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Life Is a Ponzi

In life, travel, and everything, it’s important to be safe. Being safe, however, is not the same thing as being comfortable.

There’s a difference between safety and comfort. Sometimes, to experience the most that life has to offer, as well as to challenge yourself, you need to embrace a certain amount of discomfort.

(See also: if you don’t try, you’ll never know what might have been.)

Whenever I’m exploring something new, I try to consider the answers to these questions:

What if it doesn’t work out?

What if it DOES work out? What would THAT be like?

Over the past year I’ve been learning a lot about digital currency, decentralized finance, and play-to-earn games.

Last week, for example, I wrote about STEPN, an app that lets you earn real money for walking or running around your neighborhood.

In case I wasn’t clear: I think this is the coolest thing ever. I love everything about it.

I still can’t get over the fact that I’m getting paid for running, something I do every day.

I was surprised at the response I got, though. You’d think I’d have written about the U.S. election again! Some of the comments I received rallied around these lines:

  • “It’s a multilevel marketing program” – it definitely isn’t. There are no benefits for referrals whatsoever.
  • “It doesn’t have any real value” – have you heard of Bitcoin? Or even the Federal Reserve? Assets are valued based on what people like you and I decide they’re worth.
  • “It can only succeed as long as new people join” – you mean like the Social Security Administration? Or like pretty much every business ever?

I’ve noticed that writing about unusual ways to make money in the post-pandemic economy can elicit a highly negative response—which of course is interesting on its own! Why, exactly, are people so uncomfortable?

I honestly think a big part of it is because these things are new. A second part is because money is an emotional trigger for many of us.

When you combine these points, the potential for misunderstanding grows.

Maybe we’ve lost money at some point in our lives, so we become cautious and conservative. Maybe we’re mad at structural inequities—a reasonable opinion, to be clear, but being mad doesn’t make anything better.

Everything Is a Ponzi Scheme Eventually

Another criticism I hear from people who don’t like new forms of money is that “it’s all a Ponzi scheme.” But what exactly is a Ponzi scheme? This term is thrown around a lot without much definition or nuance.

The original Charles Ponzi—an Italian immigrant to Boston by way of Canada—started a business based on fictitious postage coupons from Europe. Supposedly, through some machination of arbitrage or global inefficiency, you could buy them for one price now and redeem them for a much higher price later. Of course, in the end, Ponzi was the only one who truly benefitted.

So what’s the difference between that and New Money? First of all, an actual economy! It’s not just one random Italian guy selling fake coupons on the street in Boston. There are marketplaces where you can barter, new currencies to hold and trade.

Further, the goal with Web3, play-to-earn, and similar models is that owners and creators benefit. Not big corporations like Facebook Meta or Google or Amazon, but people like you and me.

That’s why I think things like STEPN are great. Every single day last week I earned more than $200 for my daily run.

Will it last forever? Probably not.

But is it “real”? Of course. It’s as real as anything else is. If it keeps going like this for a few months, I’ll be happy.

Side note: I highly recommend the book Ponzi’s Scheme. The full story of Charles Ponzi’s life is even larger-than-life than the general knowledge about him.

No doubt the pandemic created tremendous loss and devastation. But as a side effect, some good things happened along the way.

Take the Great Resignation, for example. Hundreds of thousands of people taking stock of their lives and deciding to make a big change is incredible.

Simultaneously, there’s a whole other movement of people working two full-time jobs simultaneously without either employer knowing about the other. Fun times!

And for me, one of the things I’m most interested in is how differently we’re all thinking about money these days.

Money is as real as you and I decide it is. After all, money problems are temporary.

Another way to think of it is: life itself is a Ponzi scheme. It only continues as long as more people enter.

Remember, this blog is called The Art of Non-Conformity. You can expect new ideas for how we live, work, and travel.

Let’s explore more together. I’m just getting started here. 🙂


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