Friday, October 10, 2008

My Great Ponzi Scheme

I just had a great idea for an unbeatable Ponzi scheme. Offer a reward of infinite riches, everlasting life and an enduring relationship. Tell people that it is a free gift; all they have to do is accept it. Once they join, get people actively involved and emotionally attached. Encourage them to build relationships with other members, and to volunteer their time. Encourage them to give a portion of their income. Use their money and their efforts to grow the scheme. As necessary make use of additional tools like guilt to ensure people are participating. If people lose their sense of urgency or feel too burdened by their participation or are drifting away, give them some perspective: a little temporary pain now is nothing compared to the everlasting torment that is in store for all those who are not in the scheme.

Most Ponzi schemes have fatal flaws that eventually cause them to fail. Either they are exposed as frauds or at some point their growth tapers off and outlays exceed their income and they collapse. This scheme avoids both of these failure modes: it is impossible to disprove its key claim of reward after death, and so it cannot be shown to be a fraud. In addition, this major outlay never actually has to be made to participants (until they are dead), and so it will never run out of resources. At the same time as avoiding typical failure modes, this scheme can do what Ponzi schemes do best: leverage the income and effort of current participants to bring in new participants. I imagine this scheme could last thousands of years.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Freedom and Gay Marriage

Most people love to advertise their support for freedom. But what galls me is when people support freedom in their words but deny it in their actions and in their voting. It is easy for us to see this hypocrisy in totalitarian regimes, but it occurs frequently in our own society. The following is a contemporary example that has been bothering me for a few years.

We hear our politicians talk about spreading freedom to other countries in one breathe, and then in the next breath we hear them advocate that we deny freedom for gays to marry. "Denying gay marriage" is an abstract term to most people, so it helps to think more specifically. What would you say if the government did not permit you to marry the person you chose? Surely that would be severe curtailment of your freedom. In the same way denying gays the right to marry is a severe restriction on their freedom.

We outlaw certain actions that cause harm to others, such as stealing. But the harm has to be real. For example, a general discomfort with interracial marriage is not a sufficient harm to justify denying people the right to marry outside their race. So what specific and real harm does gay marriage cause that would be enough to deny them the right to marry? If a gay couple living next door to you got married, how would that harm you specifically? Would that harm your marriage? If not, then what business do we have telling gays they are not permitted to marry?