One fine day on the streets of Washington D.C. the ghost of Charles Ponzi struck up a conversation with the ghost of Cassandra. He was a charming devil and assumed she would find him irresistible so he began with “It is ironic, I think, that I am a thief, while you see and speak the truth, but the people believe me and scorn you.”
Cassandra was not impressed and replied, “It is true. Most people would prefer a charming falsehood to the severity of truth. Since no one believes me anyway, you might as well tell me what scam you are currently promoting. I am truly interested. Please, do tell.”
Never one to miss an opportunity, Senator Ponzi replied, “I am finding great success with central banking, paper money, and ever-increasing debt. Frankly, they are an easy sell, and people come to me begging to be part of the scam. It has been quite profitable so far and looks to be good for a long time.”
Cassandra starred into the distance and saw a vision of something disturbing but decided not to mention it as nobody was interested in the truth anyway. Frankly, this was depressing, but she was used to the curse that prevented her visions from being understood. “And what else are you working on?”
Chairman Ponzi then smiled and said with obvious satisfaction, “Derivatives on European debt have proven to be a far better investment than expected. My friends and I have made $Billions on these pieces of paper. Actually I lost count – we might be into the $Trillions by now. Regardless, these and other derivatives have been huge winners.” He looked so smug that Cassandra wanted to scream the truth, but she merely smiled and fed his ego. “Yes, I see that it has been a grand success to date and that you have been very well compensated. What other schemes are you working?”
Representative Ponzi told her, “The deficit spending thing is doing well also. We take money that we collect in taxes plus we borrow a bunch more, and then we spend it on some really cool stuff, plus we buy votes and wars and a great retirement system for us, and then we lean on Wall Street, military contractors, oil companies, and Big Pharma for more contributions, and it works out really swell for my buddies and me. Every two years we do it again, but even bigger.
Cassandra looked away for a few moments to settle her stomach, saw another vision that involved a tsunami of dollar bills and some future unpleasantness (she preferred understatements) and could not stop herself from looking Representative Ponzi in the eye and saying, “You can’t spend money you don’t have without consequences. That scam cannot continue forever. Eventually disaster will strike.”
Representative Ponzi was supremely confident when he stated, “You are becoming rather tiresome, but I’ll give you a short lesson in politics. First, nobody wants to hear that this grand scheme will ever stop. Second, it has lasted a long time, so why shouldn’t it work for another 100 years? Third, nobody jumps off a moving gravy train. Fourth, people can’t see what they don’t want to see, so almost everyone will ignore your visions and the truth.”
Cassandra had heard it all before. She has seen empires rise and fall, huge armies that conquered all in their path but later collapsed, mighty kings who inspired people with impossible dreams and soon afterward all were destroyed, countries that spent themselves into insolvency, and worst, her beloved Troy had been destroyed by greed, arrogance, love of power, and massive delusions. Mr. Ponzi and others like him had worked their destructive magic countless times in the past, and she expected his kind would persist for many more years.
Cassandra was sick of the ghost of Charles Ponzi, regardless of what charming and smooth-talking form he took. She took a red pill and began to fade away as she called out to him, “It will only last a short while longer. Beware …” And then she was gone.
Mr. Ponzi was pleased to be finished with her annoying visions, briefly wondered what she had been about to say, and then popped a blue pill along with a healthy slug of whiskey and thought about other scams he could sell.
In the distance he thought he heard someone yelling, “Print more money, nothing can go wrong, it’s all good.” It sounded right to him, but it was nap time and he wanted to continue his dream of perpetual wealth without effort, cause without effect, and more for everyone, especially himself. It was a satisfying dream. He smiled contentedly, loving the illusions provided by the blue pill and feeling both important and invincible.
The ghost of Cassandra smiled from a distance and waited for “It came to pass” in the 21st century. She thought it would not be a long wait.
aka Deviant Investor
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Contributed by Deviant Investor of Deviant Investor.
About Deviant Investor: I am a retired accountant who has 30 years of experience following markets, investing, and trading both futures and stocks. I have made and lost money during my investing career, and those successes and losses have taught me much about markets, timing, risk, inflation, and crashes. I currently invest for the long term, and I swing trade (in a trade from one to four weeks) stocks and ETFs. I offer opinions and commentary, but not investment advice.
Years ago I did graduate work in physics (all but dissertation), so I strongly believe in data, analysis, objective facts, and rational decisions based on hard data. I currently live in Texas.