Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Ponzified Winter

I have been getting an education this winter in human behavior. I've known for a long time that compensation for work isn't based on anything like fairness. There are a lot of jobs that require a lot of know-how and hard work but pay like dirt. There are a lot of earning opportunities that don't require much at all besides a strong ability to convince other people and that make a fortune for the gifted.
This winter's story of Bernie Madoff has everybody thinking about Ponzi schemes. Ponzi schemes are scams that take advantage of the way our hopes and dreams can blind us to reality. They offer large returns on modest investments, seemingly relatively risk free. What some of us don't want to realize is that this approach can be applied in areas other than simple investment. They can and do permeate our modern world.
The recent housing bubble was a Ponzi scheme. Builders and real estate agents promised us that with very little down payment we could have our dreams come true and at any point of our choosing in the future we could have all of our investment plus a healthy gain on it returned to us by selling our property, divesting ourselves of the investment. Under those conditions we were perfectly comfortable paying rapidly inflating prices for real estate. The success of the investment scheme depended on this inflation.
This winter I have been seeing health-related Ponzi schemes. In exchange for modest but significant investment they offer huge and even miraculous health results even though none of them claim to be cures. What makes them most recognizable is the way the sales pitch makes no attempt to differentiate the product from the profits you can make by selling the scheme. It isn't the product that you sell, it is the sales scheme, the means for making your dreams come true.
When we think of a scam, we think of an investment in something that doesn't work. We think we are wasting our money spending it on a scam. But how would we think about it if we could be certain of not only not losing our money but making money, making lots of money? Would it still feel like a scam to us? That's what makes a Ponzi scheme different from an ordinary scam. In a Ponzi scheme we make money. We make tons of money and we make it easily. We don't labor for it.
This winter I have seen the sales pitch for what appear to me to be health-related (for lack of a better term) Ponzified earning potentials. In all three instances, individuals testified to incredible health cures by using products that nobody actually understands. Big words are used to describe how the technology works. Synergy is one of them. Quantum is another. But nobody really understands how the system physically works. It just works. In one case it was ions absorbed through your feet. In another it was polymer nanotechnology changing the molecular structure of liquids or neutralizing cell phone SAR (specific absorption rate) damage. In yet another it was nutrients missing from our modern diet.
In each of these three cases, the physical product seemed to be overpriced, probably was, probably was extremely overpriced. But in the age of production outsourcing, extreme overpricing is normal for us. We see it all the time. But in each of these cases, the product was of less significance than the amazing money to be made selling it. The real sales pitch was that by selling this product, you can rise to the high side of the middle class lifestyle.
This promise of riches, just as in the financial market Ponzi schemes, becomes the cure. That's the hard part to understand. The ionizing foot cleanse, the polymer nanotechnology EMR shields, and the miracle nutrition plans all claim the same results, all seem to cure the same disease conditions, and they all work miraculously. But the only thing they have in common is that they all relieve the stress involved with making enough money to buy happiness. They all relieve stress related to making money.
So are any of them real? I mean, if you could buy this same stuff in WalMart would it still miraculously cure us? Would it cost this much to buy? Would we get the same relief if in our minds this was an expense and not a miraculous earning opportunity?
Like I said before, this winter has been quite an educational experience for me.


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