberers think they’re untouchable: they have that special brand of smugness that lets them brag to their victims about how much smarter they are. How do we know that a gruberer has more smarts than his victims? If he didn’t, why is he the one bragging?

The next time a gruberer comes around with a hot scam like, “I’m going to save you money on your health care,” send him to Boston. Tell him to see economics professor Jonathan Gruber at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I wonder if the professor would fall for it.