Ponzi Schemes and Magical Thinking


Well, I got the idea for today’s blog because yet another Ponzi Scheme seems to have come undone in Canada this week.


And the suckers keep giving me money, despite my crappy suit!

You may know that this scam is named after Charles Ponzi, (1882–1949,) who started out trying to make money in arbitrage. (Def: to buy a commodity at a low price in one market, and sell it for a profit in another.) Ponzi promised that he would double investors’ investments in 90 days.

The scheme got off the ground by Ponzi making a bit on the arbitrage, but basically, he paid his early investors with the proceeds from newer investors. The scheme works, so long as new investors are willing to throw money into it.

Ponzi was bringing in cash at a fantastic rate, but the simplest financial analysis would have shown that the operation was running at a large loss. As long as money kept flowing in, existing investors could be paid with the new money. In fact, new money was the only way Ponzi had to pay off those investors, as he made no effort to generate legitimate profits.” link to Wikipedia article

Anyway, the best way to describe such a scheme is: “If it looks too good to be true, it is.”

So, if we all know that Ponzi Schemes are the ultimate con game, why are they still being discovered at such an alarming rate? (Think Bernie Madoff.) Most people would rush in and say “Greed! If only people weren’t greedy!” I think it’s simpler, and dates back to our childhood.

It’s what I call magical thinking.

peter pan

Here’s my favourite story: I once had a female client who was married to “Peter Pan.” He didn’t come for therapy that often, as he thought of me as “buzz kill.” The guy had a Ph.D. and was a professor.

Here’s his magical belief, and his story: “My wife (my client) is not my soul mate. I have been in many, many relationships, but never with my soul mate. Even though I am now married, I am still looking for her.”(Hint to Peter Pan: She’s in Never-Never Land!)

Scratching my head, I asked, “How will you know your soul mate when you meet her?”

He replied, “There will never be any conflict, disagreement, or problems. We will live a life of complete personal, relational, and sexual bliss.”

I was glad I was not drinking coffee, or it would have shot out of my nose.

The kicker? He went off for a holiday (alone) and thought he met his soul mate. He came home and asked my client for permission to go back to the island in the sun (no, really!) and see if she was really his soul mate. My client agreed, and off he went.

His “soul mate” ended up being a dominatrix, and he came home whipped (literally) and hairless (another story altogether.)

My client divorced him. At last report, 5 years later, he’s still looking.

Peter Pan, in spades.

The flaw of Magical Thinking actually explains a lot of our silly beliefs.

The main themes of Magical Thinking are contained in Nursery Stories and Rhymes, and include:

  • rescue by a Fairy Godmother (or some other magical being, like God)
  • living ‘happily ever after.’
  • Prince Charming and his horse, riding to the rescue.
  • Magic (spells, affirmations, ‘The Secret,’ etc.)
  • If you search long and hard, you will find your “Sleeping Beauty or Prince.”

These themes reoccur in most popular media, typically following the plot line of: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy defeats the bad guys / evil monster / the ‘other man,’ boy re-captures girl, AND they live happily ever after.

We live and breathe this stuff.

Darbella and I were watching “Nights in Rodanthe,” and the ending doesn’t follow this formula, as the guy dies before the last step. Both of us looked at each other and said, “Hey! What gives? That’s not fair!” And then we laughed.

Because we have a cultural bias that this is how life should be—that life should be fair, and that “I” should “win,” we have trouble with anything that goes “wrong.” We then get caught up in the drama of blaming others, our parents, or God—we blame them that our fantasy isn’t magically made real!

Because we know things are supposed to go the way we want them to.

Like Peter Pan, above, we expect that, if the planets are aligned and the gods are smiling, everything will work out, without effort, or with minimal effort. We feel cheated when it doesn’t.

And yet, the world, in reality, seems to be operating another way altogether.

That way is this:

  • what happens, happens.
  • What is, is.
  • If you do not like it now, wait a minute, have a breath, do something different, and you’ll likely see something else.
  • And most importantly, the cosmos does not have you (ego-you) in mind, does not care one way or another what happens to you, and will tick along merrily long after you are dead and gone.

The cosmos is not a vending machine, into which you pop your wishes and desires, and out of which pops what you want. Sorry.

face of reality
If I look, I see

So, if magical thinking is useless, what works?

+ Being present for the ride.

+ Being accepting of the fact that what is, is.

+ Being fully and completely responsible for your walk, your path, and your way.

You find this path by becoming mindful of the reality of reality, and dropping the illusion that things ought to change because you want them to.

In the end, the way off of the stupid path is to walk another path, emphasis on walk. If all you are doing is making up affirmations, praying, going to fortune tellers, paying bribes at the “church” of your choice, good luck. You’ll need it.

Sit down, become mindful through meditation, find people to talk to who know how to live life as opposed to pitching you something, and listen. Take it in, and then actually do something different.

Life is not fair, “bad stuff” does happen to “good people,” and magic is for movies. Suck it up. Have a breath. And open your eyes to the mystery and elegance of real living. It’s the only show in town.

And remember, when some bozo shows up and offers you something for nothing, or a deal that is too good to be true, walk rapidly the other way.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Go to the top of this article, click on the title, and leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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