The Second Fundamental Flaw of Truth: Financial Investment


In the recent comedy Good Omens, the character Adam begins to dive deep in various conspiracy theories. When his friends try to tell it’s not real, his response is, “Guys, this isn’t just stuff on the internet. These are magazines.”

The case he is making is a common one. He is pointing out that a magazine has a cost to production. Someone writes the articles, someone else read them and decides they are worth the space in the magazine, cost of printing, and shipping; therefore, if they are lies they will cost; thus they must be true. There is a popularity fallacy at work here as well, but I covered that last week.

It’s a similar case to the old phrase, “and I couldn’t say it on tv if it wasn’t true.”

Once again the idea behind it is that the greater the financial investment in an idea or statement, the greater the cost at disproving, therefore it is irrational to spend a lot of money on lies….but then again there was Bernie Madoff, the purveyor of one of the most expensive lies in all history.

Madoff started his investment copy in 1960 with penny stocks and got a loan from his father. His company grew and promised incredible returns on investments, and when called upon delivered, but in 1999 it was discovered that his profits and returns were mathematically impossible, however at the time no one would listen. Madoff continued his lies and grew into a multi-billion-dollar business, in the much the fashion of the Wolf of Wall Street. He looked like the part. The financial investment in his lies fell into the Second Flaw. It was irrational that anyone would invest as much into their lies as Madoff was, so he continued to run his business. He wasn’t caught until 2008.

The odd thing is that Madoff is the exception, not the rule. The reason this is a fundamental flaw of truth is that most of the time, financial investment is a good indicator of truth. Most people don’t invest a lot of money in lies that can be disproven. It’s a classic problem of thinking fast and slow. The fast thinking tries to use this short cut because it works most the time. The problem occurs when someone recognizes how the quick thinking can be taken advantage of, like Madoff. He realized if he looked professional, with enough polish people would believe him, and trust him with their money. And they did.