It’s easier to fool some than to convince them they’ve been fooled

Although no one really knows where this saying came from, I have managed to fool myself into thinking it was Mark Twain. So, on my emails, this quote sits proudly in the signature area with the attribution (light): “attributed to Mark Twain.” Talk about equivocating!

Regardless, it’s one of my favorite sayings because it’s so true. I might even say something to the effect, “It’s easy to fool someone, but nearly impossible to convince them they’ve been fooled.” It’s an interesting dynamic, but makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Not only is the one fooled misguided, but willfully so. After all, the process of being fooled is to convince one’s self to adopt a false narrative. A person who is fooled is a willing participant. He has jumped on a belief without the proper vetting, and so was fooled. Convincing that person that she has been fooled involves the admission that they made a foolish choice, a choice to adopt “alternative facts,” as it was recently called in the news.

It’s even worse when masses of people and vast sums of money are involved. A very clear example of this, in my opinion, has been Western Civilization’s attitudes and treatment of cannabis. This is a plant that is remarkable on so many levels. Hemp, for example, is a cannabis plant with very high concentrations of CBD, which has tremendous therapeutic benefits and suppresses the psychoactive effects of THC, the chemical compound that gets people “high.” Hemp was one of the very first plants to be spun into usable fiber 10,000 years ago. The products made from hemp range from industrial building materials to ropes and textiles. A common byproduct is canvas. Indeed, the “can” in canvas comes from cannabis. In addition, hemp has been shown to be extremely nutritious, and its seeds are widely used as animal and bird feed. Hemp has been called a miracle plant. And it was illegal in this country for decades.

Now consider cannabis itself. This has, for centuries, been recognized as a wonder drug. It alleviates pain, allows cancer patients on chemo to eat, relieves ADD, and reduces and sometimes completely eliminates epileptic seizures. It has been shown to slow down Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS. It provides relief to diabetics, those suffering from MS, and glaucoma. Diabetic nerve pain, schizophrenia and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) all respond to treatment, as does chronic pain. In addition to all of this, no one has ever been able to identify a single person who has ever become addicted or died from cannabis. Yet it is a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Yet opioids like Oxycontin and morphine, which have killed thousands of people and are daily addicting and ruining lives as we read this, are Schedule II. Even crack cocaine, which has ruined tens of thousands of lives, is a Schedule ii. Thank you, big pharma.

Why do I mention all of this? Because at times, we are our own worst enemies. Here we have a miracle plant that is one of the fastest growing, easiest to cultivate, with tremendous benefits, economic, industrial, and medical, and yet, we have closed ourselves off to it. Because we know better than to believe the people who tell us to wake up and smell the flowers. Imagine all the unnecessary suffering that could have been avoided, had we only had an open mind.

We do this in the financial world, too. For centuries, annuities have been used to provide financial security to millions of people all over the world. When you think about it, they are a wonderful concept. We all pool our money, figure out what the life expectancy of the group is, then pay everyone an amount computed by dividing the individual’s contribution by the group’s average life expectancy. Everyone can get more out of their money because they don’t ever have to worry about running out since they only need to plan for life expectancy. Sometimes that amounts to two or even three times as much money. Those who live past their life expectancy are made financially secure by those who did not. Those who did not don’t care because they are dead. Yet while alive, they, too, received the benefits of having greater income and the confidence they would never run out. Everyone wins.

Yet somehow, we’ve allowed ourselves to be talked out of the benefits of these amazing products. And the parallels with cannabis are compelling. No one ever died of marijuana, and people die every day of opioids. Yet opioids remain the drug of choice for so many conditions. In the same way, no one has ever lost a dime to market risk or a failed insurance company in a fixed annuity, while people are financially ruined every day in the market. The market has been shown to be notoriously inefficient for generating income, while annuities were designed for that very thing. The market has been shown to generate at most 3 percent to 4 percent sustained income over time with uncertain outcomes, while annuities routinely do twice that or more with contractually guaranteed outcomes.

Perhaps the most compelling parallel is this. For years, cannabis has been kept down by big economic forces like industrial materials, fuel manufacturers, and big pharma. Even today, the pharmaceuticals industry is resisting. In the very same way, big finance has been at war with fixed annuities, calling them bad and trying to regulate them out of existence. Why do you think that is?

What would happen to the $600 billion opioid industry if it turned out there was a plant you could grow yourself for pennies on the dollar that could cure all kinds of pains and maladies typically treated by dangerous and addictive opioids, without addiction, side effects or death? Maybe the same thing that could happen to big finance if it turned out there was a product that could safely and without fail deliver long-term and secure income at levels never even contemplated by the markets, without risk of market loss or running out of money?

Or am I just fooling myself?

Stephen Kelley can be heard, along with his co-host Mark Perkins, on the Free-to- Retire Radio Hour on Saturday at 7AM on 610 WGIR and Sunday at Noon on 980 WCAP. Steve conducts workshops on Maximizing Social Security and The Other 60% – More Now, More Later. He is the author of several books, his latest ones being “Ready-Set-Retire” and “Tell Me When You’re Going to Die and I’ll Show You How Well You Can Afford to Live.” His financial planning practice, Safety First Financial Planners is located at 33 Main Street in Nashua. He can be reached at 603-881-8811.