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Sit On It, Ponzi

Pon·zi scheme

NOUN:

An investment swindle in which high profits are promised from fictitious sources and early investors are paid off with funds raised from later ones.

ETYMOLOGY:

After Charles Ponzi (1882?-1949), an Italian-born speculator who organized such a scheme (1919-1920)

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“Ponzi scheme” is a term we’ve heard a lot lately, having been given rebirth from the lips of Texas Governor Rick Perry during the Republican debates. Perry related the term to Social Security, indicating that those 70-year-old programs are really nothing more than Ponzi schemes.

The term has come to explain any unsustainable program that was built on promises that cannot be kept. Some call at it a chain letter, maybe a pyramid scheme. In short, if we take out the legalities and fraud, it is “pay as we go -- the risk is on you.”

To that end, my friends, what isn’t a Ponzi scheme?

What, these days, isn’t filled with empty promises, false advertising and skewed intentions?

Let’s look at a recent Ponzi-angled phenomenon called Facebook. Think about this notion: Everyone identifies themselves and all of their interests, strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Paste it up on a website for everyone else to see.

Maybe you want to find a way to subtly mention things you are unhappy with and perhaps you could state it in a way that would make the average reader conclude that you might want your life to go in a new and perhaps more exciting direction.

Low and behold, some former flame happens to look in just to see what you have been up to and -- Shazzam! -- she finds out you are not so happy.

Avoiding the cowardice that made you stay away for the last three decades, you launch a semi-personal email to this person to let them know you still care. The mail is received and the recipient is excited.

The boring old mate that they have been raising kids and a life with for the past millennium isn’t as exciting as this person or this moment . Maybe you should write back and let them know that after all these years, you still think of them too. Why not? It’s only a stupid email. What’s the big deal? What’s the harm?

Here’s the big deal. You are cheating already and, over time, as the comfort zone grows, you will probably take it up a level or two.

As your marital partner dozes on the couch, you are flying to the moon with an ex from your distant past that is re-awakening passions in you that were thought to be dead.

Do you honestly think you’d have ever had the guts to say this to this person if not for the anonymity of Facebook and similar types of social media?

I don’t. Hey, if this idea is about bringing people together, that’s fine. But in my opinion, the majority of people that have a significant other would likely never want their partner to read their Facebook pages; too personal (too personal for your partner?).

This whole social media premise goes way beyond people simply keeping up with each other. This is primarily a dating service, and the intrigue of unfinished business from the past is what drives it and keeps it going.

You invest in it and your payoff is not guaranteed, but is highly alluring. If you find that over time you are more prone to keep your site private, the truth is you are hiding stuff and lying. Aren’t you? An unsustainable program built on promises that cannot be met -- Ponzi scheme.

Drug and alcohol addiction, covering up former mistakes on resumes, seeing someone else during your marriage, living one life at work and a different life at home -- all nothing more than Ponzi schemes; all unsustainable with a “payoff” or “payback” day looming in the distance.

Was Social Security always a Ponzi scheme? I mean, did the Founding Fathers of our nation know, as it was being set up, that it would one day self-implode? I’m sure some of them did -- clear thinkers that knew the fallout was nothing more than being delayed. Banking on the fact that maybe something would happen and clear it all up, but as long as Dad got to his retirement, the next guy could do the clean up.

So what is needed now? I think it needs to be some unexpected event to upset the whole apple cart. Not necessarily stopping the rotation process, but simply starting the newest Ponzi all over again.

Like when Henry Ford started producing cars in 1903. It is a little known fact that one of the problems plaguing our country at that time was the constant presence and odor of horse manure.

There were governmental committees being formed and analysts debating how and what we could do to “remediate the roadside décor.”

See? Even the simple use of horse transportation had become a Ponzi scheme that couldn’t be sustained.

But voila, the committees never got to decisions, because before the horse manure piled up too high, the introduction of the automobile and the immediate contagion of sales all but removed the horse as a mode of transportation by the end of the decade, thereby removing the problem.

So the problem of the manure became solved by a bolt of lightning that no one saw coming.

Funny though, huh? Even to this day our problem is with removing large amounts of horse manure before we find a good, equitable solution.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.

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