Of Ponzi schemes and Social Security

While examining the psychology underlying Ponzi schemes and other get-rich scams for Newsweek, Megan McArdle makes an interesting observation:

All over the country, people are spinning dreams that the 1990s will somehow repeat themselves. How else to explain the crazy hype surrounding Groupon, a company that basically consists of an email list? When we’re not buying into (and then getting burned by) the latest IPO, we’re desperately trying to figure out how we can retire without the 8 percent annual return we were counting on.

The answer is probably that we can’t—or rather, that we never could. By the time I retire, according to government actuarial tables, there are supposed to be two workers supporting each retiree in decades of leisure. There was no financial vehicle that was ever going to make that possible: not the Social Security system, not a gold-plated company pension, not a 401(k), and not a magical money manager promising risk-free returns. And yet whom do we elect? Whose books do we buy? The people who tell us that they can make this impossible thing happen. We’ve become our own three-card monte dealer.

As McArdle suggests, perhaps a dose of reality might serve us better in the days and months ahead.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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