February 25, 2005
As I remember it, the story was about people who went down the dock expecting to find their yachts tied up as they left them only to find that they were gone. About all that was left were the docklines and occasionally a teak deck resting on the ocean bottom. The story even included pictures of the debris and flotsam.
As the story went, what had happened was the result of the evolution of worms and other pesky sea creatures that eat holes in, destroy planks, cause rot, or otherwise have plagued wooden boats from the time of Christ. After many generations, these short lived creatures had evolved into a new species that loved polyester resin. They were devouring fiberglass vessels.
The article was well written and seemed plausible. A month later, Yachting magazine published an apology. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and went back to their tailgate or dock parties and sailing a mile or two offshore on weekends.
There was another rumor that survived for some time in Chicago during the sixties. This rumor was that people were breathing their way to obesity.
All of those floating black specks in the air, coming up from Gary and other industries in the area were actually causing this. It wasnt that the specks weighed so much that people gained weight by breathing them in, particularly while jogging or exercising, but that the specks acted as catalysts to other foods consumed. They forced retention of normal or even diet meals and caused people to get fat.
Weve still got some of these rumors absorbing us all, but today they arent very funny. The trouble is that these stories often seem plausible and many of us are taken in. It opens the door for all sorts of manipulative propaganda from expert spinmeisters.
None of us will forget the weapons of mass destruction rumor that was pushed by President Bush every day for at least four months before we finally invaded the hapless republic of Iraq . Weve never had a president that uses the television media as much as George W. Bush. And television has been around since at least the late forties.
Another great rumor thats still around is the story of 76 million baby-boomers looming on the horizon and about to wreck havoc on Social Security if we dont do something soon. A few months ago, Alan Greenspeak even added another million to the story so now its 77 million boomers.
The trouble with this rumor is that many of us are too close to it to recognize the fallacy. Sixteen million lusty servicemen and women returning from the many theaters of World War II in 1945 and causing a population explosion by fostering children within the child-bearing years of their soul mates seems both plausible and possible.
Yet, the story tellers never said that the twenty years between 1946 and 1965 produced 76 million births above normal and even the census data doesnt support such fantasy. Sometimes even the spinmeisters slip up and deliver a table that denies the rumor.
I still think that President Clinton missed the decimal point when he misread his monitor or notes while delivering his famous speech about baby-boomers and how we must fix the roof while the sun shines. There truly were some births above normal, but nothing Social Security couldnt handle without breaking a sweat, and Clinton s speech writers probably wrote in 7.6 million after immigrants were discarded. (See Boomer Myth)
Anyway, this is the main reason we are given that Social Security is in trouble when the real reason our supplemental insurance program has the a problem is that its managed or overseen by a government that malappropriates its surpluses or what any other insurance business would consider profits.
Another story thats been around for ages is that Social Security is a Ponzi Plan. This one is really off the wall if you know anything about Charles Ponzi, the man that bilked about fifteen million out of the people of Boston in the Roaring Twenties.
Ponzi invented the pyramid scheme. He convinced a certain number of people, usually anywhere from two to ten, to invest in his get rich quick scheme. They, in turn, each got two or ten other people to invest and the "investment" money was passed up with everyone getting a share as it was passed along. It actually worked for awhile with everyone making a little effortless money. Naturally, the person at the top ended up with the most.
The trouble with Ponzi plans is that they normally dont last beyond the fifth tier. The thing simply gets so cumbersome that it falls in on itself. Ponzis mistake was not getting out of town soon enough. He was caught and jailed.
If Social Security were a Ponzi plan, it would never have survived past the forties, certainly not for seventy years. And if it did, all of todays retired people would be multi-billionaires. Of course, we would also probably be paying a thousand dollars for a loaf of bread.
I think what has happened here is that, depending on their age, many people have heard the story of Charles Ponzi from their fathers, grandfathers, or other respected elders who simply called anything that seemed like a scandal or rip-off a Ponzi plan.
Pyramid schemes can actually be put to some good uses like getting people out to vote or telephone trees, but thats another story. Applied to Social Security its just like the floating black specks, polyestermites, or any other rumor without basis in reality and without the humor. It only puts another smokescreen over the real issue.